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DataTagDecoder.Com is a unique site that provides the ability for the classic car collector and enthusiasts to decode cowl tags on most General Motors vehicles (except trucks) from 1964 - 1972. 
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Opinion - Replacing Cowl Tags

JULY 1, 2021 - C Neumann - Developer and Editor DataTagDecoder.Com

As some of you noticed I opened a poll asking the question if it's ever ok to replace a cowl tag.  The responses are coming in little by little but I wanted to convey my personal opinion about this practice and what people have told me in person.

The basic premise hinges on three ideas, Yes, No, and Maybe.  I'll give arguements for all and I know that this could split the room like the last election cycles, but here we go.


Are there times when this should be done?  I could say "maybe" but not without total transparancy to a potential buyer or records.  Replacing a damaged cowl tag on a car going through a total restoration and if the tag is duplicated exacly as it came from the factory, most people can agree that.  Changing other details like paint colors is relatively harmless in my opinion but unless the car is total chassis off and complete color change, I would not be very happy if I found out the color had been changed without my knowledge.  Some might say that if it was a total ground up restoration and the cowl tag reflects a new paint color, no harm done.  I agree to a certain point.

One site that offers cowl tag, or "Trim Tag" reproductions is Trimtags.Com.   They have taken this somewhat grey are approach to reproduction tags, but their site does state

"Note: We don't have a problem changing paint codes, trim codes, convertible/vinyl top color codes, or option codes. We will not change "STYLE" numbers (i.e. convert Tempests into GTO's, Cutlass' into 442's, six cylinder cars into eight cylinder cars)." 


From a certian point of view I guess you could consider this "time travel" with the idea that you would go into a GM dealer in the '60's or '70's, click the option sheet making the car exactly how you want it, so what's the difference?  I suppose intention.  If you're trying to pass something off as a 6-cylinder Tempest into a GTO, with the intention to pass it off as a real GTO, that's criminal.  Changing the paint color is the lesser of many possible evils.  I found it funny when someone told me once "There are more GTO's on the road today than were ever built" and I think that might be true to a point.  Creating a clone, though not my personal taste, is harmness as long as it's clearly stated up front.  Look at the VIN and cowl and you should be able to tell the difference.

Back to intention if you're doing a restoration for yourself only and don't intend to try to sell at it at Mecum, then I think this is reasonable.  

On a personal note; the 1971 Cutlass S I had in high school that I am in the process of restoring has a factory paint color that I didn't care for back then or now for that matter, and I do plan on changing the color.  I'm not trying to pass it off as a 442 so I have entertained changing the paint codes on the Cowl Tag.  Still have not decided yet...

No (not just no but **** NO!)

For the purist this is the automatic answer and I can't fault them for that.  Regardless of the paint and possible accessories that were added or modified they feel strongly that anyone should do what they want but keep it honest.  Let's face it many GM divisions didn't do the best record keeping and as the tags were made by hand so the accuracy of the data on there could be the difference if that worker was hung over Monday morning or was on the way out the door Friday afternoon.  Nevertheless it's always better to at least try to snoop around the Internet and figure out what you're actually buying which it why I developed this site.  I hate to state the obvious but: Do your reseach!

A few years ago when I started development of DataTagDecoder.Com I was doing some beta testing at a small local car show and I ran into a beautiful 1969 Oldsmobile 442 Convertible.  Red, black top and interior, an average restoration but definately a good looking 20-footer.  I saw that it had the incorrect OAI hood (70-72 hood) and had a 455 in it.  No matter, apparently this person made it his own taste which is fine.  I asked the owner about it and he said that he recently purchased it for $16K but was planning on doing some improvements on it with his teenaged son.  After about 10-minutes I could tell that neither were very knowledgeable about this 442 (he said "Four-fourty-two" which drives Olds people nuts!) or Oldsmobiles in general and was convinced that it was NOT a clone and 100% stock.  I mentioned that the 455 was not available in the 442 that year and the hood was also not correct.  I kept hearing "special order" over and over which tells me they didn't do their research and might have been bamboozled by the seller.  I didn't want to get into an arguement with these guys but did say "I'm not sure about that" and "You may want to check into that."  I ran the the Cowl Tag on my site.  It turns out that it was NOT a 1969 442, but a 1969 Cutlass S Convertible with a 6-cylinder (Code 3567).  The VIN showed the same thing!  As I showed them the results they clearly became annoyed by me so I just walked away and let it go.  Is this Caveat emptor or was it a case of THEM trying to pass this Cutlass S as a real 442?  Either way, this would be a good reason to say NO regardless of if the seller or buyer was complicit.  Because of my conversations I choose the former.

I circle back to intention on this one.  A fake cowl tag might be rooted out by the VIN, Protec-O Plate and build sheet, but even those are being reproduced along with fake VIN's that are so convincing they are getting hard to spot.  If you are intentionally commiting fraud at some point you'll likely get caught.  I'll not go into the moral or religous ramifications, but recent laws govenring automotive authenticity have held the offenders feet to the fire.  There have been many cases where you'll have a Porche with fake provedance, but there have been instances where GM, Ford and Mopar vehicles have also been misrepresented and the responsible parties have been prosecuted and lost.  You can read about them here and here and there are many other examples that can be found by doing a simple Google search.


Maybe comes down to personal choice and again, intention.  I've argued that REPLACING a damaged or missing Cowl Tag with the proper intentions can be a good thing.  CHANGING them, with the exception of maybe the color codes, though a grey area, might be ok.

What do you think?  Share your opionion here.