How important is matching numbers for classic cars?

If you collect classic cars, you must have heard about matching numbers. These have become essential requirements for most car buyers and play an important role in the valuation of vintage cars.

What does Matching Numbers mean ?

Number matching generally means that a particular car still contains its original major components.

The most important number is the vehicle identification number (VIN) (« chassis number »), as it will be used to ensure that all other numbers are matching. The VIN is a unique code used by the automotive industry since 1954 in the United States and standardized in 1981. From 1954 to 1981, each manufacturer used its own format. According to the current international standards (ISO 3779), VIN numbers have 17-characters, including the world manufacturer identifier, a vehicle descriptor section and a vehicle identifier section.

The list of “major components” is not always agreed on. Engine number should correspond to the chassis number of the car, this is the main requirement. It means that the engine is the one that was in the car when it came new from the factory. Yet, other “major components” can be considered, such as transmission, rear-axle assembly, and frame of the car, with intake manifolds, exhaust manifolds, body panels, and even carburettors. These components often contain dates, casting numbers, model numbers, vehicle identification number, stamped numbers, or codes that should match the original ones. No additional equipment would be accepted, color should be identical as when it left the factory, rims should be compliant.

In most cases, parts that are commonly replaced due to regular wear are considered as minor components. They would not affect the value of the car. Minor components include the interior fabric, chrome trim, brakes, and electrical components.

How do you verify matching numbers on a car?

First of all, you need to check the numbers by yourself, which involves a bit of knowledge on the car itself. You shoud focus on :

  • The vehicle identification number, as it sets the stage for the other numbers on your vehicle parts. You can check for your vehicle’s numbers on the actual chassis itself. It should definitely match with the paper of the car, otherwise the car does not correspond to its title or it has had complete new framework done to it.

  • The engine stamp or engine VIN plate. The sequence of ending numbers on the Engine stamp should match the VIN stamp (otherwise, the engine is not the original one). Note that you will not find such stamp on cars built before the end of the sixties. For such cars, you will need to look for casting dates stamped on engine, exhaust, and intake manifolds. The cast dates should be consistent with that car build date (a couple of weeks before).

  • The plate on the inside front drivers door post that tells you the date the car was built, the original exterior paint color, and the original interior color. These numbers allow you to check the authenticity of the color scheme and trim of the car.

If a car has number matching major components it helps define how collectible a car is. Number matching cars typically will have a much greater value than non-number matching cars, because they are much rarer than non-number matching cars, and are seen as a more accurate description of how the car was built.

For Matching Numbers

  • Undeniable authenticity

There is nothing like a car in its original condition. You get behind the wheel and feel the real sensations that the car’s first owner had. You are connected to this past, and your car is a genuine representative of its time.

  • The value of the car

Let us face it, a matching numbers classic car is much easier to sell than a modified car. This does not necessarily guarantee a clear and healthy history, but it is reassuring. Unless the car is an extremely expensive model, there is little chance that it has been destroyed or seriously damaged during its existence if it is a matching numbers. And for that you don’t need any expertise to guess, just read the numbers…

  • Winning elegance competitions

Matching numbers are not a requirement to enter an Elegance Competition, but they definitley help…showing a magnificent car, moreover in its original condition, will increase the chances of winning!

Uncertain industrial projects

Against Matching Numbers

  • Too much history is required

Knowing if your car is in its factory configuration is not easy, especially for the oldest vehicles. Some existing car manufacturers have kept precise records for all their cars, others have not or have disappeared …

So how do you know if your car is perfectly matching numbers? Having a photo file dating back to the first owner is mandatory in the event of insufficient archives. Without a precise reference, how can you guarantee that the paint is original ? In most cases, a genuine matching number classic car (ie without any restoration) is difficult to prove. Too much history is needed.

  • The price of restoration

Restoring a car by aiming for full matching numbers can be challenging. If you already have the original engine and chassis, you have a great advantage. While if your chassis is rotten or if your engine block is cracked, you will have to have it repaired to preserve the matching numbers. This can be so challenging that some expensive classic cars are restored by using two cars! One for the numbers and the other one for the spare parts…For some cars (such as racing cars), it is just infeasible. At best, the missing element will be replaced with an identical one.

  • It forbids nice restomod improvements

There is also a concession to make when you want to keep a car in its original condition. You cannot upgrade it. Do not think of replacing drum brakes with discs, if it was not how your car came out of the factory. Forget electronic ignition kits, power steering, power windows or air conditioning if they are not original. Your car is matching numbers but may be not the best driving experience…

Conclusion : it all depends on your car !

On a nice little car, matching number requirements may not be that relevant. Unless it is the former car of Barack Obama or any famous singer, it’s hard to see why one should make so many concessions. On the other hand, if you are the lucky owner of a Ferrari 250 GT or a Bugatti type 57 SC Atlantique, you have good reasons to keep your numbers matching. It all depends on your classic car…


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