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Questions about VIN numbers and trim tags


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Hello all, I need some enlightenment as far as judging cars as restored. I  heard that when a car is being judged at a meet, the judges do not check VIN numbers and Trim tags, and that really struck me as odd. It would seem that not checking those things would leave the door wide open for cars to be faked and misrepresented. If you could take any type of base model car, and "clone" it into a higher end model, and/or slightly more desirable model, what would be the point of judging it as a restored car in the first place, if there isn't any real verification that the car is what it is made to be?



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This is a challenging subject that has been discussed quite a bit here. There are many marque clubs that will check for authenticity and take a deduction for color changes, incorrect specifications, and things like that, but with a mixed-make club like the AACA, it just isn't practical to check every car for matching numbers and absolute adherence to the trim tag details. If you do it for one car, you have to do it for all the cars, and while decoding a Camaro trim tag, VIN, and whether it is matching numbers can be relatively easily, it is not so easy on a 1914 Jewett. The standard must be uniform, and to facilitate that, the AACA asks only that the cars be as they COULD HAVE BEEN when they were new. There is no deduction for clones or color changes. It's just too much to ask of a club made up of volunteers to know every detail about ever car ever made and to be able to spot the fact that a particular car was originally built in Persimmon Green but is now Lakeshore Green. I also don't believe it is the club's job to vet the cars for matching-numbers, which is an esoteric thing. Yes, it has a bearing on value, but it's the kind of value that's like paper money: it's only valuable because everyone agrees that it's valuable. Asking a club to verify that cars are numbers-matching (when in many cases it probably isn't even possible) is just too much. 


Specific make clubs will do this kind of vetting and are staffed with much more experienced judges who specialize in those exact cars. AACA covers hundreds, maybe thousands, of makes and models--nobody can possibly know everything about all of them and as I said, if you're doing extreme numbers checking on a Camaro, you have to do it on every car and I can't imagine judges sitting on the show field trying to run all the numbers in the time they have on every car they judge. It just isn't logistically possible given the constraints of a one-day car show. 


In addition, it's not the club's job to vet the cars for buyers--it's nice that they have been judged and found to be authentic and correct, but a buyer should not rely on club judging to authenticate a car as being what it is represented as being. It is easy to fake some cars and a club can't take the financial and liability risk of authenticating a car and then having it turn out to be a fake. The difference can be tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars and it's a mistake to rely on amateur volunteers on a show field to guarantee that a car is what it claims to be. There's just too much at risk if a mistake is made. Buyers should always do their own verification of specifics such as matching numbers and original specifications--it is not and should not be the club's job. Professionals and marque experts should always be consulted if there is any question at all about a car's pedigree.


So for the purposes of time, accuracy, and experience, there's just no way for the AACA or other multi-marque clubs to fully vet a car. Put your car through the NCRS process and they will check these things and may other clubs have similar procedures, but they are often expensive, time-consuming, and outside the scope of what the AACA can do in an afternoon at a car show.


Hope this helps!



Edited by Matt Harwood
typo (see edit history)
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Mr Harwood has given you a good view of the circumstances surrounding our guidelines.


Now, please read the following from the Guidelines:

"The objective of AACA judging is to evaluate an antique vehicle, which has been restored to the same state as the dealer could have prepared the vehicle for delivery to the customer. This includes any feature, option or accessory shown in the original factory catalog, parts book, sales literature, or company directives for the model year of the vehicle. AACA accepts motorized vehicles 25 years old or older, which were built in factories and specifically designed and manufactured for transportation use on public roadways and highways."


Note that we "evaluate" and the the vehicle can have "any feature" that can be factory documented.  It is the owner's responsibility to restore  the vehicle authentically.  The team captain can ask for documentation if the team has questions. 


I have judged in several marque meets and can tell you that AACA judging stands up pretty well. Not all VIN and cowl tags tell you  everything about drive trains and options. In fact, I have seen a marque judged muscle car recently with a faked cowl tag and options which were not available that year. The back seat was full of trophies.


We do the best we can....


Edited by Phillip Cole (see edit history)
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It's simply not the nature of the AACA to discourage a clone so long as it's done correct. An owner can sit in their chair and tell the team captain that the car is a cloned SC Rambler that started as an American, so long as everything is where and how it should be on an SC Rambler, then it's just fine. Most members I know and have met are more about the historic context, what it represents as a machine and time, than ensuring the max value, or certify authenticity. You'd be surprised how much our judges do catch, being one of them, I can attest that we don't know everything (or is that anything?) I'm fully sure we miss many things too. We spend maybe 5 minutes per car in the judging process with a team of 5 people, so just under half an hour of total time. Considering the hours and years that go into a restoration, and a lifetime of knowledge that isn't well documented or able to be tested against a VIN or data tag, it's a good process that promotes the hobby with historic interest.

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As others have said, VIN and Trim Tag decoding may work in a single marque club but not in a multi-marque club like the AACA.  I personally like the way AACA judging is done - judge teh vehicle the way it left the factory OR could have left the factory with supporting documentation required if questionable.  There is no way in a span of several hours could you possibly check every VIN and/or Trim Tag on a show field that has maybe 250 or more cars.  Ina  single marque event - for example NCRS - you have fewer cars and divided into a couple of years so you can have experts on that paerticualr span of vehicles.  That just isn't possible in AACA.



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