Cracking the Code

What Does the VIN and Trim Tag Reveal about your Classic Chevy?

By Tommy Lee Byrd   –   Photography by the Author

When it comes to finding out your car’s factory options and features, the best place to start is the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate and the trim tag. In most cases, these two stampings will not provide every piece of information you want, but it’s easily accessible and can sometimes reveal some cool details. If you want the car’s full history, other documentation like a build sheet and Protect-O-Plate are needed, but those items are often long gone on an average Chevy from the muscle car era. Finding a build sheet hidden in the interior or on top of the gas tank is like finding buried treasure. We’ll cover some details of the build sheet, but the main purpose of this article is to explain some of the nuances of the VIN and trim tag through the years.

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To simplify things, we’re narrowing the focus of this article from 1960 through 1980 because there are many variations of VIN and trim tag configurations and other documentation differences. Even in that 20-year span, there are dozens of variations, sometimes within the same year of production. Variations could depend on the factory, build date, or the combination of the two factors, especially in the case of trim tags.

002 if those Super Sport badges are legit or someone’s attempt to dress up a base model car
If you’re shopping for a restored car, or happened to find one in a back yard, it helps to know if those Super Sport badges are legit or someone’s attempt to dress up a base model car.

We’re using a few real-world examples of cars: a ’63 Impala SS convertible, a ’64 Chevelle Malibu, a ’66 Nova, a ’69 Camaro, and a ’73 Nova. This information can help you make quick observations when looking at a car to buy, or if you’re simply curious about a car’s original configuration. There aren’t enough pages in this magazine to cover every option code or configuration, but we’ll do our best to simplify the process and give you some of the highlights from popular Chevrolet applications from the ’60s and ’70s.

003 The “18” designates an Impala with V 8 engine
On this VIN, the “3” designates the model year: 1963. The “18” designates an Impala with V-8 engine, while the “67” makes this a two-door convertible body style. The “A” means this ’63 Impala was built in Atlanta, Georgia. The additional six numbers are the serial number.

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VIN

Going back to the ’50s, Chevrolet placed the VIN on the driver side A-pillar, near the door hinges. It is stamped on a steel or stainless steel plate and then attached to the doorjamb. This location changed in 1968, as Chevrolet moved the VIN tag to the driver side of the dash, visible through the lower corner of the windshield. The VIN contains information about the year of the car and its body style but rarely had any specific information about the car’s optional equipment. Regarding options, the only thing the VIN can tell you is the number of cylinders in the engine. Starting in 1960, Chevrolet began placing an engine number code in the third digit of the VIN. Typically, odd numbers were six-cylinder and even numbers were V-8 cars.

004 Different years have different callouts for Super Sport
If we look at the trim tag on the same ’63 Impala, we see the top line is stamped “01B,” which means it was built the second week of January. The second line is stamped 63-1867, calling out the year, body series, and body style. Other important notes are the 815 interior code for black vinyl, a material used in Super Sport convertibles with bucket seats. The accessory codes read “E” for tinted glass, “2C” for padded dash, and the all-important “3Z” for Super Sport. Different years have different callouts for Super Sport.

In 1972, Chevrolet introduced a new VIN layout, and now the fifth digit would feature a letter code for the exact engine in the car. This letter code would’ve come in handy during the height of the muscle car era, but alas, it arrived a little too late. In 1972 we saw the end of several engine combinations, but 1973 through 1980 codes stayed the same. Some examples of engine codes are as follows: F = 307 ci with two-barrel carburetor, H = 350 ci with two-barrel carburetor, T = 350 ci with four-barrel carburetor (Camaro Z28), W = LS5 454ci big-block (1972 only).

005 The “56” tells us this is a Chevelle Malibu with a V 8 engine
This VIN starts with a 4, which signifies the 1964-year model. The “56” tells us this is a Chevelle Malibu with a V-8 engine, while the “69” designates a four-door sedan. The “A” means it was built in Atlanta, Georgia.

