Jim Smart
December 7, 2005

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.

When you restore a classic Mustang, thoroughly document your efforts with receipts, photos, and ironclad proof of the car's origins. This means a legitimate title, a bill of sale, and a body where everything adds up. All of the numbers on the body should match, including the door warranty plate or certification sticker.

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.

The VIN can be found on the inner fender of '65-'68 Mustangs. One exception is San Jose-built '68 Mustangs, where the inner-fender VIN (also known as the confidential VIN) is hidden. This number must match in all locations on the vehicle, including inner fenders, windshield tag ('68-up), and warranty plate or certification sticker on the left-hand door. We've all run into Mustangs with left-hand doors that have been replaced with a door from another vehicle, meaning it has the incorrect warranty plate. In those instances, we suggest removing the warranty plate or certification sticker and using the inner fenders and windshield tag.

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.

State & Contact Information

Alabama Motor Vehicle Division

  • www.ador.state.al.us/motorvehicle/index.html
  • 334/242-9000
  • No changes to the VIN or manufacturer's plate without the approval of the Motor Vehicle Division.

Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles

  • www.state.ak.us/dmv
  • 907/269-5572
  • No changes to VIN or manufacturer's plate permitted.

Arizona Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Division

  • www.azdot.gov/mvd/index.asp
  • 602/255-0072 Phoenix
  • 520/629-9808 Tuscon
  • 800/251-5866 Toll-free in Arizona
  • Vehicle must be inspected by the state Motor Vehicle Division when any changes are made. Three levels of inspection are required depending on the changes made. Contact the MVD before making any changes to vehicle identity.

Arkansas Office Of Motor Vehicles

  • www.arkansas.gov/dfa/motor_vehicle/mv_index.html
  • 501/682-4692
  • State law mandates VIN verification by a law enforcement officer for salvage or restored vehicles. Have the VIN verified before making any changes or alterations.

California Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.dmv.ca.gov
  • 916/657-7971
  • 800/777-0133
  • No person shall intentionally deface, destroy, or alter the motor number, other distinguishing number, or identification mark of a vehicle required or employed for registration purposes without written authorization from the department, nor shall any person place or stamp any serial, motor, or other number or mark upon a vehicle, except one assigned thereto by the department.
    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

  • www.revenue.state.co.us/mv_dir/home.asp
  • 303/205-5600
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for more information.

Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.ct.gov/dmv
  • 800/842-8222 Toll-free in Connecticut
  • 860/263-2700 Hartford area/out-of-state
  • Vehicle must go through a Composite Motor Vehicle inspection at a state inspection facility if any significant changes have been made. State may assign a new VIN. Salvage vehicles must go through a state inspection.

District of Columbia Dept. of Motor Vehicles

  • www.dmv.washingtondc.gov
  • 202/727-5000
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicle for more information.

Florida Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.hsmv.state.fl.us
  • 800/922-9000
  • Contact DMV or Department of Highway Safety for information.

Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety

  • www.dmvs.ga.gov/motor
  • 404/362-6500
  • DMVS wants to see salvaged and rebuilt vehicles both before and after they're painted.

Hawaii

  • www.co.honolulu.hi.us/csd/vehicle
  • www.co.maui.hi.us/departments/Motor
  • Vehicles/index.htm
  • www.kauai.gov
  • 808/873-3546 State DMV
  • 808/532-4324 Honolulu
  • 808/270-7363 Maui
  • 808/241-6577 Kauai
  • Hawaii motor vehicle licensing and registration is done county-by-county. Contact each county for specific information.

Idaho Transportation Department

  • www.itd.idaho.gov/dmv
  • 208/334-8660
  • Not permissible to change or alter a vehicle or engine number. See Idaho motor vehicle statutes for more information.

Illinois Vehicle Services Department

  • www.cyberdriveillinois.com/services/services_motorists.html
  • 800/252-3000
  • 217/78-6992
  • Contact the Vehicle Services Department for specific information.

Indiana Bureau Of Motor Vehicles

  • www.ai.org/bmv/index.html
  • 317/233-6000
  • All vehicles must have VIN inspected whenever they are titled in the state for the first time.

Iowa Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Division

  • www.dot.state.ia.us/mvd/index.htm
  • 800/532-1121 Toll-free in Iowa
  • 515/244-9124 Des Moines
  • Contact the Motor Vehicle Division for more specific information.

Kansas Department of Revenue, Division of Motor Vehicles

  • www.ksrevenue.org/dmv.htm
  • 785/296-3621
  • Vehicles registered on a county-by-county basis. Contact the Division of Motor Vehicles with specific questions.

Kentucky Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing

  • www.mvlky.gov
  • www.kentucky.gov
  • 502/564-5301
  • Contact the Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing for more specific information.

Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles

  • omv.dps.state.la.us
  • 877/368-5463
  • Contact the Office of Motor Vehicles for specific information. Another option is www.legis.state.la.us.

Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles

  • www.state.me.us/sos/bmv
  • 207/624-9000
  • Contact BMV for specific information, included on the state Web site.

Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration

  • http://mva.state.md.us
  • 800/638-8347 24-hour information
  • 800/248-4160 Vehicle services
  • Contact the Motor Vehicle Administration for specific information.

Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles

  • www.mass.gov/rmv
  • 800/858-3926 Toll-free in Massachusetts
  • 617/351-4500
  • Contact the RMV for specific information related to your restoration effort.

Michigan Secretary of State

  • www.michigan.gov/sos
  • 517/322-1460
  • Go to the Web site and search for vehicle restoration.

Minnesota Department of Public Safety

  • www.dps.state.mn.us/dvs
  • 651/296-6911
  • For more information on Minnesota's vehicle codes, e-mail motor.vehicles@state.mn.us.

Mississippi Motor Vehicle Commission

  • www.mmvc.state.ms.us
  • 601/987-3995
  • For more information about state motor vehicle laws and policies, e-mail day@mmvc.state.ms.us.

Missouri Department of Revenue

  • www.dor.state.mo.us
  • 573/751-4450
  • Missouri has a new salvage definition law. See the Missouri DOR Web site for details.

Montana Department of Justice

  • www.doj.state.mt.us/driving
  • 406/444-2026
  • See DOJ Web site for policy on proper handling of motor vehicle restoration and licensing under the law.

Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.dmv.state.ne.us
  • 402/471-3918
  • For specifics, e-mail the state from Web page www.dmv.state.ne.us/admin/email.

Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.dmvnv.com
  • 702/486-4368 Las Vegas area
  • 775/684-4368 Sparks/Carson City
  • 877-368-7828 Toll-free in rural Nevada
  • For more information, e-mail the Nevada DMV at info@dmv.state.nv.us

New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles

  • www.nh.gov/safety/dmv/
  • 603/271-3111
  • Salvage vehicles must have a salvage inspection before registration. Once inspected, a DSMV 547 will be issued. Contact the DMV for more details.

New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission

  • www.state.nj.us/mvc
  • 609/292-6500
  • 888/486-3339 toll free in New Jersey
  • Contact the New Jersey MVC for more information.

New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division

  • www.state.nm.us/tax/mvd
  • 888/683-4636
  • For more information, e-mail the NMVD at GGarcia@state.nm.us.

New York Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.nydmv.state.ny.us
  • No telephone information available.
  • Visit the New York DMV Web site for detailed information.

North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles

  • www.ncdot.org/dmv
  • 919/715-7000
  • North Carolina has a Title Registration Manual, as well as other booklets, for restorers with specific questions about state vehicle laws.

North Dakota Department of Transportation

  • www.state.nd.us/dot
  • 701/328-2725
  • For specific information on Mustang restoration, e-mail the DOT at dot@state.nd.us.

Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles

  • http://bmv.ohio.gov
  • 614/752-7500
  • 800/589-8247 Toll-free in Ohio
  • E-mail the BMV from Web page bmv.ohio.gov/registar_email.html.

Oklahoma Motor Vehicle Division

  • www.oktax.state.ok.us/mvhome.html
  • 800/522-8165 Toll-free
  • 405/521-2913
  • See the MVD Web site for detailed information.

Oregon Driver & Motor Vehicle Services

  • www.oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV
  • 503/945-5000
  • See Web site for details on salvage/rebuilt vehicles.

Pennsylvania Driver & Vehicle Services

  • www.dmv.state.pa.us
  • 800/932-4600
  • 717/391-6190
  • Strict regarding salvage/rebuilt motor vehicles. All vehicles are subject to a state inspection. See Web site for more specifics.

Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles

  • www.dmv.state.ri.us
  • 401/588-3020
  • Vehicles that have been rebuilt from salvage must be inspected by the state. For more details, see the Web site.

South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles

  • www.scdmvonline.com
  • Telephone numbers available online, county by county.
  • Help is available via help@scdmvonline.com.

South Dakota Department of Public Safety

  • www.state.sd.us/dps
  • 605/773-3178
  • Little information on the state Web site. Call for more detailed information.

Tennessee Department of Safety

  • www.tennessee.gov/safety
  • 615/741-3954

Texas Department of Transportation

  • www.dot.state.tx.us
  • No telephone number available.
  • Safety inspection required when you put a vehicle on the road. More information available on the Web site.

Utah Division of Motor Vehicles

  • http://dmv.utah.gov
  • 800/368-8824 Toll-free in Utah
  • 801/297-7780
  • Go to Reconstructed Vehicles on the Web site for more details.

Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.aot.state.vt.us/dmv
  • 802/828-2000
  • Little information available on the Web site. Call for more information.

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.dmv.state.va.us
  • 866/368-5463
  • 800/435-5137
  • Antique and classic cars eligible for special license tags. See Web site for specifics.

Washington Department of Licensing

  • www.dol.wa.gov
  • 360/902-3770
  • See Web site for e-mail address for questions.

West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

  • www.wvdot.com
  • 304/558-3900
  • No information available on the Web site for restorers.

Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles

  • www.dot.state.wi.us/drivers
  • 414/266-1148
  • 608/261-2583
  • For more information visit Web site.

Wyoming Department of Transportation

  • http://dot.state.wy.us
  • 307/777-4714
  • Specific policies addressing salvage and rebuilt vehicles. See Web site for more information.