Classic Car Documentation: Build Sheet, Protect-O-Plates and Window Stickers
Warranty cards, factory build sheets, window stickers and dealer invoices are some of the most common forms of classic car documentation around, and can have a vast impact on the value of the car they’re attached to. There is no under-estimating the importance of pedigree when it comes to car collecting.
We’ve talked about understanding condition classes and using price guides in the How To Buy A Car Online series. Another important factor in determining a car’s value is documentation. When originally sold, the dealer would have furnished the buyer with a folder of original paperwork – including a dealer invoice, window sticker, warranty card and owners manual. Other original documents like build sheets or buck tags (Ford only) helped identify the authenticity of the vehicle as well. If you are buying a collector car for the purpose of investment, as so many buyers do today, you want to have the original documents that came with the car. Be sure to inquire about original paperwork when considering the purchase of a vehicle that is reported to be original.
A build sheet is the most important document of any collector car. MOPAR enthusiasts know them as broadcast sheets, but the information contained on them is the same. They were used by assembly plant workers to determine which parts were to be installed in a specific car. Information on the build sheet not only tells you details like engine size and transmission, but also paint codes, radiator type, shocks, brakes and more. If it went into the car at the assembly plant, it’s indicated as such on the build sheet. Build sheets have evolved over the years, and not all of them look the same. You’ll want to consult guides that are specific to the make of the car when decoding the numbers on the sheet.
Though they were used in the earliest days of automotive assembly lines, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that it became popular for line workers to include them in the vehicle, sticking them somewhere in the car at the conclusion of the build. The most common place for a build sheet to be located is under the back seat tucked between the springs. But they can be located in other places, like the glove box lining, under the carpet and behind door panels. If you don’t find it in one of these places, it might be that the factory employees simply discarded the build sheet when the build was complete, or that previous collectors removed and then lost it. It isn’t uncommon for classic car collectors to find the build sheet in their car, then realize it is for a different car entirely. Sometimes, more than one build sheet would be included. Each build sheet was printed from an original Build Record that was issued by the factory, and a copy of this was also placed in the car.
Warranty cards were small metal plates that were affixed to a warranty booklet that accompanied the vehicle at the time it was purchased, and included much of the same information that can be found on the build sheet, information like the type of engine, carburetor, transmission, rear axle, exterior color, the month the vehicle was produced. The VIN for the vehicle was featured on the plate to ensure it was received with the same car. Warranty cards were called by different names, and MOPAR enthusiasts might know them as Certi-cards, while GM aficionados call them Protect-O-Plate.
Chrysler started issuing Certi-cards with new car purchases in 1965, and General Motors was using codes for the Protect-O-Plate as early as 1964.
Another form of original documentation to look for when considering a classic car purchase is the original dealer window sticker and invoice. Since 1959, these stickers were required by law to accompany new vehicles, and included such information as the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as well as all options the factory installed.
These documents are easy to loose, and were sometimes outright discarded by the car owner, making information on a car that was purchased originally over 30 years ago a challenge. As a result of the collectible nature of these documents, services that can make reproductions of the original paperwork by using records from the manufacturers themselves do exist.
Most collector car enthusiasts are familiar with a Marti Report, a document that Marti Auto Works assembles to provide car owners with the details of their car. Read Documentation: The Marti Report, if you would like to learn more. They can take a VIN from almost any Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury made in the United States or Canada and tell you almost anything you’d want to know about how that car was originally made. Other services like the Pontiac Historical Society can provide collectors with an exact replica of the build sheet included with the car when it was built. You might even be able to get information directly from the manufacturer if they kept enough of their original records. General Motors of Canada is well known for their meticulous record keeping, and can provide you with a packet of information about any of the cars they built.
Not all companies held onto their records though, and even reproduction services won’t be able to provide you with a new build sheet. It’s also possible for services like these to be misled about the details of a car. You’re going to want to decode information on the documents and compare them with the parts that are actually in the car to make sure they match. This is where the term “numbers matching” is derived from.
Every part on the car is usually numbered. For most makes and models of cars there are books that record the numbers. The most important numbers to match on your collector car are the block casting numbers, transmission number and the identifying number on the rear end. The number on the distributor, heads, manifolds, etc can also be important to increase the value of your collector car. Because these numbers were not usually unique to one vehicle, the only way to be sure you have the originals is to match the numbers with the ones on the original documentation. Knowing how to look for the correct paperwork could mean the difference between owning a “period correct” vehicle and a “numbers matching” one, a difference that could save you thousands of dollars.