The BugShop: The Paper Chase
This page last modified- 11/6/01

Of all of the things that I thought would be a cakewalk about this restoration and turned out to be a nightmare, this one should have surprised me the least. I had a plan, haphazardly gathered from second hand information, conversations with show car owners at VW shows and just plain guessing, that I waltzed into the end phases of this restoration thinking I would just execute with a visit to the insurance agent and the registry and would be off driving my beloved ’57.

I was wrong.

This page covers all of the gory detail of the "Paper Chase" that I went through to get this car registered. At the end I have summarized the "Lessons Learned". Keep in mind that registration laws vary state to state, and country by country. But one thing is probably true for everywhere: registering an old car, dug out of a dusty barn, isn't going to be easy. Start early.

The plan I had went something like this:

It sounded simple enough. I had learned sometime around 1995 that in addition to the typical "Antique" registrations (car 25 years or older), the wonderful state of Massachusetts would allow the registration of an antique car on a Massachusetts plate stamped with the same year as the year of manufacture of the car (called a "Year of Manufacture" plate, I later learned). I also learned that a car with such a registration was warranted some driving restrictions, but that they weren't all that restricted. I also learned that insuring a car with such a registration (and the driving restrictions imposed) was much, much less expensive than insuring a "regular" registered car. But all of this information was gathered from informal sources and never verified. Until the day I tried to execute it all.

Step One: Find a 1957 MA license plate

As it turns out, this was probably the easiest step, due on part to the fact that I had almost 8 years to find one. I, in fact, found five. Two pairs and a single during that time. Starting in 1995, my wife and I started celebrating our wedding anniversaries in Vermont at a wonderful place called the Maple Leaf Inn, which is about 10 miles north of Woodstock, Vermont (no, the big concerts were in Woodstock New York). It is a very beautiful place, quite, simple and very green. And there are scads of antique stores everywhere around. I'm not much of an antique collector/enthusiast, but some old relics really intrigue me (I recently purchased an Erector Set from 1947). We rifled these stores each year, looking for odd things. I began to notice that every one of them had an old box of license plates stashed somewhere, and the hunt was on. My wife found the first one. I still remember her returning from across a big antique store with her hands behind her back and a big smile on her face. "Look what I found…" Big grin.

I called the registry when we got home and asked if I could use the plate. They ran the number and said it was available. I asked if I needed one or two, and they said just one. I screwed the plate to the back wall of garage to motivate me. A couple years later, I was parusing the back room of another antique store in Woodstock and glanced up to see a 1957 plate hanging on the wall. I grabbed and to my surprise there were two. I bought them and screwed the garage wall at home next to the other one. 

The next year, I was in yet another store and going through a box of plates. Lo and behold there was a pair of ’57 plates, and they were five number plates! I called the registry again and confirmed that the number could be used.

As I neared the end of the restoration, I had all 5 plates stripped at the sandblasting shop along with other small "paintables" from the car. I sprayed them with Spies Hecker red/brown etching primer, then HS primer surfacer. After a light sanding with 320 grit ScotchBrite pads, I sprayed them with Spies Hecker black urethane. I pondered ways to paint the letters back on like pouring a thin layer of paint in a piece of glass and pressing the plate face down on it. Or making some kind of roller that could glide across the plate, just touching the embossed letters. After trading e-mails with a few folks who had restored plates, I decided to hand paint the white letters and border back on the plates. The schemes I had thought about would only work if the plates were perfectly flat; they were bent slightly.

On a family vacation in Vermont, I took some artists brushes and some white paint. Unfortunately I grabbed a can of latex white instead of the oil based enamel I had bought for them. One night I tried my hand at the letters on one of the 6 letter plates for "practice". It came out OK, but latex paint is not the way to go. I was dull and didn’t flow very well off the brush. So I went to a local hardware store and bought a can of white oil based enamel. The original plates were white on black, and the letters were a semigloss and not reflective paint. I painted one of the 5 number plates and was pretty satisfied with the results. A fine pointed sable brush and a steady hand was the key. I kept some thinner and Q-tips nearby to correct mistakes quickly. The hardest part was the "Mass 57" box. The box is actually embossed leaving the small letters depressed and making them black in a white box.

