How to... research your classic car’s history

| 23 Apr 2020
Classic & Sports Car – How to... research your classic car’s history

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We all love it when a car comes with a bulging history folder, full of everything from old tax discs to an original bill of sale.

So what happens if you buy the classic of your dreams and it comes with nothing but the current paperwork?

Fortunately all is not lost and, with the aid of just some basic information, there are ways of slowly building up the back-story to your vehicle, and possibly increasing the market value at the same time.

Here’s how…

Classic & Sports Car – How to... research your classic car’s history

It may seem obvious, but the registration is the most sensible place to start.

So if your classic is registered in the UK, head to the DVLA’s website, download and fill in the V888 form and await the results – and if you’re looking for information about a car you currently own or are the previous keeper of, it’s free.

There is a limit to just what use this information alone may be to you, but it can provide you with some essential names and dates with which to start searching for more information.

If you are fortunate enough to have the original buff-coloured logbook (above) for an older classic, the chances are that this will show the names and addresses of previous keepers, which gives you a couple of options.

If you’re feeling lucky, you could start writing letters in the hope that past owners or their families still reside at the listed addresses.

You could also search the phone book now that you have names and regions, but out of politeness it is worth considering that people rarely like a ‘cold call’ and may not be so willing to help as a result.

Classic & Sports Car – How to... research your classic car’s history

For a bit more basic gen about the car, you can often apply to the clubs or manufacturer (if it still exists) for build details.

British-made classics are well catered for by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, and a Heritage Certificate showing the construction date and facts such as original colour can be ordered.

There are many options, prices starting from just £43, costs rising for more thorough information and extras – find out more.

You can see which marques you can get Heritage Certificates and other documents for here.

And, of course, the British Motor Museum’s archive as a whole, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu’s archive and the Vintage Sports-Car Club’s library are all rich, valuable resources that could aid your research, especially if you’re seeking information on a British marque.

Classic & Sports Car – How to... research your classic car’s history

Most owners’ clubs can boast records that will date back a number of years, and some will have access to any surviving factory data.

There is always a chance that one of the previous keepers was a club member at the time and is known to another member or can be identified by the club archivist.

Naturally, some clubs are better equipped than others to help trace the history of a particular vehicle, but attached to most organisations are thriving websites, forums and club magazines.

A simple ‘does anyone know this car?’ letter to the magazine or post on a club or marque-specific forum is an easy way to kick-start your search and potentially reach thousands of people with just a couple of minutes’ work.

You can also email our Editor in Chief, who compiles the ‘Look familiar?’ panel every month in Classic & Sports Car, a resource designed specifically for tracking the history of a classic.

Or do it the old fashioned way. Check out our events calendar or ask the relevant clubs when major marque events take place, then pop along armed with as many details as you have already mustered.

Just talking to some of the thousands of owners, enthusiasts, club members and traders in attendance could dredge up an all-important memory.

Classic & Sports Car – How to... research your classic car’s history
Classic & Sports Car – How to... research your classic car’s history

Digging up the history of a car can be extremely rewarding, and can not only help galvanise your relationship with the vehicle, but also increase its potential resale price by making it more appealing to a prospective buyer – it certainly beats a plastic wallet containing just a current MoT certificate and a registration document.

You never know what gems and forgotten stories you might unearth.

Of course, if you’re unlucky and your investigation bears no fruit, then take it upon yourself to start building that file now, documenting work done and trips made.

Who knows, in 40 years’ time you could be giving a future owner a surprise gift.

Images: Martin Port/British Motor Museum


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