Antique and Classic Car VIN Numbers / What Do They Tell Us?

When contemplating purchasing a classic or antique car or truck, locating and decoding the vehicle VIN number is a necessary step in due diligence. Sometimes it may not be easy to do but it can be done. While many people refer to a car’s identification number as VIN numbers, the VIN means Vehicle Identification Number therefore the proper term would be VIN’s.

classic car vinWhy the VIN is Important

A VIN will tell you a variety of things. A VIN numbers has codes and the VIN codes will tell you a lot about the vehicle you’re looking at. For one thing, the proper searching of VIN’s will help tell you if the car or truck you’re looking at is authentic or not. What could be more important?

Researching the VIN or the old serial number of an antique car or truck will also help you determine the vehicles value. Perhaps a vehicle is worth more if it has original parts. Less modification may mean the vehicle is worth more.

Buyers can determine if trim tag numbers, engine code identification number, and rear axle identification numbers are consistent with the original make and model as advertised. Depending on replacement parts which may or may not have been added to the vehicle, the true market value could vary significantly. This is a must for a serious collector.

antique car serial numbers
1922 Ford Model T

Interestingly enough, VIN numbers did not become standardized until the early 1980’s therefore when you locate a vehicle VIN number, say perhaps on a vintage vehicle from the 1930’s, you’ll have some work to do.

During the 1930’s and 1940’s a VIN number would look quite different from what you’re used to today. Prior to the 1980’s standardization and the 1950’s VIN introduction the vehicle identification number (serial number) would vary from car to car. The serial numbers used then were put together however the individual manufacturer wished. Each had it’s own code. To understand what it tells you requires access to the manufacturers code book.

The serial numbers a manufacturer may have used during the 1930’s or 1940’s for example did not look like today’s modern VIN in any way. Beginning in 1955 they did begin to look like today’s VIN but not entirely. In general they were shorter and of course were not standardized until the early 1980’s.

classic car vin

VIN Numbers and Parts

Theoretically, an untouched car or truck should have the same VIN numbers on all parts. This would suggest that the vehicle as it is today has all the parts on it as at the time it rolled off the assembly line. You could assume that if the parts have different numbers stamped on them that they are not original. Depending on the year of the vehicle, this definition could be considered somewhat strict.

VIN numbers (serial numbers) on antique automobiles can be found at different places on the car or truck depending on the make. VIN locations might include the door post, the dashboard, the engine or perhaps the steering wheel post. Some might be found on the front door hinge post. All depends on the particular automaker.

Antique Car Vehicle Identification Numbers

Did you know that Chevrolet, Ford and other automobile and truck models didn’t use VIN numbers on their vehicles prior to about 1955?

What they used instead was a “car number plate“. These are also referred to as “serial numbers” . This plate or serial number essentially identified where the vehicle was manufactured (each factory had a different number), what month it was built and the series from which it came off the assembly line. These old plates are can be somewhat rare. Many are missing and because some of the early models were built with wood frames the car number plate would often disappear with the deteriorating wood.

old car vin number

Early serial numbers did not include nearly as much information about the car model and mechanics like today’s.

To give you an example of an old automobile serial number, the 1930 Buick Sedan might have a number such as  2414805.On that particular model the serial number would be found on the car’s right or left frame side rail about 13 inches back from the front axle.

Another example would be with a 1947 Ford Deluxe Series Coupe. With this model the serial number might look like 788A1512706509506. The VIN/Serial number would be located on the left frame side rail ahead of the cowl and the left frame rail ahead of the axle.

old car serial numbersOur Present Day Vehicle Identification Numbers

Today’s seventeen character standardized VIN numbers are arranged in an orderly way.

The first three characters tell you in what country the vehicle was built. The fourth through eighth character tells a lot about the type of car, it’s chassis and model. The ninth digit is called a check digit which essentially is added for redundancy and to catch any identification errors that may have occurred in the letter and number sequence. The last characters, number tenth to seventeen tells more about the vehicle, it’s engine and/or transmission, etc. Each manufacturer uses it’s own set of numbers and letters for descriptive purposes.

You may also be interested in our AutoMuseumOnline article Where to Look For VIN, ID and Serial Number on a List of Vintage and Classic Vehicles

Also see our article on…Your Car’s VIN and Auto Thieves / Don’t Be a Victim

vintage car serial numbersWhere to Research Your Vehicle’s VIN or Serial Number

There are websites on the internet that will help to research your VIN or Serial Number. Some of these are free and other services are not. Like most things, some of the for pay sites allow you to do deeper research which may be well worth it. The research involves matching numbers and letters to a particular manufacturers stored database.

If you’re contemplating spending a large sum for a vintage vehicle then you certainly may decide to use a for pay research site.

Also see our article Model T Serial Numbers and Registering Antique Cars 

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Three online VIN research sites which you may want to take a look at include…

(Photos and article copyright AutoMuseumOnline)

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