After I restored both plates, I got some e-mail suggestions that might have worked out a bit better. Similar ideas, one was to spray the whole plate face white, then let it dry. Then to spray the whole face black and while the black paint was wet, to just "wipe" the letters, removing the black paint on them and exposing the white. A second suggestion was similar but was to let the second spray of black dry, then use rubbing compound to rub the letters and expose the white. In any case, I can live with my hand painted plates, you can't really tell unless you look close that they were hand painted.

Of course at the shows I started looking for restored plates, the few that I saw were obviously hand painted.

Step Two: Appraisal

At what turned out to be a couple months from the completion of the car, I called my insurance agent to ask them what I needed to do. The girl I first talked to was some office "unknown" who seemed to know little about antique registrations. She told me I needed to get the car appraised. I asked where I needed to go and she said "Any licensed state appraiser".

"Any appraiser, like body shop that does collision repair?"

"Yep", she said.

So called Tom at the bodyshop, I knew he was licensed by the state as a damage appraiser. He said "Sure, I could do it, but I really don't know squat (not his exact words) about Beetles." I said, "I'll help you with it".

Later, when the appraisal was done, I visited my agent in person (see below). She was quite impressed with the 45 page document. It had a 3 page standard form that included details of the restoration scope, parts sources, original equipment, chassis, body and engine numbers. It also cited resources used to validate the correctness of the restoration among which were Rich Kimball’s "Ovals Only" handbook and Keith Suemes "The Beetle" (an excellent book for this). The bulk of the pages were excerpts from my own website showing the scope of the restoration. With this appraisal, it would be hard to argue that this car didn't undergo a full, complete and correct restoration using only the best parts and auto body materials.

You can click here to see the standard appraisal form.

Step Three: Getting Insurance

One day when it seemed like I was a week or two away from finishing the car, I had to go into Boston to get my passport re-newed for an upcoming business trip to Europe. I decided that since I was going to blow most of the day, I might as well stop at the insurance office, get the policy written and then go on the registry if I had the time. I contemplated shoving bamboo splinters underneath my fingernails too, but chose the former. I called my agent a day or two before and told her that I had an appraisal done. She (not the office help I had spoke to before) told me that the underwriter had a list of "approved" vintage appraisers that they wanted new polices to use. I told that that was not what I was told previously and she told me to bring in what I had.

My agent is a real firecracker. She is witty and fun and when she saw the appraisal and I told her that the guy who had done the bodywork on the car had done it, she agreed that the underwriter would have no problems accepting it. I told her that I wanted a stated value policy on the car and that I planned on getting an antique registration at the RMV and that I had a vintage YOM (year of manufacture) plate. She called the underwriter to make sure everything was in order and that is when I got surprise #1. The underwriter told her that they would not write a stated value policy on an antique registration. Huh!? Isn’t that primary situation where you would want a stated value policy? She questioned the underwriter on the phone, they both agreed that it was stupid, but that was the way it was.

She ran two policy quotes on the car, one an antique registration, but no stated value. The other, a "regular" policy but with the appraised value stated. The former was about $450 a year, the latter a bit over $600. Not that big of a deal since I would annually cancel and re-instate the policy while the car was put away for the winter. (the liability limits of coverage were boosted well above the state minimums as with the other cars I drive). So the big question was could I get the "regular" policy and still use the vintage plates. A third call to the underwriter confirmed that that was fine. Disaster averted, so far.

She offered to call the RMV and ask about the plate. I was sitting bedside her desk as she dialed…..

"Hi this is ___ at _____ insurance, I would like to talk to someone about using a YOM plate…. He has his own plate and the policy will be a regular one…. Uh huh… can you help? What is the number at that office? Can you transfer me? Oh, and would you mind taking a course in English please?"

I glanced up, she winked and said quietly "she had already transferred me."

They told her that I had to take my plate to that office for them to see it, but it should be Ok. Then I told her that I was concerned about the car not being covered when the insurance policy was canceled over the winter. I asked her if I could still carry the "comprehensive" portion of the policy over the winter and cancel all the rest (that would cover the car, for the stated value, in the event my house burned or the roof caved in or something). My homeowners policy will not cover anything in the house that is register-able, like a car, boat, snowmobile, etc. She called the underwriter for a 4th time; no problem they said. The comprehensive portion was only $55 for the whole year. (Pleasant) surprise #2.

