A VIN Decoder that Really Decodes

Click Here to Begin Slideshow Image by Enilda Aguilar Together with Spork Marketing, H&H Classic Parts has created what they claim is the best online VIN decoding tool for many classic Chevy models. There aren’t many tools readily available online that will give highly detailed information about the production of an individual vehicle. Information on early model Chevy muscle cars is spotty at best. The new VIN decoder was tested with a handful of cars.

A VIN Decoder that Really Decodes

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

Image by Enilda Aguilar

Together with Spork Marketing, H&H Classic Parts has created what they claim is the best online VIN decoding tool for many classic Chevy models. There aren’t many tools readily available online that will give highly detailed information about the production of an individual vehicle. Information on early model Chevy muscle cars is spotty at best. The new VIN decoder was tested with a handful of cars.

Company Claims Decoding Tool Gives More Information on More Models

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

H&H Classic Parts for Chevrolets is an online and catalog supplier of parts for Classic Chevies with an extensive catalogue of parts, some of which are hard to find, that’s been in business since 1987. Some older Chevy models have very limited information available online. Specialized tools are required to obtain information even basic information, and they’re spread all over the Internet. For this reason, H&H management team Kerman, Liz and Tray Smith commissioned Spork Marketing to build a single location tool that covers the vehicles for which they carry parts.

Short VINs?

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Quite often the tools are unable to give you any information whatsoever about your vehicle or will tell you that the VIN is not valid because it’s either too short or has a missing or invalid check digit. There are some tools out there, if you look hard enough, that will tell you some information (some in PDF format like this one that helps with the Nova above), but until now there was no tool that combined five classic Chevy models in one tool.

Dan-Prete-1969-min

Photo by Dan Prete


The companies claim the tool is able to tell older Chevy Tri-Five, Nova/Chevy II, Camaro, Impala and Chevelle owners where their car was built, what year, what type of engine it had and the model and body style. A sample VIN of 114270W00001 was given in the press release as an example with the following information given:
• The car came from the factory equipped with a V8 engine, size not given
• It is a Nova
• It is a 2-door coupe that was
• Produced at the Willow Run plant in
• 1970

RacingJunk tried that VIN in several other decoding tools found in a Google search. All of them said the VIN was invalid because it was too short. The required number of digits is given by the tool as 17 and the given number only has 12, which is how it was back then. Tools were even tried that specifically said they work on older Chevy Nova/Chevy II cars.

General Motors made it even harder for an outside party to create a workable database because they didn’t use the same convention in creating the numbers across the years and makes and models/sub-models. For example, from Facebook Steve Oakins owns a 1960 Chevy C10 Pickup. Its VIN starts with a 0. The second character is a letter.

Spork Marketing Tells RacingJunk about the Tool They Created

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Spork Marketing is a marketing company that specializes in automotive parts. RacingJunk spoke with Spork Marketing president Jason Lancaster via email about the tool. He went into more detail about the tool and its creation. He said, “If I were to sum up the H&H VIN decoder that we created, it would be thusly:

- It decodes VINs so you don't have to. Most of the older Chevy vehicles have enthusiasts who have "mapped" out VINs so that owners can tell what number/letter means what. (eg. if the 3rd character is an 'A', than you have a V8, or whatever). No figuring out what character means mean - just type it in. :)

Versatility

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

- It works with multiple models. There are a couple of model specific VIN decoders, but nothing we know of that decodes VINs for multiple models. We currently support Camaro, Chevelle, Impala, Nova and Tri-Five models.

Accuracy

Image courtesy Lay It Low forums

- It's highly accurate. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we spent hundreds of man hours checking this thing. We dug into the GM Heritage site's documentation for every single year of vehicle that's covered, and then painstakingly came up with a ruleset. Several hundred lines of code were written to make this work.

- It's great for checking if a car's VIN matches its equipment. If you're looking at a Tri-Five that claims to be original, a quick VIN decoder check will ascertain if the equipment/packaging matches the provided VIN.”

What’s Better in This Tool

Image courtesy Lay It Low forums

When asked what was better in this tool than the multitude of others online, Lancaster told RacingJunk, “The tool includes more models now (we’re up to five).” In response to a question about whether there’s a specific database somewhere online or a group of databases that the tool queries, he said no - “Also, there is no database, unfortunately. We wrote the code that does the lookup based on our own research.”

Limitations

Image courtesy The Poorman’s Off Chassis Restoration.com

RacingJunk then asked why the information given in the sample VIN didn’t have any trim or color information. He said that was because “Chevy’s old VIN system is fairly limited. You can’t tell people what their original features were, for example, because that information is not included in the VIN. There’s no central database of VINs either, so there’s nowhere to go to find out about order dates, MSRP, color codes and so on.”

