At your first appearance at the DMV you should have form REG 343 (REV 7/94) a.k.a. Application For Original Registration. The REG 343 form says you must fill out sections 1,2,4,5,6 and 7, which are fairly self-explanatory. I didn't know what to put in section 1 so I left it blank because it doesn't really fit the "kit car" situation. The key thing that the DMV will put in section 1 is the "California License plate number", which is really only a temporary DMV number that identifies the receipt showing that you gave them money to cover the fees. When you go to first register your car you should have receipts, bills of sale and any other papers that support where each of your cars components came from. (e.g. DMV forms showing the donor vehicle was officially "junked", bill of sale from the original owner to a junkyard and bill of sale from junkyard to you for frame, engine, transmission, etc.)
Another required form for your first action appearance at the DMV is REG 105 (REV 6/91) a.k.a. Statement Of Construction. Again, this one is pretty self-explanatory and is aimed at determining the value of the vehicle so they can tax it every year under the "in lieu" tax on personal property. The taxable value will drop each year as the car depreciates according to the schedule prescribed by law.
The other form included with my "specially constructed vehicle" packet was a REG 31 (REV9/92) a.k.a. Verification Of Vehicle. I believe this form would be required for a kit car based on an actively registered vehicle whose identity could be certified by a DMV inspector, a police officer, a vehicle verifier or an auto club. Where components are used from several different vehicles or are from a vehicle that has been officially "junked", this form is not used because a new California VIN number must be assigned as described below.
To get a new California VIN number assigned you must ask the DMV to fill out form REG 124 (REV 9/94), a.k.a. Application For Assigned Vehicle Identification Number Plate. This has to be signed by a DMV representative as an "authorization" for the CHP to inspect your car and assign (and affix) a VIN on the door post or cowl of your vehicle. You can't get a CHP inspection without this form. The REG124(REV 9/94) is not included with the packet of forms you picked up at the beginning of the registration process. In fact they will not let you have a blank form, but this is OK, since this form provides you the authorization to get an appointment with the CHP.
At this point you have completed your first "action" visit to the DMV and have paid your fees and will be given a red sticker allowing you to drive the vehicle for 20 days to get finished with the additional steps described below.
The next step is to call your nearest CHP office to request an appointment to have your vehicle identified, verified and have a new California VIN fastened to it. Since you have a red sticker on the windshield, you can operate the vehicle legally but don't forget to get your insurance before venturing out. It's also a good idea to take your packet of paperwork that you used during your first DMV visit, just in case the CHP officer wants to look at it.
The next call should be to 1-800-622-7733 (Bureau of Automotive Repair - Sacramento) to get an appointment with your nearest Smog Referee to verify that your vehicle has the appropriate smog equipment and meets the tailpipe emission standards. Here the general rule is that your engine must be equipped with all smog devices (e.g. air pumps, exhaust gas recirculation, catalyst, computer, as applicable) that your engine had when it came from the factory in a new car. It must also meet the California tailpipe emision standards for that year engine. You should have a smog check station measure tailpipe emissions on your car to be sure it meets these limits before going to the referee. (Some areas of California require dynamometer testing during a smog check) They should also verify the smog equipment your car needs so you don't have to go through two cycles of Referee visits. The tailpipe test needed at this point is only to confirm that tailpipe emissions meet the standard. An "official" smog check need not be run because only the referee must do that. This extra step will avoid the referee's wrath and the associated embarassment, not to mention the hassle of another round trip to the referee after you have the smog repairs made. Now a strong warning: It is important to have documents or engine serial numbers that prove the exact year of the engine. If you have to rely on only a casting number for example, you may find that the casting number applies to 1974 through 1985 engines. In this case the referee may rule that it is a 1985 engine in spite of your having removed it from a 1974 vehicle. This could require you to go home from the referee with the assignment to rip out your carburetor and replace it with an electronic fuel injection system. Not a pleasant surprise !! This is a particular hazard with rebuilt engines that have had the serial number machined off when the top of the block has been machined "to ensure it is flat". When considering purchase of an engine you should independently verify that the serial number is consistent with the year of the engine.
Another step is to take your vehicle to a shop that can issue a "Brake and Light Certification". These are two individual pieces of paper that say your brakes and lights are safe and properly adjusted. If you are in a remote area where there are no certified brake & light shops a REG 256, a.k.a. Statement Of Facts, signed by a repair shop will meet the requirement. I suspect that the Brake & Light Certificate is not required if you are starting with a currently registered doner car such as a Pontiac Fiero if you can show that the original headlight and brake system has not been modified. Any time your kit has a junkyard chassis or a frame that comes with the kit, you will have to go through the Brake & Light inspection.
Once you have done all the above steps, then its back to the DMV (make sure you call first to get an appointment) with all the certificates you have collected. Now you should get your official license plates. I am not sure when you can first apply for "Vanity" custom licence plates but since it is another source of State revenue, I'm sure you will get good advice if you choose to go that route.
This covers the basics of getting your car registered for the first time. This writeup was reviewed by the Concord DMV office and their suggestions have been included, however it might even be helpful to take a copy of this article along with you when you visit the DMV. This is a registration procedure that even DMV people don't experience everyday. The whole process really isn't so fearsome when you know the rules. I have been through the process with two or three of our Northern California Kit Car Club vehicles and it has worked quite smoothly.