We are continuing with our new feature on the site with today’s Post. We are welcoming guest Articles from writers with interesting or informative articles they would like to share with the rest of us gear heads. If you have a technical article, a story about your first street race or a driving impression of the first car you fell in love with and want to share it with our readers please send it to Richard@LegendaryCollectorCars.com. We will review all submissions, pick our favorites and publish them right here. We reserve the right to edit all submissions prior to publishing.
Today we start a four part series written by Bill Culp of Decatur Alabama. Hope you find it informative and entertaining. All VINs used in these photos have been altered and do not show all numbers.
Part 1: History
We all know that vehicles have been identified by serial numbers since the beginning of production in the late 1800’s. At first all that was intended with the data plate was a method for the manufacturer to keep track of its inventory. However, it was not long before manufactures realized that other information could also be useful. Additional data was soon included, such things as color, style and accessories. Some plates were even styled so that the customer could easily recognize if the vehicle was a Packard or Plymouth. Later these plates became useful in finding lost or stolen cars. The information on the plates (especially the serial number) was included on official documents such as titles and licenses.
The serial number became the automobile’s official name. Unfortunately, it was not long before the data plates were sometimes doctored. Just as today when a person attempts to “clone” a rare muscle car, unscrupulous owners would try to make a particular automobile something that it wasn’t. That led to the marking of frames and other parts to identify them to that particular car. This has led to commonly repeated phrase “numbers matching.” These markings can be very hard to find and read, so the data plate is still the easy way out to identify a particular automobile.
Currently automobiles use a vinyl decal, usually pasted to a door or one of the supporting columns of the vehicle such as the “A” or “B” post of the driver’s door area. A typical vinyl data plate for a 1979 Lincoln found on the door opening area can be found at the top of the page as an example.
There is also a much smaller decal on each major part such as hoods, deck lids, doors, etc so that dismantling and theft parts can be identified. They only include the serial number and build date as found at the top of the example Lincoln data plate. The markings are very faint.
In more recent times the data plate used by owners and police is the serial number found at the base of the windshield mounted on the instrument panel. This location has been used since the late sixties. This example plate happens to be from a 1970 Chrysler 300 with a 440 TNT engine. The serial number must be decoded to discover the manufacturer, assembly plant, date of manufacture, body style, and other features.
Notice that this data plate is affixed with rivets so that tampering can be discovered.