Fake cars - how not to get ripped off

By: Cliff Chambers, Unique Cars magazine

Presented by

Pride and joy or the centre-piece in a court case? Spending up big on a car that isn't what it claims to be could turn into a battle where only the lawyers win. Market expert Cliff Chambers offers some advice on how to stay out of trouble.

Fake cars - how not to get ripped off
Unique Cars mag built its own replica GTHO, which was very difficult to pick from the real thing.

Welcome to the land of fakebelieve. Yesterday we ran a story on how the buyer of a fake GTHO ended up losing over $100,000 because neither he nor the seller were aware of the car's real identity.

There have been several cases during recent years where buyers of high-priced 'classic' vehicles have taken vendors to Court over the misrepresented authenticity.

It is not our role and certainly not the intention of this article to comment on any specific case past or currently under review. However there are steps the buyer can take to perhaps avoid hearing the words' All Rise'.

The ad you are reading says 'genuine example' and in the metal the car looks as correct as can be. The owner spreads across their dining table documentation going back so far that some of the bills are in Pounds, Shillings & Pence. The numbers on the ID plates all match the paperwork, but are those plates just a bit too shiny? And why is the paint in secluded corners of the boot a different colour from the rest of the car?

Back when a car was worth next to nothing, as our now-revered 'muscle' cars were in the 1980s, a few anomalies weren't worth pursuing. XY GTs sold for less than $5000, 351 Fairmonts half that amount and they were just seen as 'gas guzzlers' bought by people who just wanted something with enough grunt to tow their ski boat or speedway car.

Today however the price-tag  is more than you paid for your first, or even second, house. So do you still take a punt, call for help or just bale out?

DOING THE NUMBERS

The first rule that applies to authenticating motor vehicles is that there are no absolute rules, only guidelines and instincts built by years of experience.

people with intimate knowledge of specific models will go looking for components which are unique to that car. Lists are available of the literally dozens of parts or assembly quirks specific to particular models. But what if several of those parts aren't there? Is the car a fake or were they replaced at some point in the car's long life with something cheaper or easily acquired.? That is where reliance on other indicators of authenticity come into play.

Every vehicle built public sale has a unique identifying number. Those built during the past 50 years or so can have several, plus serial numbers that identify major components.

Older compliance plates are a quite ridiculous system of preserving a vehicle's identity. Until quite recently these little slivers of stamped metal were screwed or riveted to a handy space under the bonnet and could be transferred from one car to another with equipment no more sophisticated than a battery-powered drill and rivet gun.

However for every simple problem there is a complex solution and car makers also etch or stamp the ID number or sections of it into sections of the vehicle structure. Transferring an ID means transferring these sections as well and that is not a simple process.

The vehicle's ID plate provides much more than a numeric identity. In the case of Ford's GT and GTHO Falcons, it will detail the engine size and type, whether the transmission was automatic or manual and also body and trim colours. Anyone intent on 'cloning' the GT to which that plate originally belonged has a big task ahead.

Build plates fitted to Chrysler's Australian-made Chargers went even further, listing codes for every factory option installed when the car was being built.

PROVENANCE

From the French and meaning 'place of origin' this can be the most important clue to a car's authenticity. Certainly if a vehicle has been in the same ownership since new and comes with an unbroken sequence of documentation there will be a queue of eager buyers and few qualms about it not being the Real Thing.

A vehicle that has passed through the hands of several owners needs to document, as far as is possible, those transfers.  Invoices for repairs undertaken in years past, especially if they show dates and mileage/kilometre readings, are useful too.

Cars do suffer gaps in their history and with these other methods of authentication will need to be employed. Be cautious if during these 'lost years' a car has changed colour or acquired a replacement engine. Other aspects of its identity could have changed as well.

CALL IN THE EXPERTS

At some point in the buying process and preferably before handing over more than a nominal holding deposit comes the need to engage someone with expert knowledge to inspect your purchase.

Australian car companies did - and some do still - provide verification information based on owner-supplied information. However that is where their involvement ends and manufacturers won't get involved if there is a dispute.

Members of car clubs which cater to the model you're buying can be a source of valid information, but again they won't want to be fronting up at Court in the role of 'expert witness' should you discover that your high-performance Ford or other brand is in fact a 'fraud'.

Proprietors of specialised parts and restoration businesses, some auction houses, motor dealers and valuers can assist to a degree in verifying a car.

However, the chance getting a guarantee of authenticity from anyone who hasn't had long-term and direct contact with a particular car - such as a mechanic who serviced it from new - is understandably difficult. The adage 'Let The Buyer Beware' remains very much in play.

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