Your Classic Car Is One Authoritarian Politician Away From Being Seized

Estimated read time 5 min read

Shining a light on California considering the institution of zero-emission zones, restricting where classic cars can be driven in the state has caused a bit of controversy. While I never said such a plan will definitely be put into place, plenty of people and other publications have tried fact checking me on the subject as if I had. What they’re missing is things could get far worse than that.  

China will likely seize foreign automakers’ assets eventually.

Many times, government agencies as well as big corporations will leak details of a possible plan to see how the public reacts. It’s cheap market research. I’m not saying that’s what CARB has done, but it’s possible.

So of course when an automotive site I won’t name interviewed a representative from CARB, they said the organization was just collecting data… to do nothing. If you believe that, I’ve got a bunch of bridges to sell you.

Whether or not the Golden State will try setting up restrictions on where certain kinds of cars can drive, or allow local governments to do so, the sad and inconvenient truth is things could get far worse. There’s a possibility your classic car could be seized by the government, be it federal or state.

Think that’s just a crazy conspiracy theory? There’s historic precedence to help make it happen. Mark Twain wisely observed once, history might not repeat itself, but it often does rhyme with the present.

During the last world war, not everyone was eager to hand over whatever the government deemed as “excess” for the war effort. One prime example was a North Dakota farmer named Roy Dries. He had been ratted out for having old tractors and other items stashed away on his private property.

 Government officials asked him repeatedly to willingly donate the items, but the man refused. In 1944 the War Production Board along with the help of a deputy U.S. Marshal, served the warrant for the seizure of 20 tons of scrap metal from Dries’ farm.

After news of the forcible seizure of Dries’ stash of scrap metal, authorities made it clear that more was to come. In other words, it was open season on “scofflaws” who didn’t hand over whatever the government decided they shouldn’t own anymore. But this was hardly the first time such a thing was done.

A 30-ton haul of scrap metal being kept from authorities by a private citizen in Minesotta not too long before the Dries raid was also seized.

This sort of thing had been going on since at least March 1942 when federal agents raided a farm in Ohio. They took a sizable mound of old refrigerators the property owner was holding onto. Reportedly, scrap dealers turned the farmer in after he refused to sell the kitchen appliances to them. That’s quite the business model, using the government to strongarm negotiations favorable to your enterprise.

Understandably, during WWII people started hiding anything made of metal they didn’t want to have seized by the government. Farmers buried old tractors, some hid old cars under piles of hay in their barns, etc.

Some got pretty creative as a cat and mouse game emerged. Government propaganda labeled such citizens as unpatriotic, ungrateful, and unwilling to support the fight for freedom against the Axis.

While those who had “excess” metal removed by force were compensated, it’s arguable that money wasn’t a truly fair price. It’s also debatable whether or not such seizures were ethical or even entirely lawful.

Surely such a thing couldn’t and wouldn’t happen today, right? Consider this: during the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and the Great Depression the government threatened citizens who didn’t turn over their gold or gold certificates with crushing fines and/or prison time. In other words, during times deemed as emergencies like war and economic strife, the federal government has established a precedent for taking whatever it wants.

There are far, far more cars in the United States than there were during WWII. The benefit the government, be it federal or state, could reap by seizing any deemed as “excess” would be tremendous. That could be decided by the age of a vehicle, how many a household owns, or on any whim of a politician, bureaucrat, or committee.

It’s certainly conceivable CARB could declare a climate emergency, seizing older cars because they “pollute too much.” Or it could snatch all cars made before 2006, a similar cutoff that’s being made for anti-pollution policies elsewhere. The federal government could mandate that every household is only allowed one vehicle and all others are to be turned over because we find ourselves fighting WWIII. Feeding the war machine, protecting the environment, etc. could take priority over your personal property rights because it has in the past – that’s historical fact, not speculation.  

Remember: elections have consequences, including who you elect for city, county, and state positions as well as at the federal level. Your right to own something like a classic car is just one authoritarian politician away from being put in jeopardy.

Sources: Farm Collector, Prairie Public NewsRoom, The National WWII Museum, FEE

Images via Markus Spiske, Matthew Leland, Pixabay

Steven Symes

Steven Symes is an accomplished automotive journalist with a passion for all things related to cars. His extensive knowledge and love for the automotive world shine through in his writing, which covers a diverse range of topics.

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