By they way. she told me that if I had elected to go with the antique registration and didn't get the stated value policy, that the appraisal would help and I may re-coup losses if the car were damaged. But it may get ugly, and it was best to go with the stated value.

But, a few weeks after I had the policy, my agent called and told me that Commerce had discovered that Massachusetts considers a Year of Manufacture plate as an antique registration, and there fore would not support the stated value policy on that registration. So the policy was a normal "actual cash value" policy.

So I went about trying to find another insurer who would write me a stated value policy on an antique registration. I was talking to a fella at a "cruise night" a few weeks ago, and he has a ’58 Beetle. He told me he had been recommended to call "Grundy Insurance". They wrote him a policy for $117 a year! He said it was not a fly by night operation, that they insure lots of limited use, high dollar cars for many car clubs. So I did search on the net, they don't apparently have a web page, but one car club page listed their number. So I called, told him my situation, and he quoted me on the phone $141 a year for a policy. That included liability insurance (300/300)! He is sending me the info, at this time I haven't changed polices yet. I'll update this page when I do.

Step Four: RMV Hell

I had my passport renewed by lunchtime and was feeling ambitious. I hate big cities, I avoid Boston at all costs. I had parked my car in a garage near the passport office and decided to take the subway across town to the RMV offices. I had been given "One Copley Place" as the address. Copley Place is a huge, multi level ritzy mall, intertwined with city buildings and $300 a night hotels. I couldn't believe that there was an RMV office there. I called from the cell phone before braving the public transit system, was on hold for a good 10 minutes before "One Copley Place"..

Off I went. You have to really know the "T" (the subway) to get through to where you are going. Red line to green line, Lechemere station North. Huh? Country boy in the city. I got to the mall via the Filene’s lingerie department, and found an elderly woman at an "information" desk. Off I went, fortunately at the top of the waterfall elevator, there was another elderly woman, behind another "information" desk. I asked again, and got the second half of the directions that I heard before repeated to me. Word for word.

To my astonishment, there were a solid two full floors of RMV offices above the ritzy mall. Our tax dollars at work. I made my way to the receptionist and asked for the special plates office.

I was sure someone somewhere was watching me on a closed circuit TV, "there he goes, where can we send him next?". I stumbled into a massive array of cubicles, not a straight isle between them, sort a rat race proving grounds. I asked the first person I saw where the special plates office was. "Back there, against the wall. See all those vanity plates on the wall?" I made my way into the special plates "office", about a 10 x 10 foot room with 2 tiny desks shoe horned in. I produced from my backpack one of the 5 number plates that I had meticulously painted. I had it all wrapped in newspaper. Ms. Special Plates read the number and entered it on her screen. "Yep, you can use it". I hustled back down and through the mall and out the back to the Orange line station. I followed her directions and eventually found the registry. This office had recently be renovated and was now a new, modern "customer oriented" operation, supposedly able to better serve the public according to a newspaper feature on it recently. It was a zoo, packed with people. I made my way to a man at a desk in the foyer and asked where I needed to go to get a registration. He told me to go into the large waiting area and get a ticket for service but then he added "…but the computers are down and we haven't been able to do any transactions. The whole state system is down and they don't know when it will be back up."

I went inside and approached the desk where I was instructed to get a ticket, but no one was at it. There were maybe a hundred people sitting at benches in the waiting area, then I noticed a long line, wrapping almost all the way around the whole room. I went to the end and asked the person in the back of the line if this was the line for registrations. "This is the line for any kind of transaction, but the computers are down." I decided to give it 15-30 minutes since I was there already and took my place in line. Eventually I sat on the floor. After about 15 minutes there was some bustling behind the counter and the computers seemed to be working again.

Waiting in line, and observing what was happening explained how this new system was supposed to work. When you came in, you got a ticket at the front desk, coded depending on what your needs were (new license, registration, renewals, etc.) Then you got to sit down until you number was called. A pleasant woman's voice came on every time a window became available "Now serving number B436 at window number 9". LED readouts pointed you to the window and re-iterated the number in the page. Nice. Problem was that the line I was in was the line just get a ticket. And of course out of 11 windows, 2 actually people working behind them.

I stood in line for an hour just to get a ticket. Then I got lucky and found a seat on the bench. On the bottom of the ticket was an "approximate wait" time, mine said 45 minutes. How would they know? Did the system know that there were only 2 people working in the registration section? Did it know about the guy in front of me trying to register a used space shuttle?

