A teenage boy walks a Friday night car show. He comes across two Chevy Chevelles. They are identical in all aspects; 396 engine, cranberry red exterior, 4 speed manual trans, black interior, and in cream puff condition. The boy sizes up each car as the owner of both cars says, "which one is worth more?"

The boy is dumbfounded, but responds, "they are both worth the same." The owner walks him over to the engine block and points out block code and explains that the numbers matching one is worth $50,000 more than the non-numbers matching. The numbers matching car, adhering to the strictest definition with, correct rear end, engine, transmission, alternator, manifolds, cylinder head, options as ordered, paint color, etc. The other car is a Malibu badged up to look just like a Chevelle. It has a drivetrain from a different year. Everything is period correct, but it is far from numbers matching.

The idea of numbers matching started with the National Corvette Restorers Society, which was founded in 1974. The phrase "numbers matching" was applied to other models of cars in short order. To make things more confusing, not all cars adhere to the same format when it comes to numbers matching. For example, Ford had a date code on its major components, since every part was made at different facilities. Whereas GM cars had numbers stamped in the rear end, engine, and transmission as the car was built.

Since there is not a uniform rule across makes when it comes to what really is a numbers-matching car, the term tends to gets around egregiously. However, there is also a lot of disparity in what the true value of a numbers matching car really is compared to a Sunday cruiser. The weekend driver, the first time classic car buyer, the hot rodder, and the investment grade collector all value number matching cars differently. The investment grade collector places a lot of value on a numbers-matching car, but the hot rodder could care less as he rips out the 350 small block to drop in a 454. Depending on what you are looking to do with your car determines how important numbers-matching is to you.

Not a numbers matching car Paralleling car collecting to fine art, let's look at Picasso. You can buy a Picasso sketch for as little as $500. This is a far stretch from his "Les Femmes d'Alger" which sold for $179 million in 2015. How can a piece of art from the same artist have such a wide range of pricing. A Picasso fan may be able to explain the difference to you leaving you looking cockeyed at him. Although, the fine art collector is probably dismayed when you try to explain to him how a 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold for $1.3 million in 2013 when you can pick up a 2002 Ford Taurus with 170k miles for $500. "They are both Ford’s and the newer one is cheaper!" the art fan says causing a coronary heart attack for the car collector.

Taken a step further, there is a supply difference too. About 1,000 Dusenbergs were made. At last count over 16,000,000 gas-sipping Civics have been put on the road. Clearly, there is a difference in the supply, not to mention that the last new Dusenberg hit the streets over eighty years ago. As for the demand aspect, Dusenbergs were custom made and sold for at least $25,000 when new. This car was not built with Henry Ford's vision that every worker should be able to afford his car. Adjusted for inflation, that new Dusenberg price tag is the equivalent of million dollars today (but they sell for far more than that: here's one that sold for $10MM)

As a comparison, about 9,000 DeLorean DMC-12's were made. As of 2007, about 6500 of them still exist. For less than $35,000, you can reenact scenes from one of the greatest movies with those cool doors. Just because a car has low production, doesn't mean it is going to let you kick the garbage can at your office as you yell, "I Quit! I'm selling my DeLorean and retiring!" There is a desirability factor that must work itself into the equation when buyers determine value.

Terms like documented, pedigree, providence, numbers matching all add to the allure of a car which in turn drive value due to perceived scarcity. It is the history of the car that adds value in the eyes of many collectors. Would you rather own a Lamborghini Diablo owned by Donald Trump or a Lamborghini owned by your everyday multi-millionaire? This history does play a role in valuation or, at a minimum, marketing the car to get buyers to pay up.

What is the draw for a true numbers matching car?

It comes down to a way for the seller to say Chevy is more unique than the other guy's, because the major parts of his car have been with the car since creation. Even though the other car may drive smoother, look better and sound awesome, the numbers matching one is much more unique and perceived to be more desirable.

Some collectors like to research their car beyond numbers-matching as they look up options, interior and exterior colors in addition, or in place of, being numbers-matching. You know these cars, because the collector usually has a sign next to his car at a cruise night that says, "1968 Mustang-1 of 207 made". The sign then lists all the options of the car. To make things even more confusing, this car may not even be a numbers matching car, but just a car built to the specs of the car’s original build. How detailed do you want to get in researching your car AND how important to you is it that the air cleaner, or whatever minor part, is original? That is a question only you can answer. That precision can also be just as hard to value.

Generally, more of the correct and/or original parts yields a higher value.

Numbers-matching doesn't mean that it has the original engine, trans and rear end. It just means that the numbers of the parts correspond with the factory that the car came from when new. You will often hear the term 'as built'. This term refers to all original parts as it had when it left the factory. By default 'as built' is also a numbers matching car. 'As built' is the guy who buys a 1999 Plymouth Prowler and puts it in his garage for 20 years to bring it out later and try to sell it 'as new, never driven, barn find'. This car will have the correct paint color, trim codes, body, trans, etc. It was driven home from the dealer and parked in a garage. There is value here in the sense that not many cars are stored this way, but in order for you retain the value of the car, you must keep it the same way in your collection. No cruise nights for this car.

Do your research when buying a numbers-matching car. Read up on that year's make and model production numbers and where to look on the car to identify it as numbers matching. One of the quick tools we use when researching a car is one of the many vin decoders out there. Try http://www.decodethis.com/ If you type in the vin and your 70 Buick 4 speed with a 455 and a 350 block and a 3 speed trans, pretty good chance your numbers matching car is just a 'car' and no further research is needed. Here is GM site that allows you access to build records for late model GM cars for only $50 a report. http://www.gmmediaarchive.com/

Make sure you know what parts were numbered as well as how to decode them to make sure your car is numbers matching. There are plenty of sites online dedicated to your make and model to help you verify this. Get on those sites and ask for help. There are paid services that will assist you in researching if your car is authentic. If you're not sure, spend the little bit of money for the assurance. One thing about car collectors is that they love helping others get into the hobby, so don’t be afraid to reach out. It is better to find out what your car is packing now instead of overpaying for a shined up LeMans with Judge badging.

Watch for Fraud

With the buyers paying big bucks for these rare cars, it also opens the window to fraud. Criminals have re-stamped engine blocks, ordered fake window stickers, decals, and other forms of documentation, and even developed fake VINs all to pass a an old car off as an investment grade vehicle. Make sure you do your homework and bring along an expert in that vehicle type to help dig up any shady business. Here's one story of a crook who did get caught.

Understand why you're buying a car before you start searching.

Is this an investment? A daily driver? A project? A flip? Figure out your end result and that will determine why you want in the car as you go through the purchase. Many of cruise night cars have turned into farme-off restorations, because the owner started rebuilding it piece by piece instead of just leaving it as a cruiser or overpaying for a project.

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