Other information in the VIN are body series and body styles. This group of numbers were most important during the mid ’60s, as Chevrolet separated Super Sport cars into a separate series. This allows you to quickly determine a regular production model from a Super Sport by checking the second and third digit of the VIN. A popular example includes 1965-67 Nova Super Sport, which had 117 or 118 as the first three numbers of the VIN, compared to other models like 111, 113, 114, 115, or 116. Remember, the third digit is also the engine code during this time frame, so that tells you the 117 Super Sport Nova was a six-cylinder and the 118 was a V-8. By far, the most well-known Super Sport indicator is the Chevelle, which has a prefix of 138, or in rare cases 137 (’65 Malibu SS with a six-cylinder engine). The 138 numbering is the quickest way to determine whether a Chevelle is a true Super Sport from 1965-68. From 1969 onward there was no Super Sport designation in the VIN or trim tag. Chevrolet Impala had Super Sport confirmation on the VIN from 1965-6, with the VIN prefixes: 165, 166, 167, and 168.

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006 Accessory codes include 2P for the Comfort and Convenience Group and 5V for seat belt equipment
The trim tag on the same ’64 Chevelle Malibu has a date code of 11B, meaning the second week of November. The 64-5669 mimics the VIN stampings, while the AT-003619 is a Fisher Body unit number that doesn’t relate to the VIN. The 739 trim designates medium blue cloth and imitation leather, while the 916 paint code calls for Daytona Blue lacquer. Accessory codes include 2P for the Comfort and Convenience Group and 5V for seat belt equipment.

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Trim Tag

The trim tag is a piece of aluminum with a series of stamped letters and numbers. Some information overlaps with the VIN, but it does often tell a little more about trim options, such as interior style, interior color, and exterior paint color. The trim tag is sometimes called a cowl tag because it is often placed on the firewall or cowl of the vehicle. Early Nova (1962-67) trim tags are located on the passenger side of the firewall, near the heater box, while ’68 and newer Nova trim tags are in the more conventional area on the driver side near the master cylinder. Camaro and Chevelle are in the conventional area. Impala trim tags moved the most—starting in 1960 on the upper portion of the cowl on the driver side, then moving to a lower location on the firewall in 1961 and 1962, then to the upper portion of the cowl on the passenger side (1963 and 1964), and finally to the conventional area on the driver side firewall from 1965 and beyond.

007 All Chevrolet passenger cars started with 1 from 1965 and beyond
Moving onto an early Nova, the VIN starts with the number 1. All Chevrolet passenger cars started with 1 from 1965 and beyond. The “15” designates a Nova trim level with a six-cylinder engine. The “37” calls for a two-door Sport Coupe and “N” means it was built in Norwood, Ohio.

There is a sweet spot with trim tags from 1960-67; a time when Fisher Body assembly plants used accessory codes. In most cases, the accessory codes were associated with the body and interior but sometimes included information about special option packages or drivetrain options. These codes were placed in numbered groups and did not match Chevrolet’s Regular Production Option (RPO) codes, so it can be a bit confusing. Luckily, there are resources online to help decipher these accessory codes.

008 Early Novas (1962 1967) had the trim tag on the passenger side of the firewall
Early Novas (1962-1967) had the trim tag on the passenger side of the firewall. This one is noteworthy because the body series number does not match the VIN. The 66-11637 would typically designate a V-8 car, while the VIN tells us otherwise. The car has its original 194ci inline six-cylinder engine, so the VIN is correct and the trim tag is wrong. The interior trim code 754 calls for Red Standard interior, while the R-R paint code calls for Regal Red.

Group 1 of accessory codes is mostly related to the windows but also has information about convertible top and seat options. Group 1 does not have the number 1 present in the code, so it will only present as a letter(s). Groups 2 through 5 have the number present, followed by the letter code(s), example 2L. The numbers do not represent a code, but it does break up the accessory codes into different sections, allowing the same letter to be used in different groups.

009 In 1968 the VIN plate moved from the A pillar to the dash
In 1968, the VIN plate moved from the A-pillar to the dash. This example reads “1” for Chevrolet, “2” for Camaro, “4” for V-8 engine, “37” for coupe body, “9” for 1969 model year, and “N” for Norwood, Ohio, assembly plant.

