Researching the History of My Classic Car

I was lucky enough to grow up around classic cars. My dad had a 1938 Packard and a 1958 Cadillac when he was younger, and our neighbor the mechanic had more cars than I can remember.

My Dad's 1938 Packard.

I love telling my kids stories of those days learning about the cars and working on them together. One of the things that’s always amazed me was how much they both knew about the history of the cars – where they came from, who the previous owners were, and where the car was built. When my wife and I bought our Oldsmobile, and later a Trans Am together, I was interested in learning it’s particular history too, so here is how I set out to find out more about my car’s past life.

Back in the days before the internet existed (and yes there was such a time), most information was obtained by telephone or mail. Today, researching your vehicles history is much easier. The big three automakers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) have web sites dedicated to preserving historical vehicles. My wife and I purchased a 1986 Oldsmobile 442 two weeks before hurricane Sandy devastated our state. We purchased it in Delaware, and got it back to NJ safe and sound. We learned from the previous owner that he was the second person to own the car and got it from someone in Maryland. But I wanted to know more – where it was built, and what dealership sold it.

After doing some research online I found a website that had a VIN decoder. I put the VIN number in and it told me some information, such as the plant it was built at, original colors and trim options, but that was all. Digging a little further, I came across the GM Heritage web site. You supply them with the VIN and some other information, and for $50 they will send you vehicle invoices, build sheets, and as many documents they can on your specific car. Within a few days, I had what I was looking for – an original vehicle invoice and build sheet. I learned our car was sold by a dealer named Jenkins Motors in Maryland, how much it cost, and the trim options it had. This matched the VIN decoder and the information I got from the seller. A few internet searches later I had historical pictures of the selling dealer and a map of their location.