Maybe, if you have a valid out-of-state title for a modern kit car and can get an SB 100 "free pass"-but don't try it with a "Born-Again" post-1967 Mini

Legal Files" was recently contacted by an SCM subscriber who thought the current economic climate made this the right time to buy a replica 1965 Ford GT40 and had found a nice one at an acceptable price. The car was originally titled in California but had since left the state.

When our subscriber asked California's DMV about bringing the car back, he was told he would have to reapply to register it and it might have to meet emissions requirements for its actual year of manufacture. A second subscriber was having difficulty titling his newly acquired Noble, since the 2007-built car was unable to meet the 2007 emissions rules. And a third asked about his 1990s Mini, which is titled as a 1965. What kind of trouble could he get into?

The SB 100 loophole covers kit cars

Vehicles such as the GT40 replica, the Noble, and other examples of "kit cars" are classified as specially constructed vehicles (SPCNS) in California. Generally, they must be built by or for the first owner, and not by a seller for purposes of resale. Manufacturers of such vehicles generally meet these requirements by selling the car without an engine, which is installed later. Since they don't sell turn-key cars, they don't have to be licensed as manufacturers.

But the key point with SPCNS in California is that their year of build is counted as the year of title-for example, a brand-new replica 1965 GT40 would be considered a 2010 SPCNS. That may seem of little consequence until you consider that the car must meet the emissions requirements for its year of build. Consequently, owners of such cars have commonly found ways to title them, illegitimately, as the year vehicle that they replicate. And, with an estimated 70,000 or so such vehicles in the state, California has pursued an aggressive enforcement campaign.

Under California Vehicle Code §4750.1 (generally referred to as SB 100), 500 SPCNS per year are permitted to meet the emissions requirements applicable to the year the car replicates. In our GT40 example, that would mean 1965. That's a free pass, since there were no emissions requirements then. Obviously, an SB 100 certificate is as good as gold. These 500 SPCNS are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, held at the beginning of each year.

One-year amnesty program

Assistant Attorney General Robert Morgester was instrumental in creating a one-year amnesty program in effect for 2010. He explained to "Legal Files" that, under the program, any incorrectly titled vehicle (whether SPCNS or not) can be properly titled during 2010 and all fines and penalties will be waived. This seems appealing, but here's the catch-any car titled under the amnesty program will be assigned 2010 as its year of build. That means it will have to meet the 2010 emissions requirements. Unless, that is, the owner obtains an SB 100 certificate, of which there are only 500. And when they're gone, they're gone until the next year.

Our reader's GT40 replica might be okay if it was originally registered in California with an SB 100 certificate. If that can be established, it would not need to go through the amnesty program. But if the car was not properly titled in California, it would have to meet the emissions requirements of its build year, unless an SB 100 certificate could be obtained.

Valid titles from other states

Various states take different approaches to SPCNS. While California would title the GT40 as an SPCNS with a year-of-first-title build year, others would title it as a "1965 Ford GT40 Replica." But a few states aren't very concerned about nuance, and would title it as simply a "1965 Ford." What if that is what you bring into California?

When pushed, Morgester acknowledged California law requires that "full faith and credit" be given to other states' titles. If the GT40 replica has a valid title that identifies it as a "1965 Ford" and nothing else, California has to accept it as a 1965 Ford. It will receive such a title, and it will be required to meet only the 1965 (non-existent) emissions requirements. "But," Morgester cautions, "the key word here is 'valid.' The owner would have to establish that a full disclosure of all pertinent facts was made to the other state before the title was issued. Otherwise, the title is not 'validly issued,' and California would not have to honor it."

Unfortunately, none of this helps the Noble owner. The Noble can be classified as an SPCNS, but its build year would be 2007. However, it is a thoroughly modern car, and it does not replicate an older car. Consequently, an SB 100 certificate would not help, and it will always have to meet the 2007 emissions requirements.

Try another DMV office or find an expert

It's easy to see that these rules are so complicated, even DMV employees might not understand them. After all, these situations are far from the norm, and your case might be a DMV employee's first such experience. If you don't get the answer you think you should, try another DMV office. If necessary, go to your state's main DMV office and ask for a specialist in this type of vehicle. Talking to the right person can make all the difference.

Mini fraud, maxi problem

We've also gotten some questions about new/old Minis. As many readers know, Minis are notorious for being falsely titled. They were officially imported into the U.S. through 1967, but not since. They continued to be manufactured until 2000, with a lengthy list of special editions to create niche appeal, but the newer models can't legally be imported into the U.S. Not only will they fail emissions requirements, but they can't pass crash tests. As a result, we see many "rebodied" 1960s era Minis today. Take a 1990 Mini, alter the chassis plate and VIN, and you have a 1965 "classic" car in impeccable condition. Or just leave the VIN alone and claim it as a '65. Who would know, since they all look alike to the uninitiated?

Asked what he would do with one of these examples, Morgester's chilling response was, "I would arrest the individual and seize the car." There's just no getting around this one. This "thoroughly modern Mini" has been fraudulently titled, and probably fraudulently imported under federal law. It is not an SPCNS, but simply a fraudulently disguised serial production car.

Morgester is quick to acknowledge that a lot of people are fooled by unscrupulous sellers and don't realize what they have bought. He sympathizes with them, but that is of limited help. The innocent victim will not be charged with a crime, but the car still won't be registered or titled. After all, no matter how innocent the owner, the car still is what it is.

The lesson for readers buying any cars that fit into these categories, Minis or Citroën 2CVs, for example, is to be extra careful. You can't just go by the title or registration. Hire an expert to inspect the car and contact your state's DMV before writing the check. Be sure you know what you have to do to get the car titled and registered. Otherwise, you run the risk of buying the world's biggest door stop.

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