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Understand Your Mustang and The Law
A quick reference to motor-vehicle codes and Mustang restoration ethics
A few months back, we opened up a huge can of worms by suggesting Mustang restorers, in the interest of authenticity, stamp the vehicle identification number into the engine block like the factory did. This suggestion stirred up a lot of controversy because to some of our readers it implied fraud. And we certainly weren't suggesting fraud. Our suggestion came in the spirit of doing an authentic restoration that would look concours correct. The controversy it created inspired us to find out everything we could about classic Mustang restoration, the law, and ethics.
When performing a concours restoration or building a restomod from scratch, ask yourself what's legal (and ethical) and what isn't. We strongly encourage you to follow your state's motor-vehicle laws when you restore a Mustang. We also encourage you to be honest while you're at it. This isn't always easy, because sometimes restoring a Mustang means having to do something illegal in the interest of authenticity. With some restorations, it's a tough call.
For example, say you purchase a '66 Mustang with a K-engine code (289 High Performance), but the original Hi-Po engine is long gone. You hit pay dirt and find a complete '66 289 High Performance engine that's date-coded to your Mustang's build date. Do you tell the state? And do you tell a buyer? Who does it harm if you don't? It's the correct engine for that particular model. This scenario could be repeated for just about any Mustang because casting date codes exist on all Ford engines, not just the Hi-Po.
The decision to be honest with the authorities and potential buyers is personal. If you have performed an authentic restoration, the state and potential buyers aren't going to care if the engine isn't original. Set a proper example for your kids and play it honest.
You must also play it safe before buying a Mustang. If you've invested a lot of time and money in a restoration without any forethought into titling and registering it in your state, you could be in for a rude awakening. If the state cannot verify the vehicle's origins, or the vehicle doesn't pass a state inspection, the state can impound it. We've seen this time and time again through the years, costing enthusiasts untold thousands of dollars in restoration and legal fees.
A friend in California purchased a Shelby GT350 he didn't know was stolen. Not only was it stolen, the vehicle identification number (VIN) had been changed by a previous titleholder--the thief who had stolen the car in the first place. Ignorance of the car's stolen status didn't get our friend off the hook. It cost him thousands of dollars in legal fees, reimbursement to the victim who lost the car, a night in jail, and a permanent criminal record because he was in possession of a stolen vehicle. This is why you must first do your homework before purchasing a Mustang.
If possible, examine the title and check the vehicle's history with the state before buying. Inspect all of the VINs and compare them with the title and registration before plunking down the cash. If the VINs on the vehicle do not match the title and registration, do not buy the vehicle. If the vehicle has a salvage title, check your state's motor-vehicle policy for salvage vehicles before buying.
Some states are specific about returning salvage vehicles to service, and in some states it isn't permitted. This means you may have to title and register a scrapped vehicle in a state where it's legal before it can be titled in your state, and doing your homework before the purchase is critical. It may be legal to put a salvage vehicle back on the road in the state where you are buying, but not legal in your state. Fact-check first: You might lose out on the purchase, but better to have checked and lost than to be stuck with a vehicle you cannot register.
Most states have a liberal policy with salvage vehicles. They want to know whether the vehicle has been stolen and that it is safe. This normally involves a state inspection before you can title and register the vehicle.
This leads us to the issue of VINs and codes on the body, warranty plate, body buck tag, or certification sticker. Ever since enthusiasts began restoring Mustangs in the late '70s, they've been making changes to these hot collectible automobiles. Enthusiasts have changed colors, drivelines, axle ratios, interior colors, and more. This begs the question: what's proper and legal, and what isn't?
Restoring a Mustang to deliberately commit fraud is unethical. Fraud is purchasing an A- or K-code '65-'66 Mustang and adding GT components, then selling it as a Mustang GT without telling the buyer. The same thing can be said for someone who buys a '69 Mustang SportsRoof and turns it into a Mach 1, then doesn't tell the buyer. Any way you slice these scenarios, they become fraud when you don't tell the buyer the truth, even if you stand to get a lower offer in the process. You rarely gain anything by selling a vehicle under false pretenses. If the buyer learns of it, you could be sued. You may also face criminal charges if the fraud is outside the law.
Fraud becomes even more involved when you alter a vehicle identification number to make a classic Mustang something it wasn't to begin with. This includes changing anything about the VIN by using a different engine or body serial code. Forexample, taking a '69-'70 SportsRoof and changing the engine code to G to make it a Boss 302 or changing the 02 to 05 to make it a Mach 1. The technology is out there to do these things, but getting caught can get you in hot water.
Cutting the VIN out of the inner fender apron and welding it into the inner-fender of another Mustang is also Federal fraud. This is reassigning the VIN of one Mustang to another Mustang, also known as "rebodying" a restoration. When this happens, you are breaking federal law. It becomes a felony and potential prison time if you're caught. Although we know it happens with some regularity, we strongly discourage this practice.
While we're on this subject, we want to clarify the practice of stamping the VIN into an engine block or other driveline component. If you're restoring a classic Mustang and the factory stamped the vehicle's VIN into the block ('65-'67 289 High Performance and all '68-up), consider this practice only when the block casting date and number match the vehicle's build period prior to the scheduled build date. It should never be practiced with a replacement block that's obviously a replacement. For example, a '69-'70 Boss 302 with a '71 service replacement block isn't an engine you would stamp with the VIN because it's obviously a service replacement. In any case, always tell the buyer it isn't the original block when the engine has been replaced. This enables you to sleep comfortably and keeps your reputation intact.
We're including a complete listing of state motor vehicle bureaus from all 50 states. Before you buy a Mustang and undertake a restoration, play it safe and check the motor vehicle laws in your state. This keeps you in the clear and keeps us all honest.
Alabama Motor Vehicle Division
Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles
Arizona Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Division
Arkansas Office Of Motor Vehicles
California Department of Motor Vehicles
This section does not prohibit the restoration by an owner of the original vehicle identification number when the department authorizes the restoration, nor prevent any manufacturer from placing in the ordinary course of business numbers or marks upon new motor vehicles or new parts thereof.
Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles
Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles
District of Columbia Dept. of Motor Vehicles
Florida Department of Motor Vehicles
Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety
Idaho Transportation Department
Illinois Vehicle Services Department
Indiana Bureau Of Motor Vehicles
Iowa Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Division
Kansas Department of Revenue, Division of Motor Vehicles
Kentucky Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing
Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles
Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles
Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration
Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles
Michigan Secretary of State
Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Mississippi Motor Vehicle Commission
Missouri Department of Revenue
Montana Department of Justice
Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles
Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles
New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles
New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission
New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division
New York Department of Motor Vehicles
North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles
North Dakota Department of Transportation
Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles
Oklahoma Motor Vehicle Division
Oregon Driver & Motor Vehicle Services
Pennsylvania Driver & Vehicle Services
Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles
South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles
South Dakota Department of Public Safety
Tennessee Department of Safety
Texas Department of Transportation
Utah Division of Motor Vehicles
Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Washington Department of Licensing
West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles
Wyoming Department of Transportation