ARE MATCHING NUMBERS IMPORTANT?
There are so many questions and things you need to check when purchasing a classic car these days more then ever.
How many owners has the car had and over what period have they owned the car, what is the history files look like and does it all add up to the owners the car has had and the mileage covered? What work has been carried out and has the vehicle been involved in any accidents?
With all this valid information at hand it is possible that a full picture of the cars life can be pieced together and a extensive conclusion to the what type of life the car has been subject to over the years. It’s a shorthand way of determining a car’s quality that we have all become familiar with.
We can usually determine a car’s health weather it is good, bad or mediocre from accurate descriptions of the sellers write up, but these areas of skills have become very important in marketing a classic car. We see now a glamorous picture of sunny driving days without any potholes and never seen a racetrack in the cars life, so we must really read in depth into the whole story.
In recent years one particular trait has assumed so much importance that cars without it are dismissed without a further thought and the biggest area of concern these days is the first question people now ask after knowing the price is “does it have matching numbers” the answer can influence the whole selling process.
Classic car buyers now scan sale descriptions for the magical words “numbers matching” and if they can’t find them they move on.
The new world of ticking boxes and matching numbers can seriously change the asking price of the car and in many cases we have seen different methods to change numbers, rearrange numbers and even re-stamp numbers to meet the buyers request.
But sometimes I really have to ask the question why?
So what really do we mean by “matching numbers” and what exactly are we all inferring from it?
Having matching numbers means that the original factory build record when the car was delivered, has the chassis number, engine number and gearbox number all the same as on the car. This then seems to be a measure of the cars authenticity.
To some extent this is a fair assumption, but I would question gauging authenticity is a lot more involved than that. Matching numbers will mean that the part that the number is stamped on is original but what about everything else?
Mechanical parts inevitably wear out and need replacing, so what have they been replaced with? As stocks deplete, original parts are becoming seriously expensive and less than rigorously restored cars may have had short cuts taken. To judge the mechanical authenticity of a car you need to look at a lot more than just the serial numbers.
In some cases in the 1950’s and 1960’s the hand written records have been know to be a little misleading and although the lovely inky pens strokes look very official they can be misleading.
The overall authenticity of a car is about much more than its mechanicals. A Aston Martin DB5 with all of its original Superleggera frame the aluminium bodywork and interior still intact but an engine that was swapped at some point in its life can be far more authentic than a gleaming numbers matching ornament that’s been restored from a corroded wreck. This might sound obvious but it’s something many have lost sight of. Many buyers demand authenticity but without appreciating what authenticity really are.
This is becoming increasingly important as the market is definitely starting to place a much greater premium on cars that are truly authentic.
At a recent auction in there were two 1965 Aston Martin DB5’s for sale. The first was a car that was fresh out of restoration - repainted, re-trimmed and without a mark on it. The second was unrestored but had been hardly used and kept in factory original condition. The first car sold for top market value, the second car sold for far more. Both cars had “matching numbers”.
So what should we really be looking for? What does it mean for a car to be authentic?
In a lot of cases with many manufactures who have released a number of checks on cars of growing value to authentic the cars originality and issue supportive certificates/books confirming the cars true identity and correctness.
This is at a great cost.
Personal I would start with the chassis as in my mind it represents the soul of any car. Ideally the chassis and bodywork should be completely intact however one has to expect that any car that has been used will be to some extent corroded and damaged. This does not necessarily detract as long as it isn’t severe and has been skilfully repaired and documented correctly. Then it simply becomes part of the story of the car. It’s nice to find factory finishes still present and even if a car has been externally repainted you may still find the engine bay or luggage compartment hasn’t. Surprisingly I find a car more attractive when you can still see imperfections from the original production process, be that poor quality welds or runs in the paint. It conveys a sense of the maker’s mark still being on the car. Sometimes you can even find an actual “artist’s signature”, an example being the hand written production number in wax crayon on the back of seats or the dashboard and door boards on DB4, DB5 and DB6’s.
Moving on from the chassis I would next look at the interior. Nothing provides a stronger connection with the history of a car than the things you touch while you drive it. The patina on the rim of a steering wheel and the wear on an armrest give’s you a sense of the others that have driven the car before you. Of course there’s patinated and then there’s down right tatty but we generally know the difference when we see it. The originality of the materials is also crucial. Even the best trimmers cannot replicate the feel of leather or vinyl made fifty years ago using processes that have since been regulated out of existence.
Next are the mechanical aspects of the car. I would certainly maintain that the running gear should be to the car’s original specification as that will determine whether the way it functions is authentic or not.
For example a 1965 DB4 GT should run a Triple Weber carburettors made in Italy. It would concern me if I found a slightly later DB4 GT with Spanish Weber carburettors but would it matter if the engine serial number were a few hundred out? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, for a road car it would always be a plus if the engine number matches the factory Kardex but for me this wouldn’t be as crucial as the other aspects of authenticity
I have just discussed. With competition cars I would go further and say no importance at all should be attached to matching numbers. I doubt many competition car engines survived their first season of racing. What is much more relevant is that a racing engine is of the correct type with all the attendant, and usually very rare period parts.
Of course not everyone will share my fascination with this sort of trivia. Indeed I would suggest that a lot of people are only interested in matching numbers because they think other people are.
But as I initially explained this shorthand for authenticity is rather crude and will lead to people paying a premium for things they shouldn’t. As the market continues to become more complex, its view of authenticity is developing with it. Best make sure then that the numbers matching car you’re thinking of buying really is authentic.