Part 4: It’s Mine Officer, Honestly!
This is part four and the final part of an article written by guest author Bill Culp. All VINs used in these photos have been altered and do not show all numbers.
Here is another 1971 Dodge, only this one is a 340 Demon. Even these slightly different screws are correct along with the paint and the tab at the top right. These screws are common hardware ones, so beware of removal and replacement.
Even when you find your data plate it doesn’t mean you will know what it says. The author is familiar with AACA judging. The data plates are not consulted in AACA judging as few judges have the documentation to challenge them. Because of this, no matter what the data plate says any correct color or accessory for this Dodge Demon is considered okay and not penalized. Except for mark specific clubs this is the common procedure. Fakes are detected by knowledgeable judges through inspecting the entire car for all the correct features. An extremely well-done fake can probably get by this judging. If you are purchasing such a car, check all documentation very carefully. Depending on your make, model and year of manufacture there may be a book, club or other resource that can assist with decoding your data plate. Some cars are extremely easy to decode while others are nearly impossible.
Let me relate a story on documentation. A friend in Tennessee had a 1940 Chevrolet coupe that couldn’t be registered and licensed in that state because he had no documentation. The car had a changed engine (correct type) and a data plate that was rusted so that two or more figures were missing. Alabama has a very easy policy on registering and licensing. I got a bill of sale from my friend for the car made out to me as the buyer; also included was the rusted data plate. With only these items in hand I went to my county’s license bureau. I explained that I didn’t have a complete serial number and the engine number was of no use. The clerk checked with her supervisor and it was decided that my incomplete serial number was adequate. I was issued all of the proper registration and licensing documentation for Alabama. My next step was to provide a new bill of sale back to my friend with the Alabama documentation. He then took this information to the Tennessee authorities so that he now obtained proper Tennessee registration and licensing. This procedure has been common knowledge in Tennessee for years.
Few states are like Alabama. Even Alabama only allows this “easy” bill of sale procedure for automobiles earlier than 1974. I suppose that they figure that a car earlier than 1974 is nearly worthless. What about the 1971 Dodge Charger RT Hemi mentioned previously?
One rumor of note regards a ring of car thieves that were stealing valuable automobiles (Duesenbergs and Hemi’s) from areas outside of Alabama and then immediately shipping them to Arizona for sale. The information from the data plate and fake bill of sale from a fake seller were FAXED to Alabama to a fake buyer and immediately presented to the Alabama license bureau. Once the new Alabama documentation was obtained it was then shipped over night to Arizona and used to document the sale to an unsuspecting real buyer. Within a couple of days a car had disappeared; went to a new “owner” and the thieves vanished. If the stolen car was later found, the new “owner” would be out his car and his money without much information to give the authorities.
This data plate is from a 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass. The hex head screws are very suspicious, as rivets should be in place here. That doesn’t mean that the owner is dishonest, but the plate is also usually painted the ugly black that is seen on the cowl. One should check carefully here if one is expecting a W-30, Hurst or a 442.
Allow me to illustrate the most suspicious case of data plate modifying that I have seen. This set of data plates is from a 1953 Buick Roadmaster convertible. This automobile is much rarer than the rare Buick Skylark of the same year. The restoration is absolutely beautiful. It is an AACA senior winner if there ever was one. The price asked for the car was an astounding $185,000.00.
You will probably notice that the first data plate located on the cowl is mounted with common phillips head screws instead of the special rosette rivets common with GM cars of the period. It is also in perfect condition and “wonderfully restored”. The data plate located on the doorway is in the condition that one might expect of a fifty-six year old automobile. It somehow is also missing the special rosette rivets and has two very modern screws of different types. The one on the right even has a nylon washer.
While this automobile is very hard to fake as all 1953 Buick convertibles are extremely valuable, it is possible that it is a more common Super series. A serious buyer should demand the most complete documentation possible for such a car and be very suspicious of this car. It is an absolute wonder that anyone would do such a fine restoration on this car and make such mistakes. One would also wonder if the quality of work is only skin deep.
Learn something about your car and use the data plate(s) as a guide. They provide a nice snapshot of that treasure in your garage.