Trim tags varied based on the factory, so it’s important to note that when trying to decode a car. A great example is the ’69 Camaro with its famous X codes, which were only used on cars built in the Norwood, Ohio, plant, starting in December of 1968. Early production cars for the 1969 model year did not have the codes and none of the ’69 Camaros built in Van Nuys, California, have the codes. This leaves a void in ’68 and early ’69 Camaros when it comes to verifying certain options. The ’67 models were easy because of the Fisher accessory codes but 1968 and 1969 are very hard to document without a Protect-O-Plate or factory broadcast sheet (commonly referred to as a build sheet).

’69 Camaro X Code Reference
X11 Style Trim Group, could be combined with SS350
X22 Style Trim Group, combined with SS396
X33 Style Trim Group, combined with Z/28
X44 Base Car
X55 Base Car with SS350
X66 Base Car with SS396
X77 Base Car with Z/28

 

010 The reason for no X codes is the early production date of October 1968 as the X codes didn’t come out until December 1968
On the same ’69 Camaro, we move to the trim tag, and that’s where it gets interesting. This car has a known history and is an RS/SS car from the factory. However, you won’t see any of the famous “X” codes on the trim tag, even though it was built at the Norwood plant (Van Nuys cars did not have X codes). The reason for no X codes is the early production date of October 1968, as the X codes didn’t come out until December 1968. With this car’s combination of options (Rally Sport and SS350), it would’ve been an X11 car had it been produced two months later.

Accessory Codes vs. RPO Codes

Regular Production Option (RPO) codes are Chevrolet’s way of labeling options and were only seen on the build sheet and window sticker. All RPO codes are three digits, and most are alphanumeric codes containing one letter and two numbers. These codes can point out option groups, such as the Z01 Comfort and Convenience Package, or very specific items like PL5, a code for F70-14 white letter tires. There are hundreds of RPO codes spread across the various Chevrolet passenger cars, ranging from interior items, engines, transmissions, rearend ratios, and more. Some popular RPO codes made their way into common automotive language, while others are not easy to recognize. The most familiar RPO codes relate to engines, with popular examples being L88, LT1, and LS6. Transmissions also carry an RPO code, but the only recognizable ones are the series of Muncie four-speed manual transmissions (M20, M21, and M22).

011 but the Fisher Body trim tags remained similar
Jumping into the ’70s, Chevrolet changed its VIN format, but the Fisher Body trim tags remained similar. On the first line, the 73 designates the model year, the “XY” means Nova Custom and the “69” means four-door sedan. “W” means the Willow Run, Michigan, plant. The “750” interior code calls for black sport cloth bench, and the A52 is the Chevrolet RPO code for bench seat. The 46-46 paint code is Green-Gold Metallic. A letter in addition to the paint code number designates a vinyl roof. The “09C” means it was built in the third week of September, and the other stampings were for internal use at Fisher.

Chevrolet’s RPO codes and Fisher Body’s accessory codes have no correlation in how they present. Fisher had its system and Chevrolet had its system, but they were separate for the most part. The two codes systems didn’t cross over until the early ’70s. Even then, the only RPO code on the trim tag was the seat code (bench or bucket seat). Ultimately, RPO codes only matter if you have a build sheet or window sticker that matches your car’s VIN, but it’s fun to see the different options that were available during that time frame.

012 legible buildsheet tucked under the back seat
The green ’73 four-door Nova was complete with a legible buildsheet tucked under the back seat. The buildsheet spells out the RPO codes, even conventional items that are standard equipment. It’s eye-opening to see how many RPO codes are displayed on a car that had very little optional equipment.
013 In the grid area of the buildsheet you’ll find all sorts of codes
In the grid area of the buildsheet, you’ll find all sorts of codes. Some are recognizable, like the suffix code on the engine block, but others are simply part of a checklist that helped the assembly plant choose the right components to go with the car. The “CHH” engine suffix code calls for a 307ci V-8 with a two-barrel carburetor, pushing 115 hp through a TH350 transmission.
014 Suffix codes help identify an engine block but that same stamping area will sometimes have the car’s serial number nearby
Suffix codes help identify an engine block, but that same stamping area will sometimes have the car’s serial number nearby. In the case of this ’73 Nova, the 119532 number matches the VIN. These engine stampings are crucial on ’68-71 cars when there were no accessory codes or engine codes to tell exactly what came in the car.
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