Why Can’t I Have This?

A reader asks me why he can’t have a Mahindra Roxor – which is basically a Jeep CJ/Wrangler 4×4 that costs half as much as a new Wrangler. One’s legal to drive on public roads, the other’s not.

So, you can have it . . . you just can’t drive it. Not on “public” roads, that is.

Because the government won’t allow it. The government says it doesn’t comply with various saaaaaaaaafety standards – though neither did a Jeep Willys back in the ’50s or a CJ in the ’70s and you could buy – and use on public roads – either of those when it was new. Also air-cooled/rear-engined VW Beetles and all kinds of other vehicles which we’re not allowed to drive anymore on the roads we pay for but which the government asserts ownership over.

What’s changed?

America used to be a relatively free country – and isn’t anymore.

It was until comparatively recently an extremely free country in terms of cars. Before the late 1960s, the car industry was largely free to build practically anything it wanted to – from pocket-sized BMW Isettas and semi-seaworthy Amphicars to gaudy Chryslers with twin-four barrel V8s – and if people bought what was built, everyone was happy. Amazon.com Gift Card i... Buy New $15.00 (as of 06:30 EST - Details)

There was still liability, of course – for defective vehicles. But otherwise, the vehicles were made to meet market demand and the government largely stayed out of it.

It’s why cars had great big fins and all kinds of different engines and layouts – and ranged from the extremely basic to the ultra-elaborate. A horse for every course – and budget.

But then government got into the car design business. First, with regard to emissions – which were “uncontrolled” before 1967 – and then (the precedent having been established) saaaaaaaaaaaaafety. Today, the government micromanages the car industry and effectively dictates vehicle design, with the result being that new cars are expensive, homogenous and largely not much fun anymore.

Thus, you are not allowed to buy a simple Jeep-like vehicle such as the Roxor.

It’s not an “unsafe” vehicle, either.

It merely cannot pass the latest battery of crash tests the government requires and lacks equipment such as a back-up camera. Well, a 1990 S-Class Mercedes couldn’t pass current crash tests and also doesn’t have a back-up camera.

Is it an “unsafe” car?

Silliness.

“Unsafe” properly defined means a vehicle that is crash-prone; of unsound design – i.e., defective. A vehicle that is merely light may not hold up as well in a crash – if it crashes. But being light and lacking air bags and back-up cameras does not mean it is more likely to crash.

The distinction is important.

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