Bogus VINs

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Lancaster then addresses the fact that some people have written to both H&H and Spork to tell them they got bogus information when using the tool. He said that “you’d be surprised by the numbers of bogus VINs people try to decode. I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t key them in correctly, or if they don’t have the correct number (written down), or if it’s a bogus VIN provided by a vehicle seller. Regardless, we get a lot of them.”

The VIN Tag Should Not Be Confused with the Cowl Tag

The bottom tag in this photo is the VIN tag from a 1967 Chevelle. The top tag is the body code tag, and it contains information exclusive to Fisher Body and gives the body type and paint color. It is not recommended to remove either of these tags, as they are attached at the factory using special rivets.

A vehicle’s VIN can tell some of the back story of an older Chevy muscle car. Another tag you may be familiar with is the Cowl Tag. This gives other vital information about the vehicle, some of which duplicates VIN information, but also trim and paint codes as well. As the name implies, the Cowl Tag is near the cowl on the firewall/bulkhead on the upper driver’s side in the engine compartment.

What Do Owners of the Listed Cars Say?

Image courtesy Steve Oakins via Facebook

RacingJunk then reached out to several owners of classic Chevrolets on Facebook for their opinion and their VINs to make comparisons with several tools. When Steve Oakins typed in his VIN, the tool wasn’t able to tell him anything on his C10 because it’s not yet covered by the tool. He had to search for hours until he found a PDF document that breaks down the vehicle information.

The Competition

Photo by Tyler McCormack

Tyler McCormack, whose 1970 Chevelle was recently reported on at RacingJunk’s sister publication Hot Rod Hotline, was nice enough to allow RacingJunk to test his car’s VIN against the H&H Tool, a Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu VIN chart from ChevyResource.org and a ChevelleStuff VIN decoder. All three say that it’s a 1970 Chevelle/Malibu 2-Door Sport Coupe that was equipped with a V8. However, the H&H tool says it was built at a “Leeds” plant. It was actually built at the Kansas City, Kansas plant; there was no Leeds plant. (Editor's note: While there was indeed no Leeds plant technically speaking, the issue was more complicated than this; see the last slide for details!)

Special Info

Image courtesy Crankgyspsy.com

Another Facebook contact is the proud owner of a beautiful 1968 Chevelle. His is an authentic SS 396 (2-Door) Sport Coupe built in Atlanta. All three tools agree, although the chart says it is a “2-door notch back-hardtop coupe.”

Stefano Bimbi, from legendary NicKey Performance, was also nice enough to give RacingJunk some numbers and documentation available to collectors and dealers (for a fee) that gives a little more information than is normally available because they can look up production records.

VIN One

Photo by Stefano Bimbi

The first VIN he shared (above) is for a 1961 Bubble Top Impala. The H&H tool calls it a “V8 1800 2 Door Sport Coupe” and says it was built in Los Angeles in 1961. Another tool that RJ found called it a 2-door Sport coupe (bubble top).

Checkmark for H&H

Photo by Keith Lively

Stefano also gave RacingJunk a printout with the VIN from a 1970 Yenko Nova. This printout is from one of the commercial sources that have been around for decades, the National Corvette Restorers Society, a treasure trove of Chevrolet production information. This document tells what dealership it was shipped to - Yenko Chevrolet - but not what plant it was built at. The H&H tool accurately says it was built at Willow Run.

Agreement

Photo by Keith Lively

The final document Stefano supplied was for a 1969 Camaro. The online tools that are available all agree that it is a V8 2-door coupe that was built at the Norwood plant. Again, Stefano’s document doesn’t mention that plant but does give the exact date of production and the original dealership it went to.

1966_Chevrolet_Chevy_II_Sedan_(9690994198)-min

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Stefano also took a look at the H&H tool and said that online tools of its sort have been available almost since the advent of the Internet. This is true, but as Spork’s Lancaster said, while there may have been tools that give the same information available, none of them offer this convenience while covering so many years and models.

Got an older Chevy you can’t find information about? Check it here. Let us know in the comments what you think.

Editor’s Note: Update on the “Error” That Was Found

Image courtesy Jason Lancaster, Spork Marketing.

Spork’s Jason Alexander contacted the writer to thank him for writing this article and finding the error in the tool. He then wrote back to clarify what had happened. GM called the plant located in Kansas City the “Leeds Assembly Plant” (see image above). Thus, the tool’s reporting that the given VIN was for a 1970 Chevelle built at the Kansas City Plant was correct geographically while being incorrect according to the nomenclature of the time.

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About Mike Aguilar 260 Articles
Mike's love of cars began in the early 1970's when his father started taking him to his Chevron service station. He's done pretty much everything in the automotive aftermarket from gas station island attendant, parts counter, mechanic, and new and used sales. Mike also has experience in the amateur ranks of many of racing's sanctioning bodies.
  • Great article!

    By the way, “Leeds Assembly” was the name of GM’s Kansas City plant. The tool is correct. 🙂

    • RiverMikeRat

      Thank you sir.
      Update included to reflect the new information you gave.

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