License and Registration

In the State of Oregon, if you build a replica of an old car, you must register it as if it were really that old car. The Department Of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is supposed to assign a "replica" designation. So a replica of a 1965 Lotus Super Seven must be registered as a 1965 Lotus Super Seven. The rationale is that if your replica is stolen, the description will be meaningful to people who might help look for it. It is a visual identification thing. Another example is that if your car is use as the getaway car in a robbery, then the witnesses would be able to describe it. I can just picture a 65 Lotus Seven being used as a getaway car. Regardless, it works for me because the emission requirements that were in effect in 1965 also apply. In other words, none.

All of this sounds pretty simple, but getting a home-built car  licensed was an interesting process. As I got closer to being ready, I started contacting our local Gladstone DMV to find out exactly what they needed. Each time a different “clerk” gave me a different answer. After three visits, and three conflicting stories, I finally insisted that they let me talk to a supervisor. That’s when I learned just how a bureaucracy can really muddle things up. In absolute fairness, they don't do this sort of thing every day, so they don't get much practice -- it shows.

The exchange with the DMV went something like this:

DMV: “Bring the car and all receipts to the DMV so they can inspect the VIN.”

Homer: “I built the car myself so there isn’t a VIN. You are supposed to assign one.”

DMV: Okay, bring the car in so we can inspect to make sure there isn’t a VIN.”

Homer: “There won’t be a VIN because I built the entire car from scratch, including the frame. See, here are the receipts, and the photos of me building the frame. So, can’t you just assign a VIN?”

DMV: “No, you need to bring it in.”

Homer: “Okay, give me a Trip Permit so I can bring it in.”

DMV: “Can’t. You need a VIN to get a Trip Permit.”

Homer: “Okay, so I trailer it in and you inspect it. That’s when you assign the VIN, right?”

DMV: “No, that’s when we send you to the State Police so they can do a VIN Inspection. They’ll give you some paperwork stating there isn’t a VIN and you bring it to us.”

Homer (shaking his head): “So I give you their certificate and then you assign a VIN?”

DMV: “Almost. Then we reinspect for a VIN and if we don’t find one, we’ll assign a VIN.”

Since I don’t have a car trailer I decided to shortcut the process by calling the State Police first. I made an appointment for VIN inspection. It seems they didn't care if I had been to DMV first. They just had a job to do and that's all they were interested in. Apparently there’s only one officer in all of Oregon who does it. Fortunately, he’s in Portland. I had to wait two weeks, but when I showed up, he recognized it as a Lotus Seven right away.

That exchange went something like this.

Officer:  “Did you build it yourself?” 

Homer: “Yes, from scratch. Not a kit. Not a restoration. I built everything, including the frame.” 

Officer: “Then there can’t be a VIN, so what year make and model do you want to use to register it?

Homer: “1965 Lotus Super Seven”

It was just that simple. He gave me the paperwork with that info, and I took it directly to DMV. The “clerk” I got that time said, “Well, if the State Police couldn’t find a VIN, there’s not much point in my inspection. He assigned a VIN, and affixed it to the car. 

I went home with a temporary license, expecting to get permanent registration in the mail. When it finally arrived, I had a registration for a 1965 Homebuilt Trailer, Replica.

After two more trips to the DMV, I finally got a registration for a 1965 LOTU Supr7 Replica. Close enough? Not quite.

I reported the new VIN to my insurance company and they said, fine -- your insured -- here's your policy number.

After driving the entire summer, I got a call from my insurance company. It seems they sent their standard certificate of insurance to the DMV. The DMV rejected the report because the VIN they used didn't exist. It appears the VIN they affixed to my car is not what they put into the DMV computer system. I haven't been back to the DMV yet to straighten them out because I'm waiting for dry weather. I'm sure they will want to inspect the VIN ..... again.