(Editor’s note: In conjunction with Road Ready Inspections, we offer this space each week so you can ask questions about your classic car or about the hobby in general. Submit your questions in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them! )
Question, from Ken McNeil
I have a question about matching numbers. I hear the term a lot and some people care and some don’t. What is the big deal with matching numbers and how does that affect what a car is worth?
Well, Ken, matching numbers are sort of like that dating site I was a member of once. While I was hoping to be matched with a few sweet numbers, it didn’t exactly work out like I had hoped. There were really a whole lot fewer matching numbers running around, but interestingly I discovered the ones without matching numbers may have even been more fun. Classic cars are much the same.
For such a simple concept, matching numbers can get very complex. Simply put, for the majority of classic cars, matching numbers means that the engine, transmission and rear differential share the same sequential serial number as the VIN number of the car, and as such identify that those components are the original components that were installed on the car when originally manufactured. Essentially, an original car, right?
To verify if those components are matching numbers components, simply check the hand-stamped numbers on the engine block, transmission case and rear differential housing. Each manufacturer’s stamping is located in a different place so check the manufacturer’s data sources to find the correct location. If the car is matching numbers, the sequential numbers hand stamped into these components will be the same as the last sequential build numbers of the VIN of the car, which can be found bolted onto the car.
The hand-stamped numbers on the components are not to be confused with a different set of numbers on the components called casting numbers. These numbers are cast, or molded, directly into the molding of the component. These are build-lot and build-date numbers. These numbers verify when and where the block or housing itself was cast and molded. These numbers can be used as part of “date coding”the components and other pieces such as original carburetors, distributors, water pumps, exhaust manifolds, cylinder heads and more.
What makes matching numbers important and why should we care? Classic cars are only original once, which makes them quite rare and getting more rare every year. Rarity equals desirability and desirability equals money.
A classic car with an original matching-numbers drivetrain is simply more desirable and more valuable to serious hard-core collectors. They will pay much more for an original matching numbers car than the same car with non-original or aftermarket everything.
Now that you are signed up to go through all this fun, how about a 1957 Nomad we can throw in a 700-horsepower big block with a supercharger and a 9-inch rear and let’s go rip the asphalt off the road. Now those are some fun numbers!
I have a classic car that I don’t know whether to sell or to hold on to. How can I find out if my vehicle will increase in value?
Well, let’s see. If I had not sold my Garnet Red 1969 Rally Sport Z28 in 1982 it would be worth roughly $120,000 today, per Hagerty’s market valuation. Being that I sold it for $3,500 in 1982 and I bought it new for $2,700 but drove it for 13 years and made $1,100 on it, that’s not a bad deal, I thought. But now I realize I should have never sold that car. I will say it for you, I am an idiot! But who knew?
Classic cars as a whole appreciate over time and mimic the fluctuations of a normal consumer economy. Classic cars are disposable and discretionary income. The better the economy, the higher the prices and demand climbs.
The reality is that some cars are, or become, highly desirable cars years down the road. Highly desirable, as in 2-door hardtops, convertibles and muscle cars. The value climbs year over year. Other cars just continue to be, well, other cars. They appreciate very slowly if at all.
Typical affordable classics such 4-door cars, pickups and less desirable vehicles in the $10,000- $25,000 range will appreciate about 2 to 4 percent annually, essentially very little.
Highly desirable American muscle cars can see appreciation in 10 to 15 percent range over many years.
Vintage exotics such as Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Jaguar and the like seem to scream skyward faster and I can’t learn new math to count that high.
The bottom line is that if you have a desirable or potentially desirable model, no matter when you decide to sell, it’s likely that it will have continued to increase in value over the years that you held it.
So the question really is: At what point do I want to sell? The right car will surely be worth more next year?
If you don’t have a highly desirable car, now would be a good time to sell. But don’t be an idiot like that other guy we know, invest your proceeds wisely and buy another classic that’s even more desirable.
And watch that rocket to the moon. If not, your local bank would love to give 0.0002 percent interest on your money. Now you can finally afford that Hot Wheels General Lee Dodge Charger you have always dreamed about!