What Is a Numbers Matching Classic Car?

Numbers Matching Studebaker Sky Power 352 Engine
Number Matching Studebaker Sky Power 352 Engine. Mark Gittelman

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.

Edited by Mark Gittelman