I sat and waited for another 2 hours and 10 minutes.

After about an hour of waiting, I saw woman come in with two small children, one in a baby stroller, the other about 4 years old. She was waiting in the end of the ticket line and the kids were getting very fidgety after just 10 minutes. The young guy sitting next to me and I were watching her trying to deal with the kids. He looked at me, grinned, shook his head and said "she ain’t gonna make it."

I called my office on my cell phone and told them that I was basically blowing the whole day at the registry. By time my number came near, I was building up a real head of steam. I had this bad feeling about not having something I needed or getting "busted" for having a restored plate. Finally my number came up.

I went to the window where an oriental woman was working. She spoke very broken English. I explained to her what I was doing and that this was not a typical registration. She more or less grabbed the papers out of my hand. I said "This is the bill of sale, and this is the insurance form…" She cut me off, "you need excise tax form" What? "you need excise tax form from previous owner to register" "No, no" I said "you don't understand. This car has not been registered for many years, I have no previous paperwork, I have spent EIGHT years restoring this car, my insurance agent told me that this was all I needed…!" She kept repeating the same thing while she ran the VIN on the computer, it came up with nothing. "Look, this is not typical registration, I have been waiting for over 3 hours …. Can I speak to a supervisor please?" She said "Yes, you must go over there", pointing. That is when my blood really started to boil.

"No, I am not going over there, if we can process this here we will do it here. I have been waiting for THREE hours, I'm entitled to my time at this window …" She started scrawling something on a pad of paper, "Here, you must call this person at this number." "Ok, fine" I said, "may I use your phone please?"

"No, you must go over there.." she replied, pointing to the other side of the room. I could feel the veins pumping in my forehead. "NO! I am NOT going over there. I have waited for THREE hours, you are not going to just send me off to another line, with another form or another phone number to call where no one answers!" In the ultimate action of defiance, she reached over to here computer and pressed a button, the speakers overhead said in that pleasant voice "Now serving number B445 at window number 9". "No!", I said, "you are NOT serving number B445 here, you are serving ME."

I reached into my pocket and took out my cell phone and moved directly in front of the window to block the people who had come up. I called the number she had given me. A woman answered. In as calm a voice as I could muster I explained to her that I was at the DMV window on a cell phone, had waited 3 hours and had what I thought was the correct paperwork, and the lady was telling me I needed to talk to someone there. She asked if the registry agent was there and could she speak to here. I handed the phone to the woman, who seemed perturbed that I was being persistent. "Here, she wants to talk to you" I said and handed her my phone.

It was a valiant attempt, but it didn't work. She talked for maybe 30 seconds, then said "Ok, I'll send him over". She handed me back my phone and said "You must go over to the DMV office for them to help you". Where? "One Copley place."

Great, back to where I was 4 hours ago and still no farther along. It was about 4:15 in the afternoon, the evening commute crush was starting. All I could think about was getting over there right at 5:00 and having the door slammed in my face. I hurried back out onto the street, back to the train station and waited for what seemed like an eternity for a train to arrive. Back through the store, the mall, behind the waterfall, up the elevator, through the glass doors, up the other elevator, through the doors to the receptionist. The veins were bulging again. It was about 4:50.

This time I was pleasantly surprised. Two people were behind the desk and one woman looked at me and instantly asked "Can I help you?". Exasperated, I said yes, explained my situation and she said "Oh, you need to go to the third floor. I will go with you and find you someone who can help". I was stunned. Maybe it was the bulging veins in my forehead, but she was very polite and actually seemed like she really wanted to help. A very nice lady, too bad she will go nowhere at the RMV. On the way down to the lower offices when I told her what that the special plate office told me I had to go to the registry, she said "I don't why she sent you over to the registry, we process registrations here." <blink>

She escorted me to the third floor lobby and started to explain my situation to the receptionist there. The receptionist said "he will need to talk to someone in the title department", looking down the hall, "oh there is Mr. Carver (not his real name), he can help". A man wearing a 3 piece suit (a very nice one) was coming down the hall. The woman from upstairs introduced me to Mr. Carver and told him what I was doing. Mr. Carver said "step into my office, let's see what you have". <sigh> I was starting to feel like a human being again.

