How to Decode VIN Numbers on Classic Cars

by Colleen Collins; Updated November 07, 2017

The Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) defines a classic car as a "fine" or "distinctive" automobile, manufactured between 1925 and 1948. Because Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) were not standardized until the early 1980s, there is no standard format for classic car VINs (also called body plates). Fortunately, there are databases and online forums that can help you decode classic car VINs.

Locate the VIN on the car by searching a specialized database. Log onto ClassicCarDatabase.com, enter the year and make of the vehicle then press the "Search" button. Or, go to GreatOldCars.com, press the "VIN Decoding" link in the top yellow bar, press the "Order VIN Decoding Now!" link in the middle of the page and follow the instructions.

Decode a VIN online by using various online databases. For example, search the databases at ClassicCarDatabase.com or GreatOldCars.com, both of which decode VINs. VehicleIdentificationNumber.com provides a list of websites for classic cars, some of which also offer VIN decoding information.

Join a classic car forum. If you're having difficulty decoding a classic car VIN, a classic car forum offers help from other car enthusiasts and experts. For example, you can register for free with the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA.org). ClassicCarDatabase.com lists several dozen clubs, along with their addresses and specialties.


The Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) will answer questions about automotive history at no charge. Go to Autohistory.org, press the "Send SAH E-Mail" link at the bottom of the left column and follow the instructions. You can also join the SAH for an annual fee.

About the Author

In 1997 Harlequin published Colleen Collins' first novel, followed by many more by Harlequin and Dorchester. Her articles and writing have appeared in "P.I. Magazine," "Pursuit Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan." She earned a B.A. in theater arts from University of California, Santa Barbara and is an active member of Mystery Writers of America.

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