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Cars We Remember column: Matching numbers Fords, 1968 and beyond

Greg Zyla
More Content Now
The Progress-Index

Q: Hi Greg, I’m Mike Banks and I help track and document Cougar Eliminators for the Cougar Club of America and the Eliminator Registry.  We’ve exchanged some emails in the past - it was a few years ago now, regarding Mercury Cougars and the rarest Cougars built.

I recently stumbled across your article from January 2018 titled "Cars We Remember: Seasoned collectors explain Ford’s ‘numbers matching’ vehicles, or lack thereof." In the article you discussed Ford’s numbers matching information with feedback provided by a "seasoned collector."

The blanket statements made by this person perpetuate the myth that "there is no such thing as a matching numbers Ford."

And it is a myth that needs to be debunked!

Let’s start with some history. Specifically, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, a Federal Law that went into effect Jan. 1, 1968 that you can read here: https://uscode.house.gov/statutes/pl/89/563.pdf.

While it doesn’t come right out and state that "ye olde engine and trans shall henceforth be stamped with the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)," the gist of it is that the manufacturer has to be able to prove that they/their components are in compliance with the Safety Act, and thus be able to issue recalls on components (if necessary).

This translates to manufacturers finding it necessary to imprint the vehicle VIN on all engine and transmissions as of Jan. 1, 1968, Ford complied as required. However, prior to 1968 Ford was typically imprinting VIN stamps only on engines and transmissions for "high performance" applications (it is believed this was closely related to theft deterrence and warranty claims). Really, high-performance vehicles are not very many cars at all.

Looking at what your reader stated in his letter, it seems he based his research on a 1965 Thunderbird that he owns. Well, since it was built before 1968, I would be very suspicious if he had found it to have a VIN-stamped drivetrain. Also consider the focus of the information on the Vintage Thunderbird Club website: arguably, you could say that their main subjects are the heyday model years for the T-Bird (most of which are prior to 1968).

Anyone who follows Ford products built after 1968 will know for a fact that the engine and transmissions were supposed to receive a partial VIN stamp. This stamping was typically truncated to only include model year, factory code and the sequential 6-digit portion of the VIN number. So you might end up with something like "0F513786" stamped on the engine and transmission. Keep in mind that those stampings were all done by hand, so mistakes happened: mis-stamped digits, double-stampings, light stampings that are almost unreadable, etc.

Stamped locations will vary somewhat depending on the engine and transmission type.  Below are the common places to look for them;

- Most engines were stamped on the back of the driver’s/left side of the block, although sometimes the head was stamped instead (difficult to see without proper tools).

- Boss 302’s were stamped at the top center of the block along the back edge of the intake manifold (easily found on the engine).

- Manual transmissions were typically stamped along the top of the front lip where the trans mates to the bellhousing (difficult to see with the trans in the car).

- Automatic transmissions were typically stamped on a small pad located toward the back of the top side of the main case (nearly impossible to see when the trans is in the car!).

While we are on the subject, it should also be mentioned that Fords from this era also typically have VIN-stamps on the tops of one or both shock towers (or sometimes the inner fender apron). This is what is sometimes referred to as the "hidden VIN," as they were usually covered by the fenders. These stamps may be a full or partial VIN depending on the model year, and were also done by hand (errors occurred but are not common).

Now, all that being said, yes "numbers matching" is often touted as a selling point - and rightly so! What I find significantly lacking is the actual PROOF that a vehicle is numbers matching. If the seller makes the claim then they should be able to back it up with pictures of the VIN stamps! Unfortunately, the burden of proof is almost always on the buyer.

Thanks for the great articles Greg! I’ve included a few pictures of VIN-stamp examples for your convenience. I hope this helps clear up a few things about Ford VIN-stamps. Have a great day! - Mike Banks, Wilmington, North Carolina.

A: Mike, it’s great to hear from you again. (See Cars We Remember: Mercury Cougar fans rejoice, update production figures from November 2016). Thanks for all the information on Ford produced vehicles adhering to the 1968 Safety Act and the link to its contents.

This should put to bed that not only did Ford’s high performance vehicles have specific VIN and numbers matching info, all vehicles post ’68 had stamped numbers to assist in the "numbers matching" collector car discussions.

Take care of your rare ’70 Mercury Cougar Eliminator and for all the important information "numbers matching" collector car consumers and owners need to know.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at greg@gregzyla.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.