It was clear that Mr. Carver was a couple tiers up on the RMV hierarchy. His office was quite stately with a lot to teak finished furniture. I explained my situation in detail, that I had worked on this car for eight years, only had a bill of sale, had my own 1957 plate and had been simply run around for the whole afternoon, and was quite frustrated. He thumbed through my appraisal. I told him that the car was bought as a non running vehicle "for restoration" purposes. He asked me if I had any receipts for parts and the work I did, in about 10 seconds I had his nice teak desk covered with Wolfsburg West receipts. I showed him my plate. He asked me about the condition of the car when I bought it. The only picture I had from my website was of the car when I first separated the body from the pan. He looked at it and said "you are going to need to get a ‘reconstructed vehicle’ title for this" . "No, no" I said, "I bought the car complete, the numbers match, I had just taken the body off at this point!!" He said "Ok, …..<pause>……..what you need to do is get a notarized affidavit from the guy you bought it from, describing the history, how he got it from his father. Then fill out this VIN verification form, have any police officer sign it, and then we’ll process the registration". He told me "I wish when people bought these cars that they took the time to insure they had the paperwork to register them before they spend years of work and thousands of dollars on them."

He asked me if I knew where the seller was now and I told him that I had searched for him on a people finding service on the web, and he appeared to still be living where he did when I bought the car. He asked me the name of the guy I bought the car from (his last name was pretty unique) and ran the name on a terminal in the corner of his office. It pulled him up at the same address that I had. I thanked him for his time and asked for a business card, and left.

So now I had to find the guy I bought the car from. It was the week before labor day. I called his home and work, 2-3 times a day, for basically 8 days. I left a message the first day. On labor day I drove to his house, peered in the windows and left a note on the door. I almost called the other person in his town listed at who had his last name to see if they could tell me where he was. I was getting desperate. On Wednesday of the next week, I called in the evening and his wife answered the phone. I had found him, he had been on vacation.

I told Frank (not his real name) what I had done the car and that I was eager to get it registered and drive it over to show him. I took some information from him about the car’s history and told him that I would "ghost write" the affidavit for him and then I needed him to sign it and get it notarized. He said he would gladly help.

I typed up the affidavit based on the information Frank gave me and dropped it off at his house. He told me that he would try to get it notarized on Thursday and I could pick it up Friday morning. I called Mr. Carver and left him a message saying that I expected the document on Friday. I did not want to repeat the three hour ordeal at the registry again and told him that I would be going to a different registry. He was not at his phone, so I left a message on voicemail. I asked him if he could call another registry for me and tell them I was coming and that I had all the paperwork he had asked for. His business card listed him as "Title Director". He replied to my message and left me a voicemail at work and asked that I fax the notarized document to him when I got it.

5 more days lapsed before Frank got the letter notarized. Once he went to his bank and the notary public person was in a meeting, later days his work kept him from doing it. In the meantime, I called my local Police department and asked that an officer come by to verify the VIN and sign the form. They sent someone over almost immediately and I got the form signed. When I finally got the notarized document from Frank, I faxed it and the VIN verification form to Mr. Carver and called him again asking for him to call the registry office near to where I lived. He obliged and called me back. He told me that he had spoken to the branch manager and gave me his name. I was to ask for him when I got there. Finally, it looked like it was all falling into place.

It was the week before I was leaving for Europe on a two week business trip, there was a lot of pressure to get the car registered before I left. The number of "good" days that I could drive the car before winter was dwindling. I decided to take the Friday of that week off from work to get ready for my trip and spend some time with family. That Thursday evening I decided to go to the registry as it was open until 7 in the evening. I collected all my paperwork and headed out of work. On the way home, I started having this uneasy feeling about the painted plate. It was too nice, it was shiny and there was no doubt looking at it that it had been restored. I decided to stop at my house on the way home, which was on the way to the registry and quickly try to do something to it to make it look a little "less restored".

Plan "A" was to mix some black poster paint that my kids had in a solution with water, immerse the plate in it and dry it. I was hoping that a film would dry on the plate taking much of the shine off of it. I hastily tried this, but it didn't work. The solution just rolled off of the urethane black paint like a freshly waxed car. On to plan "B", which I had had in the back of my mind for some time. I grabbed a paper grocery bag and went out into the garage. I opened up the shop-vac and collected a handful of the fine dust that was in there and put it in the bag. I laid the plate on the work bench and lightly misted it with a photo mount spray glue, then I flipped it over and did the other side. I dropped it into the bag, closed it and shook it. When I opened it, I almost couldn't believe what I saw. The plate was covered with fine layer of dust, and looked like it could have just been take from years on a barn wall. I tossed the bag into the car and headed for the registry.

