Telling the difference between a true vintage car and a fake one isn’t always an easy process. If you haven’t completed long hours of research on vintage cars, then you might have no idea whether or not one is simply a replica or the real deal. Unfortunately, the process often becomes even more complicated when people use exact logos, hood ornaments, etc., on their replica cars in order to trick others into thinking it’s an original.


Luckily, there are a few ways to tell the difference between a real old car and a restored one. While these tips will definitely help indicate the true age of a car, the only real way to be sure of its authenticity is to have it appraised. A professional appraisal is an easy and impartial way to determine the legitimacy of an item’s origin. 


Make Sure the Parts Match


One way to tell the difference between a true vintage car and a replica is to look under the hood. This means you should check to ensure that the car’s motor, transmission, and other mechanisms match that of the original model. For example, if you were looking at a 1965 Ford Mustang, you should ensure that the car is equipped with drum brakes. While this may seem obvious, it is often easy to overlook these small details.


Aside from looking under the hood, you should also ensure that all of the car’s electronic components are accurate to the time period. If you are looking into a car from before 1940, there should not be automatic windows because these were not invented until that year.


What is the Condition?


Often, vintage and antique cars will have some sort of wear or tear. This is to be expected in cars, especially if they have not been sitting in a garage their whole lives. If an item seems too good to be true, then it probably is. While there is a possibility that the owner just took really good care of it, this is highly unlikely.


If there are no signs of age on a car, this can mean one of two things. The first is that it is a fake, and you should be wary of buying it. You can almost always bet it is a fake if someone tries to tell you it’s completely original with no modifications or repairs completed on it.


The second possibility is that it is a true vintage car, but the owners completed some repairs in order to get it into working condition. If this is the case, the owner will usually disclose this to you when you first inquire about the car. While this means the car is not completely in its original state, it is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some collectors prefer their cars to be this way. It all depends on your preference, but it is important to note this when looking at an older car.


Check for Special Markings


Often specific cars, especially those considered luxury back in the day, will contain markings that hint at its authenticity. One of these markings that you can look for is the car’s production number.


A production number states when the car was built in production. This means that if your car’s production number was three, it was the third car of that specific model built. Production numbers are great for identifying replicas because many will not contain this number, and those that do will eventually be caught when their real counterpart is sold or known about.

Maker’s signatures are also great markings to help identify a replica from an original. One popular maker’s signature is Rolls Royce’s Spirit of ecstasy. This hood ornament dons many of the antique Rolls Royce cars. While items like this can be forged, getting them to be exactly like the original is hard. So, by paying close attention to a maker’s signature mark, you can often distinguish between an authentic car and a replica.


A professional appraisal is a document that is usually digitally bound and details each item’s value, dimensions, and other pertinent info. Once you (and all relevant parties) understand what you own and what it’s worth, you can decide what actions to take next.


Final Thoughts


Unfortunately, with vintage cars growing in popularity, more and more people are trying to pass their replicas off as untouched originals. While it can be difficult to spot the difference between the two, we mentioned a few key indicators above that might help you out.


As always, Working with a professional estate appraisal company is the best option for knowing a car’s true origin. Professional, USPAP appraisals are accepted by courts and insurance companies. Plus, they are experts in their respective fields, so you can feel confident the appraisal is impartial and accurate.


Buying and collecting vintage cars does pose challenges, but the tips above can help make the process smoother.