Whether you're selling cars on the Internet or initiating the transaction in someone's driveway, it's important to properly represent the automobile. This is even more important when you're on the buying side of the equation. A question that will often surface from both buyers and sellers is if the automobile is numbers matching.
Here we'll discuss the definition of this term and the variations of interpretation.
Discover what numbers to look for and where they are located. Finally, learn how the collectability and the value of the automobile depend on the results of the investigation.
DEFINITION OF NUMBERS MATCHING
The definition of a matching numbers car can vary from person to person. However, a classic car purist might say that a truly original, matching numbers car will still have all the parts that it was manufactured with. This can include everything, down to the tiniest nut and bolt.
That would be very hard to find in a vintage automobile. In the real world, we often use a more practical definition of the term. Many collectors find it acceptable if all the parts are from the assembly line at the time of production or have been replaced with authentic new old stock parts.
New old stock seems like an oxymoron. However, it is commonly used to describe parts the factory created but never made it on an automobile.
Instead, the factory warehoused these parts as factory stock. They would then send these components to the dealership's parts department as needed.
STILL A MATCHING NUMBERS CAR
People enjoy the classic car hobby with varying levels of strictness and commitment. Therefore, a more lenient definition for numbers matching is necessary.
The most general use of the term means that the engine and transmission are marked with the same sequence number as the chassis VIN number. However, the rear axle and differential date code and casting number must also correspond with the vehicle.
LOCATING AND DECIPHERING THE NUMBERS
Most car fans are familiar with the VIN (vehicle identification number). It's found inside the driver's side windshield pillar of today’s modern cars. American automobile manufacturers began stamping and casting identifying numbers on cars and their parts in the mid-1950s. The obvious purpose was to provide an accurate description of the vehicle.
This became especially important when mass production numbers starting climbing to epic proportions. While today's VINs are relatively standard, there wasn't any standard for VINs, or any other numbers, on older cars. VINs, (formally called a serial number) came in all sorts of variations. The implementation and makeup depended on the individual manufacturer.
The factory stamps all parts with several numbers at the time of production. This verifies essential facts about the automobile and also assists in the manufacturing sequence. Some cars will have a significant identification plate or build sheet.
These list the major part numbers against which you can check. You'll find these numbers stamped on the engine, transmission and rear axle. But also on the alternator or generator, carburetor, ignition distributor, water pump and cylinder heads.
INVESTIGATING THE CARS' NUMBERS
When buying or selling a classic, find out what numbers you need to verify. Then learn where they're located on the vehicle. This takes a diligent “Sherlock Homes” type mindset. It can be a bit frustrating even for the experienced classic car buyer. If in doubt, contact a professional who knows that particular model car.
They can either check the numbers for you or teach you how to find and interpret the numbers yourself. You can find resources for such information through the many model specific car clubs. Their members are knowledgeable about these specific automobiles and are willing to help.
When you're investigating a car’s history, make sure to clarify with the seller what part numbers are matching and what parts aren’t. Then verify for yourself or with your mechanic by including part numbers in your inspection checklist. Make sure to complete this task before making an offer or negotiating the final price tag of a classic car.
VALUE OF A NUMBER MATCHING CAR
Finally, why bother to check the numbers? The value of a classic car is becoming increasingly reliant on the vehicle's originality. You’ll find much higher prices associated with these rare cars. It’s one more piece to the puzzle of determining the market value of a collector car. Owning a verified number matching automobile also represents a more secure investment. In fact, it can produce pleasantly surprising results in an auction setting.
Once in a while I get an email with a few pictures attached of a classic car that's seen better days. They want to know if I think the automobile is worth restoring. This is a straightforward question with an extremely complicated answer. Unfortunately, a few pictures will not provide enough hard evidence to supply a yes or no answer.
In this article we'll lay the groundwork for evaluating the situation on a case-by-case basis.
Throughout the post I will reference the 1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe pictured to the left. This automobile is considered desirable, valuable and collectible. However, the owner has decided to hold off on a complete restoration, because it would require an investment way beyond the vehicle's total value.