Hurricane Floyd had come up the coast and while the winds weren't that bad, the rain was pouring down. Streets were flooding. Almost to the registry, I wondered if I would be able to find a covered place to park to empty the bag of the dust and brush the plate off a bit. Luckily, there was a free parking garage right across from the registry. I emptied the bag, and dropped the plate in its edge to shake some dust off of it. Perfect. I put it back in the wrinkled bag, stuff it in my backpack and headed inside. Surprisingly, there were only about 12 people in the whole place waiting for registrations, licenses, etc. It was about 5:45pm. I took a ticket and waited for my number to be called. When my turn came, I asked the lady at the window for Mr. White (not his real name either). She called to a middle aged man who motioned me down to a window on the end. I told him who I was, and he said that he had spoken to Mr. Carver in Boston about my situation. I produced for him the notarized letter, the VIN verification form, the insurance form and the handwritten bill of sale. I told him about how I had worked on the car for eight years and had spent weeks trying to get it registered.

He said "Do you have you plate?". I said yes, took it out of the paper bag and handed it to him, brushing a little dust off with my hand as I did. He looked at it for a few seconds, flipped it over, then began to rub some dust off of it with his thumb. "I found it at and antique store in Vermont" I said.

He asked me if I had the Year of Manufacture plate form, I said no, but thought that maybe by him asking, there was hope. Walked into a back room, came back with a form and handed it to me "you need to fill this out". Then he started examining the plate again. I asked him where does it say that the plate cannot be restored/painted? He said "well, it isn't exactly clear, it is kind of like lawyer talk". He pointed me to sentence on the form that something like "the plate must be in good condition and of original issue". Yeah, what does that say about painting? He said that implied in "original issue" was the notion that it could not be repainted. I asked what would happen if it were rusty and unreadable, he said then it wouldn’t be allowed to be used. He admitted it was a gray area.

He put the plate down and said "I'll overlook it this time, since you had already been in Mr. Carver’s office". Score! I snatched the plate back and quickly put it back in the bag. I started filling out the YOM plate form and Mr. White went on to say that the YOM registrations carried the same driving restrictions as an antique plate. A surprise to me, but no real issue. Then Mr. White said "….and this form has to be notarized"

Direct hit to the kidney.

My head dropped into my chest. "Is there any place at this time, nearby, that I could get the form notarized?" I asked with puppy dog eyes. He said "Yes, city hall, town center. They are open until 7pm on Thursdays too". I looked at my watch, it was 6:15. There was still hope. I told him I was going to run over to city hall, but if I could not get it done this evening, I would be back first thing in the morning. I asked Mr. White what time he would be in tomorrow, he said at 9:00 and that he had a meeting at 11:00 and would be unavailable after then.

I quickly drove over to city hall in the pouring rain, entered a door in the back of the building and started walking the halls. The place was basically deserted. I passed a door that said "City Clerk". It would seem to be a good candidate for a notary, but the door was closed and locked. I kept walking. Eventually I passed the treasurer's office. The door was open, I stepped into a small lobby with bank style windows, one woman was behind the glass.

I headed home in the rain, once again stopped short of getting the car registered. I was getting real tired of this, each time I thought I was there, another wall slammed down in front of me. But I did feel very close. I had already decided to take Friday off. I was leaving for Europe Saturday evening and it looked like I might only have a few hours to drive the car with everything else going on, if I were successful registering it.

Friday morning, I got up and drove to the City Clerks office, I was there promptly at 9:00. I asked to get the document notarized, the girl took the form, took out here little stamping tool, crimped the form, signed it and said "one dollar please". I obliged. Wonderful process, the form doesn't "work" until it gets that little circle design stamped on it.

I raced over to the registry and stood in line to get a ticket, this time there was a receptionist at the desk (not just the "Take a number please" roll of paper). I waited behind maybe 5 people, when I got to the front I said "I'm here to see Mr. White, he is expecting me." The receptionist shouted over to one of the women working behind the windows "Where is Mr. White?". "He is in a meeting" was the reply. I came over to the window and told the woman that he was expecting me. She said "He shouldn't be long, do you have a few minutes to wait?".

