Restoring an old house within the city limits of any sizable metropolis represents the pinnacle of hip, socially responsible decorum. Death to the suburban McMansions! It's the kind of thing that the apex specimens of humankind partake in, and ranks right up there with eating overpriced organic produce. Despite the parallelisms, however, the same doesn't apply to rehabilitating old cars. Incredibly enough, replacing old engines and drivelines with more efficient and environmentally friendly modern technology is frowned upon by well-meaning yet uneducated individuals. So what if the LS3 in that '66 Chevelle emits far fewer pollutants than the 283 it replaced, and can match a new Honda Accord V-6 in the gas mileage department? The 430hp LS3 is more often than not mistaken for the smog-producing machines of the past, and hot rod haters have no problem clinging to their blissful ignorance. As absurd as it sounds, this kind of lunacy runs rampant in the mainstream psyche. The question is: How much of it is merely an occasional annoyance, and how much of it genuinely impedes upon your ability to restore and modify your muscle car? Well, that depends on where you live.
Emissions laws vary tremendously...
Emissions laws vary tremendously by state, and counties within each state often have their own laws. For a complete breakdown of your local emissions laws, in addition to all automotive-related legislation in your state, log onto the SEMA Action Network website at www.SEMASAN.com.
Although practice often proves far different from principle, the United States of America is technically a federation. Each of the 50 states are free to function autonomously with its own set of laws within the framework of authority granted by the federal government. Consequently, laws that govern our hobby are enforced primarily on the state and local level. As such, regulations that affect hot rodding the most-such as emissions, safety inspections, registration, titling, scrappage, and storage laws-vary dramatically from state to state. Generally, heavily populated regions of the country have more stringent regulations and are naturally at a disadvantage in terms of hot rod friendliness. The higher the population of any given area, the more emissions it will produce, and the more people who go driving by your property, the more likely it is that someone will complain about the project cars parked in your backyard.
Picking the Top 5 most hot rod-friendly states based strictly on state laws would be a relatively simple task, but there are tons of other factors to consider. Who cares if it's easy to build a hot rod if there's nowhere to go hot rodding? The local hot rod culture, climate, caliber of driving roads, proximity to racetracks, and frequency of motorsport events all played a role in our determination of the most hot rod-friendly states in the country. Here's how they line up.
Casinos make Nevada a great place to party for the general public, but it's also the most hot rod-friendly state in the country as well. For the straight-line crowd, there's The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which hosts national NHRA events, PSCA races, Mopars at the Strip, and nostalgia drag events. For road race and roundy-round boys, the LVMS facility boasts a NASCAR oval and an infield road course as well. If that's not enough to relieve your road racing fix, the new 3.1-mile road course at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch should do the trick. One of Nevada's flagship motorsports events is the Silver State Classic open road race, which takes place every fall on State Highway 318. Hands down, the crown jewel of all racing in Nevada is the legendary Bonneville Speed Week and World Finals. Technically, the race takes place in Wendover, Utah, not Nevada, but the event credited as the genesis of hot rodding is only a stone's throw away from the Nevada-Utah border.
California and Texas rank...
California and Texas rank First and Second in population, respectively, and both are under tremendous pressure by the EPA to regulate the emissions generated by their large manufacturing industries. Both states can earn pollution credits by indiscriminately crushing old cars in lieu of actually reducing emissions. Additionally, California and Texas both offer credits or vouchers that encourage people to trade in older cars that have failed emissions tests. Despite each state's bustling car culture, their silly scrappage policies prevent them from making our list. Fortunately, no other states sponsor similar programs.
In addition to the racing, Nevada has thousands of miles of superb driving roads that snake between the Sierra Nevada mountains, along picturesque Lake Tahoe, and through some of the most desolate desert roads in the world. Nevada State Route 375, also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, is essentially a 98-mile straightaway with only one small town in its path. It runs adjacent to Area 51, and you can traverse its entire length without ever seeing another life-form. Think of it as the American Autobahn-just watch out for the cows.
Of course, none of this would matter if state regulations made building hot rods a pain, but this is where Nevada truly shines. In 2007, Nevada signed a SEMA-modeled bill for street rods and customs into law. It stipulates that kit cars can be issued VINs, and be titled and registered as the make and model of car it most closely resembles. The bill covers both pre-'48 vehicles, and cars that are at least 25 years old, so it includes everything from '32 Ford replicas to Dynacorn reproduction '69 Camaros. Although new cars are subject to emissions testing in the Las Vegas and Reno areas, pre-'68 vehicles are exempt, as are street rods and classic cars that are at least 25 years old, and driven fewer than 2,501 miles per year. Likewise, after passing an initial safety inspection, kit cars are exempt from annual safety and emissions inspections. What really distinguishes Nevada from the pack is that it clearly outlines emissions, titling, and registration laws for all types of enthusiast vehicles, eliminating any gray area and protecting residents from bogus reprimands.
