SEMA News—August 2020


Honorable Discharge

Four-Wheeled Veterans Welcomed Home With New Roles in the Hobby

By Colby Martin

The modern Humvee (aka High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, HMMWV) has reached an age that technically qualifies it for vintage designation. Opportunities exist for the industry to serve enthusiasts seeking pure restoration as well as personalized equipment options beyond factory reproductions.

When it comes to the collector-vehicle market, military vehicles are not what first spring to mind. The notion of rides originally mass produced to aid the armed forces becoming collector’s items may seem rather strange. However, countless examples were manufactured by popular automakers such as the Big Three, whose iconic offerings are coveted to this day by brand loyalists. While getting one’s hands on one of those prized vehicles may be tough, titling and registering them for street use is often tougher.

Automobiles decommissioned by the U.S. government have captivated generations. Upon retirement from service, their ability to evoke national pride and serve as living history is undeniably powerful. These machines have been defined by most jurisdictions as vehicles manufactured by or under the direction of the U.S. Armed Forces for off-road use and later authorized for sale to civilians. Examples desired by collectors include the Pinzgauer, Kaiser Jeep M715, half-track and DUKW (Duck). Today, even the modern Humvee (also known as the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, HMMWV) has reached an age that technically qualifies it for vintage designation.

Although organized groups of hobbyists and publications dedicated to this segment have existed for decades, military collectibles have been on the rise in recent years. The internet has enabled instant global access to specialized information and support unthinkable not long ago. It should come as no surprise that there has been a surge of interest in the genre among the auto-enthusiast community. Enthusiasts know that acquiring such treasures is no easy feat but, if successful, can place them in a rare group of collectors who own the most unique vehicle on the block.

Still, military surplus vehicles are tougher to license than standard automobiles because each state government makes its own rules and regulations regarding titling. In several states, there is no allowance for any military vehicle registration and operation on public roads. Even when these vehicles can be titled, many states limit their use to special occasions such as parades, car shows, club activities, exhibits, tours and occasional pleasure driving.

Legislatures have responded to the recent trend by introducing proposals aimed at redefining existing laws to apply to vintage military surplus vehicles. Other proposals attempt to expand the number of types of military vehicles allowed to be registered or create ways for enthusiasts to increase often-limited personal usage allowances.

Ex-military offerings are favorites for the truck/SUV crowd as well as off-roaders and overlanders seeking to stand out from the pack. Originally built for the Swedish armed forces, this customized ’56 Volvo TP21 by Eddie’s Rod & Custom earned a top-40 spot in the 2019 SEMA Battle of the Builders at last year’s SEMA Show.

A fresh version of SEMA-model legislation has been drafted to aid the registration of former military vehicles. By way of background, the SEMA Action Network (SAN) has crafted unique solutions to combat common auto-related difficulties nationwide in the form of model bills, which are templates that offer turnkey legislative fixes to vehicle-related policies and laws suffering behind the times. As a result of success with proactive legislation, SEMA-model bills have created reasonable and practical solutions for specific issues like this topic. Enactment of pro-hobby model language into state law creates new opportunities for the growth of the market segment across the country and protects enthusiasts from outdated and unfriendly laws.

Pro-hobby legislation related to military vehicles was introduced this year in several state legislatures. Fans of former military vehicles in West Virginia celebrated the signing of a new law to display an alternate registration insignia as opposed to a traditional license plate. The law preserves the accurate display of these vehicles’ military design and markings and protects the aesthetic contours. Versions of SEMA-model legislation to allow for the titling and registration of former military vehicles were also pending in Kansas and Michigan at press time.

In addition, other military-vehicle initiatives were approved by state legislatures in 2019. The governors of Nebraska, Nevada and Texas each signed laws allowing qualified military vehicles to be registered and operated on public roadways. Tennessee passed a measure that exempts historic military vehicles from the requirement to display a traditional license plate. Other attempts were made in several state sessions last year that were ultimately

So how can businesses take advantage of the decommissioned surplus market? As in other facets of the hobby, vehicles are purchased for both pure restoration and personalized treatments. The specialty-parts industry is uniquely suited to offer components and services to bring back the former glory of these machines in addition to upgraded performance and personalized styling options. Common enhancements such as wheels and tires, specialized bumpers and guards, winches, light bars and other items are desirable equipment options beyond factory reproductions.

As vehicle owners and companies who are directly impacted by such proposals, SAN members are the most important source of knowledge on the subject. Local voices are the most effective in shaping efforts affecting their home turf. Help our industry’s efforts on legislative initiatives like this in your area by visiting to stay informed. Encourage your friends and customers to follow suit. There is no cost or obligation to enlist in the SAN and help shape a bill’s future. SAN forces look forward to supporting more efforts to preserve and enjoy historic former military transport in the future.

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