Only now, writing this, do I truly appreciate the irony and humor of such a question being asked by an RMV employee.


I sat down and waited maybe 25 minutes. Finally Mr. White came out of a meeting room. He apologized for the delay, said that a later appointment had come in early. I thrust my paper pile at him. He took the insurance form and started writing on it. "New registration, $30; special plate $20, new title $50 and taxes due <pounding on adding machine> $28.60, total $128.60". I had taken my ATM card out an was anxiously tapping it on the counter (lightly). I knew that that other registries took credit cards. Mr. White glanced up without moving his head. Under raised eyebrows he said "cash only".

Glancing blow to the eye.

He smirked a bit now, almost seeming to feel my pain. He said "There is a Fleet Bank just 2 blocks over…." He kept my forms, out the door I flew. I returned moments later with cash in hand. He took the money, gave me change, and the I heard the sweetest sound of all: the classic RMV dot matrix printer spewing out a new registration. He took it, handed me my registration and "99" sticker. "There you go".

I held it like a new baby. The 7 digit VIN number looked tiny in the VIN box. I noticed that the registration was only good until November 1, but I didn't care. I had FINALLY done it!!!

Getting the car inspected

This was the easiest. I had been driving my '57 a bit since I got it registered, but it wasn't until a month after I got the registration that I completed the final step of the "paper process", getting it inspected. In Massachusetts, you are supposed to get it inspected within 7 days of registration but it is pretty easy to talk your way out of missing inspection here. I was worried a bit that the guy at the inspection station (a gas station really, set up with the state to do inspections) was going to try to test it to standards that it wasn't supposed to be (things like back up lights or emergency flashers), so I called the state and they said it should be a problem. Cars made after 1983 aren't tested for emissions (I now that must make you guys in CA squirm).

The night before, I was trying to get my somewhat intermittent turn signals to work reliably. I cleaned up the connections and it seemed to fix it.

I passed no problem. Only interesting thing was that the guy went looking for seatbelts (I had the backs in) I told him there were none in '57. Oh, the state just implemented a new tight emissions control (of which I don't have to comply) and raised the fee from $15 to $29. I still had to pay $29.

And I'm not sure if I have a special "safety only" sticker or they redesigned all of them for this new testing, but the damn sticker is HUGE, probably about 4" x "6!!!

What was learned

At the high level, the message should be clear: don't wait until the last minute.

In fact, you should address many of these issues before you finalize the purchase of your car. Call your RMV, get details, ask for the name of the person you spoke to, write stuff down. Then call back a week later and ask again. Call a different registry, see if you get the same story. Ask them where is all of these rules are documented for use by the general public. Collect names, dates and business cards if you visit in person.

Do not get what you think is the right paperwork and just go wait in line in at the registry.

Call your registry, if the phone line is continuously busy, go down there and get the information and get the name of the person that gave it to you.

Interestingly, the year of my car was never verified by the RMV, and remember that there was no original title. I had carried along a 1968 version of VW’s "What year is it?" pamphlet in case the erased and re-penciled year of the car on the handwritten bill of sale was challenged, but I never needed it.

Make sure your insurance policy is what you want. Make sure that the underwriter will give you the stated amount if the car is totaled. Also, make sure you understand any driving restrictions that they impose (most collector car policies limit the annual mileage to around 2500mi) and how they monitor them.

In Massachusetts, if you buy a car and don't register it, you are still required to pay what they call a sales tax (actually not a sales tax at all, they very often don't care what you paid for it, they will tax it based on what value they say it has; a real hot button for me, don't get me started). If you don't, they assess a penalty for every year you don't pay taxes. My bill of sale stated that I paid $200 for the car, so the tax assessment, with 8 years of penalties, was only $28.60.

A couple interesting notes about Year of Manufacture plate use in Massachusetts:

If you find a YOM plate and your state allows their use, register the car first, then paint plate later if you wish.

They kept my original bill of sale when I registered the car! I asked them if that was normal and they said yes, but they made me a copy of all of the forms including the bill of sale.

My registration expires on October 31st so it was only active for 2 months. Antique registrations expire the same time every year, regardless of when they are initiated.