Good news for car collectors: Your pride and joy may not be a clunker, thanks to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).

SEMA managed to inject an addition to the so-called clunker law which exempts cars and trucks older than 25 years from this new federal program. Set to take effect in July, it will give vouchers ranging in value from $3,500 to $4,500 to owners turning-in older cars and trucks for new higher-mileage models; vehicles (including cars, trucks and motorcycles) manufactured after 1984 will be eligible for the vouchers.

SEMA is a professional/lobbying group representing many of the world’s car-makers and thousands of “aftermarket” companies, those outfits which dream-up, design, build and sell performance and appearance products for cars and trucks. It’s a huge, near-$30 billion annual business in the U.S. alone and thousands of Americans depend on the automotive aftermarket for their livelihoods. Harm the collecting hobby and harm to the aftermarket follows.

Proponents claim that the “Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act (CARS)” act may spur an estimated 625,000 new vehicle sales, foreign and domestic. The program was originally scheduled to last one year, but the final version of the bill pegs its life span at only four months; if things go well, it could be extended.

Originally called the Speed Equipment Market Association, such performance icons as engineer/racer/promoter Mickey Thompson (my old boss), founders of So Cal Speed Shop Alex Xydias and Dean Batchelor (my great friends), “Hot Rod,” “Motor Trend,” and “Car Craft” magazine publisher Robert E. Petersen (also my old boss) and NHRA founder Wally Parks (the man, the legend) all had a hand in SEMA’s formation. But never let it be said that I’m an automotive name-dropper.

The group might be best-known to automotive enthusiasts through its annual SEMA Show each November in Las Vegas. The four-day orgy of high-performance and high-style is open “to the trade only” yet is the second-best attended event in that convention city, drawing over 100,000 car nuts from around the world (COMDEX gets more people, but the general public can get into that event). The SEMA Show is considered by some aficionados (including me) as one of the best car shows in the world, on a par with Tokyo, Stuttgart, Los Angeles and other major auto extravaganzas. 

Clunker laws have been used in several countries for some time. SEMA and its members and car collectors and enthusiasts in general were most fearful of a clunker law mandating expensive annual inspections of cars and trucks of a certain age (a strategy used in Japan to “encourage” car-owners to buy new cars rather than keep older ones and pay the hefty annual inspection fees), and, though a remote possibility, the chance that confiscation of “clunkers” might become a reality. This new program includes neither of these potential problems.

Collectors will tell you that their cars, frequently tuned and restored to much better condition than the day they left the factory, often run cleaner and get better mileage than many of today’s modern vehicles.

That being true or not, millions of Americans have billions of dollars invested in their vintage “babies” and view government interference in the “old car hobby” with the same or even more trepidation Second Amendment fans have when they look at even modest gun registration schemes.

If SEMA never does another thing for their members, collectors and enthusiasts, they’ve earned their money with this one action. I say serious kudos. Yes, I’m that rare breed, a progressive auto enthusiast. Regular readers know I’m a strong “green” proponent yet can wax rhapsodic about F1, muscle cars and NASCAR.

Thanks to our friends at the Detroit News, use this cool little link to find out if your car or truck is officially a clunker http://www.detnews.com/article/20090616/SPECIAL01/90615001/1148/rss25 

And collectors, you can relax a little.

More info: www.SEMA.org.

Steve Parker is a two-time Emmy Award-winner who has covered the world’s auto industry and motor racing for over 35 years. Parker hosts live one-hour automotive and motor racing call-in radio shows each Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m. on www.TalkRadioOne.com (free podcasts of Steve’s previous shows also posted on that site). Contact Steve through his own automotive issues Website at www.SteveParker.com.