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Data Plates and VINs

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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.

To be continued…

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I grew up and lived in Iowa for a good portion of my life before moving to Southern California. After 20+ years we now live outside Nashville Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check out our other web site at site) As long as it has four wheels and an engine I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife, Katriana, is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. It includes a Best of Show winner, a survivor, a driver with lots of patina and several others. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out working with or showing our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at

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