Jail-threatened car restorers get help from SEMA and Barrett-Jackson

In 2017, a vintage car enthusiast bought his dream car in Indiana, a 1959 Corvette convertible with a hardtop. When he tried to register his new car in his home state of Kansas, the Kansas Highway Patrol seized it as “contraband”.

Under Kansas law, police are supposed to seize any car whose vehicle identification number (VIN) “has been destroyed, removed, altered, or defaced.” These “contraband” vehicles “must be destroyed”.

There are no exceptions.

2021 Chevrolet SEMA Project X
The 2021 SEMA Chevrolet Project X is a fully restored 1957 Chevy.
General Engines

“Back then when some of these archaic laws were written, they were written with the idea that they were about someone stealing a car,” said Steve Davis, president of Barrett-Jackson. Newsweek. “You hear about the mentality where people really intend to do bad things.”

Although the Corvette was legally purchased by someone who had no reason to know about its VIN issues, as the 1959 convertible’s dash VIN plate was removed years ago when car restoration.

According to this law, the Corvette is to be crushed and has since been in a Topeka, Kansas impound while the owner pleads his case in the state court system. Even the prosecutors in the case admitted that the owner was unaware of the VIN issue and there was no doubt that he was an innocent owner.

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“When you go to restore the frame, the vehicle comes apart. The VIN number is held on by two screws or two rivets, it’s common to remove that VIN number,” said Mike Spagnola, CEO of the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) , said Newsweek.

It’s done in the spirit of completely restoring an original vehicle, but it’s a crime to remove that license plate, you can go to jail for it.”

SEMA heard about this case in late 2021 and began working with State Representative Leo Delperdang to help change the language of the law to prevent this situation from happening again.

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The new language aims to protect restorers and owners of classic vehicles – while paying attention to the police’s ability to do their job. The law will specify that a VIN may be removed from an antique vehicle “if the removal and reinstallation is reasonably necessary for repair or restoration, unless the person knows or has reason to know that the antique vehicle was stolen. “.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Kansas Transportation Committee on Feb. 16 and is being heard by the state Senate.

Although Kansas is an extreme case, it prompted SEMA to begin evaluating the laws of other states to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Unfortunately for classic car enthusiasts, it doesn’t stop at the state level.

Classic car display
Each state has different laws and penalties for tampering with a VIN number.
Getty Images

Under federal law, removing a VIN number is a crime. A conviction can result in up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The process aims to clarify similar existing laws to protect restorers and owners of classic cars.

Each state has different laws and penalties for tampering with a VIN number. In California, the most severe penalties can range from 16 months to 3 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

In Arizona, legislation was introduced to allow full restoration of pre-1981 vehicles, including temporary VIN removal if necessary. Prior to the addition of this language, enthusiasts who intentionally deleted or altered a VIN, regardless of the reason or model year of the vehicle, were guilty of a crime.

The Arizona bill passed the House, 58-0, on Feb. 16 and is being heard by the state Senate.

“If we can get this in place and everyone is on board to change the law in Arizona, they will create a ripple effect, and all the other states will follow,” Davis said. But right now it’s kind of the Wild Wild West, and it’s creating problems like you see in Kansas.”

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