Up in Big Sky Country, sparse population is both a blessing and a curse. With less than one million residents, from a legislation standpoint, Montana doesn't need to do much regulating at all and therefore pegs the hot rod-friendly meter. The state has no emissions or inspection laws whatsoever, so you're free to build your cars however you please. Thanks to having the third-lowest population density of any state in the country, it's highly unlikely that anyone will ever complain about cars stored on your property, or the sweet sound of impact wrenches blaring away in the barn at night. Not only has Montana enacted SEMA's model legislation for street rods and customs, it goes the extra mile with simple, one-page forms for registration and titling that are available for download online. Need a VIN for that '32 Dearborn Deuce? Just fill out a one-page form and the state will give you one. Has the title to that '57 Chevy gone missing in the 54-plus years since it's been built? Simply fill out a one-page application and pay $8, and the state will issue a new one. Despite the low population total, Montana is home to three dragstrips: Lewistown Raceway, Lost Creek Raceway, and Yellowstone Dragstrip-along with several paved ovals and dirt tracks. Located at the crossroads of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, Montana boasts the spectacular backdrops of Yellowstone and Glacier National parks along miles upon miles of secluded asphalt. This is, after all, the state that technically had no speed limit between 1995 and 1999. Unfortunately, the state's brutally cold and prolonged winters, lack of major motorsports events, and a population too small to sustain any major hot rodding culture prevent Montana from finishing higher up on the list.
With the exception of states...
With the exception of states like Kentucky, vehicle storage laws are written and enforced at the local level. They might even be outlined in the HOA deed restriction packet you signed when you purchased your house. The SEMA Action Network is working hard to convince states to adopt its model legislation for inoperable vehicles or project cars. As ugly as weeds growing out the hood of a car may be, the model states that no one can touch your property as long as it's stored out of public view. Let's hope it catches on.
Even all the old-timers can't keep Florida down. If you can put up with the humidity and sporadic and frequent rainstorms, the Sunshine State has a lot going for it. Thanks in part to its long, skinny shape and ocean breeze that helps diffuse concentrated pollution, Florida has no emissions testing for any cars, regardless of age. This opens the door for all kinds of engine swaps. Big-block in a Prius, anyone? The state signed SEMA's model legislation for enthusiast vehicles into law in 2007, which makes registering, titling, and obtaining VINs for kit cars and reproduction muscle cars extremely easy. On the motorsports front, Florida is home to nearly a dozen dragstrips, a boatload of paved and dirt ovals, and more than a fair share of road courses, including the legendary Sebring International Raceway circuit. As far as big races go, Florida hosts the Daytona 500, the NASCAR season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the two biggest endurance races in the country, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Maybe that's why all the old people move there?
If there's a sleeper on this list, it has to be Kentucky. It's not the first state that comes to mind when it comes to muscle cars, but it sure makes things easy on enthusiasts. Most laws governing vehicle storage are enforced by local governments, and can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood based on Home Owner's Association restrictions. In 2005, Kentucky became the first state to sign SEMA's model bill for inoperable vehicle storage into law. The law states that hot rodders are free to store project vehicles or parts cars on their property-without fear of violating local nuisance violations-as long as they're stored outside of public view, such as in a garage, or behind a fence or shrubbery. This applies to residents in city, county, and unincorporated areas. Many local governments have similar laws to protect enthusiasts, but Kentucky is the first and only state to implement it statewide. Adding to the state's appeal to hot rodders, Kentucky has no emissions laws, and kit car builders can simply apply for a new VIN once an initial safety inspection has been performed. For racers, the state has nearly a dozen dragstrips, and since Kentucky is located in the heart of NASCAR country, it boasts more ovals (paved and dirt) and go-kart tracks than you can count.
What's a Rust Belt state doing in the Top 5? Answer: a disproportionately high concentration of fast cars. As Illinois' biggest city, Chicago represents the pioneering Midwestern hot rodding culture in an extreme kind of way. In this neck of the woods, everyone emerges from their garages after working on their cars all winter with a new combination of parts aching for a beat down. Combine this structured hot rodding schedule with the population of the third-largest city in the country, and you get a ton of fast cars. Although there's no practical way to accurately gauge this sort of thing, Chicago has what's arguably the highest concentration of 9- and 8-second street cars in the country. And whether they're muscle cars or street rods, they're all nice. As the locals explain, all the jalopies rusted out a long time ago, so all that's left is the good stuff. Surely, a state so conducive to speed must be friendly to the hobby, and the facts reinforce this assessment. The state enacted SEMA's model legislation for titling and registering muscle cars and street rods back in 2002. Although the areas surrounding Chicago and East St. Louis do enforce smog tests, pre-'68 vehicles are exempt, as are muscle cars that are 25 years and older, which fall into Illinois' antique vehicle category. Smog laws are even lenient enough to make exemptions for race cars. So if you have a late-model car that's only driven at the track, just fill out an affidavit and your ride is smog exempt. Like neighboring Kentucky, Illinois has over three-dozen dirt and paved oval tracks in addition to a half-dozen dragstrips. No wonder this place is home to so many fast cars.