ATTACHING A PRICE TO THE AUTOMOBILE
Many consider this the fun part of the process. In order to gauge how much we can spend on a full restoration it's a good idea to find out what the car will be worth when it's finished. It's recommended to become an expert on that particular automobile to assure the accuracy of your price evaluation. We provide a detailed list of things to consider during the evaluation for your convenience.
Since we don't know how well the restoration will turn out it's nice to get three numbers during the research process. First we'll secure the highest number by seeking out the most expensive sold example of the same exact automobile.
It's recommended to not go too far back in time as classic car values have surged forward and pulled back in the last decade.
In the case of the 1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe, we grabbed the highest number by reviewing auction results from Bonhams Auction House and RM Sothebys auctions. We found a good middle of the road number by averaging exact models listed on the Hemmings Classic Car Marketplace.
For the bottom of the barrel number we found some automobiles in average condition on favourite Internet sources like BringTrailer.com and eBay.
EVALUATING THE CONDITION OF THE CLASSIC CAR
This is where things get tough. It takes a lot of time and effort to uncover the dark secrets of an automobile. However, it's this step that can prevent a restoration project from going way over budget. In the end it might be necessary to call in experts to evaluate expensive automotive systems like engines and transmissions. This can be money well spent.
Another important item to get right is the true condition of the body and frame. You need to stand in the truth of how much original metal is actually left on the vehicle. You can read more about this subject and see what it takes to remove all the rust from a classic car. We also have a detailed classic car evaluation guide that provides a list of items inspected by car show judges. This list can help keep you on track and prevent you from missing important items.
MAKING A PARTS LIST
Next we'll have to create a list of parts that need replacing during the restoration process. These lists can get extremely long. People often miss things like complete weather-stripping kits and rubber parts.
Going back to the Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe, the car is missing all of the glass components. In researching replacement costs the results were surprising. The missing rear window was available for around $150. However, the side glass and vent windows cost much more.
ATTEMPTING TO ESTIMATE LABOUR COSTS
As mentioned above it's common for a restoration to go way over budget. Often it's the labour cost that's underestimated the most. Some shops are known for providing low ball estimates to secure the project. This isn't as critical if you're performing all of the labour yourself. Nevertheless, when you are seeking outside labour estimates it's a good idea to pad the final number. You'll be much happier if the job comes in under budget than over.
You also want to ask service providers questions about what happens when unexpected problems are uncovered or the budget is exceeded.
Many companies will provide reduced labour rates when the original estimate proves to be inaccurate. To prevent your restoration project from running aground seek input from automotive restoration experts. Their model specific knowledge can help mitigate risk.
KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY
If you add up parts and labour and the total exceeds the value of the classic car it might be time to walk away. However, there may be exceptions to this rule of thumb. If an automobile has documented provenance, it could add to the value and increase its desirability as an investment. For example, if Steve McQueen used the car to go food shopping, it could be worth more.
In the case of the 1956 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe, the estimate exceeded the value. Further complications included a seized engine that wasn’t factory installed and heavy frame rot. Read this next article about the XK line of British Sports Cars to learn more about these classic Jaguars.
Buying or Selling a Classic Car? You'll Want to Determine its Fair Market Value
Whether you’re buying or selling a classic car, you will want to determine its fair market value. Publications such as the Old Car Buyers Guide, Hemmings or NADA's Classic, Collectible and Special Interest Car Appraisal Guide & Directory are a good place to start. Their price guides rate a car's value using 6 categories according to their conditions that range from “pristine” to “basket case”.
To appraise your car and determine what category it fits into, rate each of the following items on a scale of one to five, using five as the maximum value.
Then total your points for all 20 categories. Compare the points you have given the car to the 100 point maximum. Use this six category valuation to determine the car's market value.
HOOD AND TRUNK
Inspect and Rate the Paint, Glass and Trim
Inspect and Rate the Interior
Dashboard and Instrument Panel
Inspect and Rate the Mechanics
The Odometers Recorded Mileage
Breaks and Steering
Rating the Authenticity, Special Features and Desirability