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Chevy Corvette Documentation & Previous Owner Research - Dumpster Diving

Alan Colvin Dec 1, 2005
Corp_0512_01_z Chevrolet_corvette Restoration_books 2/1

Did you ever wonder where your Corvette came from? Or who bought it originally and who's owned it and for how long? There are several ways to obtain the history of your classic Corvette. While previous owners of your car might not be important to you now, you might want to know if the car is rarely equipped or was owned by a famous automotive executive or Hollywood celebrity. Many rare and one-off cars have sometimes sat in backyards and decrepit garages unrestored for decades until someone took the time and trouble to find out their history. Many of these cars, once restored back to their former glory, have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Wouldn't it be cool if a famous person owned your car at one time?

While a project like this can be overwhelming, lasting months or even years, you can sometimes hit the jackpot quickly. This means finding a past owner who still has the original order forms or sales documentation, perhaps a Protect-O-Plate, old photos, or even parts from when it was bought new. These are incredible finds if you can locate the source for these treasures, which can be one or all of the original owners of your car. Let's take a look at how to research your Corvette.

Reasons To ResearchA lot of money could be made (by reselling the car) if you can prove your car is super rare or was once owned by a famous person. Another reason for researching your car's history is to be able to do a correct restoration on the car. Many cars bought today are just parts cars from 10 years ago. Much of what was on the car that would define which drivetrain was in it is now long gone. If you don't have documentation for your car now, how can you guarantee the options are correct? How do you know the interior hasn't been switched or re-dyed by a prior owner? Basic information, like paint and interior combinations, can be found easily on the trim tag, but those can be reproduced as well. The only true way to make sure how your car was originally built is to find its original documentation.

You may also want to research the car so you don't invest a lot of money restoring a vehicle that isn't what it seems. For example, a lot of '67 Corvettes have been restored as true big-blocks cars, when in fact they weren't big-blocks at all. This year, a seemingly correct matching-numbers Corvette was sold at auction for big money, when it was later found out it had been sold as a verifiable small-block car. Some people could lose a lot of money if Chevrolet ever released the build records we feel are still there.

You may even own a big-block Corvette that was originally a small-block car from the factory. While the number of bogus cars out there has come down in recent years due to better information on how to tell an original from an imposter, along with that better information comes shady people using that info to make a better bogus car. If you do restore an incorrect or bogus car, you can stand to lose thousands of dollars, with just a nice looking car in the end to show for it. Bottom line: If you can acquire the original documentation for the car, you'll get a better price when you resell.

The body broadcast sheet or "tank sticker," as it's sometimes called, can determine the pedigree of your car. Beginning in 1967, the plant affixed this sheet of paper to the top of the gas tank. This piece of paper showed all the options as installed on that Corvette. Since these stickers were open to the elements under the car, many of them have disintegrated over the years to the point of being unreadable, if they're there at all. If the car has been garaged all of its life, then odds are better the sticker has survived. Obviously, if the gas tank has been replaced at some point, the sticker will be long gone. If you own a '67 or later Corvette, check here first before following the other steps outlined below.

Defining The Data StreamDeciding where to start the search for your car's documentation is somewhat dependent on the type and year Corvette you own, which state you currently live in, how networked you are in the Corvette hobby, and good, old-fashioned luck. The first requirement is to know as much as you can before you begin the search. Try to acquire all the factory literature that pertains to your model. The more you know about the vehicle, the easier the search becomes down the road.

The year and model of your car are also important because if you own a popular or rarer vehicle, the possibility of past owners keeping photos or paperwork when they owned the car increases dramatically. This is not to say that if you own a regular car, you won't find past owners that saved documentation. Some car owners may want to know what was done in the past to the car, what options it had originally, and what part of the country it came from. As you inspect your own car, some of these clues can be clear, while other may never be discovered. For example, cars delivered to the West (such as Arizona, Texas, or California) rarely have the rust problems cars from the East do. This can point you to a certain part of the country when researching the car. Also be aware that some options are easy to add and many are dated in some way. Compare the dates on that option against the date your car was built. This is just one example of checking out your car before you begin the search for its documentation.

Where To BeginThe most logical place to begin the search for your car's history is with the last owner. Hopefully, you took notes when he or she described the details before handing him the cash and driving off into the sunset. This person should be able to give you the contact info for the person the car was purchased from. These two entities should also be listed on the title you received when you first bought the car. Hopefully, you made a copy of the title before you had the car transferred to your name. With these names, you can begin to track these people down and, with a little luck, begin to fill in the past ownership trail of your car. Many names, addresses, and phone numbers of past owners are available on the Internet. This tracking job can still become daunting if a past owner has a common name, like Jones or Smith. You just have to keep at it-no one said this would be easy.

Your DMV, or Department of Motor Vehicles, can be helpful in your search. This is the state or county agency that helps transfer automotive titles and registrations for each part of the country. Each state has laws on how long they keep the computerized records before they're purged from the DMV system. Most states keep records only about 10 years, which makes rearward title traces difficult for older cars. Begin the search with the last owner's name you have and hope for the best. There is usually a small fee for this search. You may find out nothing or you may find a person who owned the car eight years ago, but knew the original owner who knows how to contact him. The longer you wait, the less likely it is you'll find the original owners.

The next approach would be to run a classified ad in a national magazine or a national car club periodical. Many times, past owners continue to like the same type of car and might belong to local or national car clubs that are model-specific. In some cases, by networking within these clubs, you may luck out and find a past owner of your car. Getting the word out to your friends and neighbors can sometimes help. You just never know-a past owner may be looking for the present owner just as hard as you're looking for him or her. Past owners who are looking for their old car usually pay the asking price if it's available because they have sentimental memories attached to it. Getting networked into a car club as soon as possible increases the odds of a meeting between you and a past owner.

If you own an '81-'04 Corvette, the National Corvette Museum probably has a buildsheet for your car. Excluding some '82 Corvettes, the NCM can provide a copy of the factory buildsheet for $30-$40, depending on whether or not you're a member. Contact the Museum at

This is the time to start your search. Original documentation for any collector car is hard to come by, but you'll never find it unless you start. Happy hunting!

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