My 26 T was sold in CA in 1971 to the person I'm buying it from. Did CA title cars back then? All I could find was something about CA starting title in 1988. Is that correct?
Yes they did. They do not keep records for ever though. The only exception was the red horseless carriage plate for cars manufactured before 1922. In the early years of this plate no pink slip or title was issued. You paid a one time fee of $25. No yearly registration fee. In the late 60's cities and counties saw this as a untapped revenue stream and started to tax these cars as personal property. Several members of the HCCA protested, got a bill passed that required the same registration process as a regular vehicle. I had to have my 1921 touring inspected by the local CHP and turn in paper work that the car was really mine. That happened around 1971. Then we had to pay registration every year and I got a "pink slip"
Yes, Caiifornia titled all cars in 1971 (except maybe the Horseless Carriage plates, this is the first time I ever heard that they didn't included a pink slip. Even today a Horseless Carriage plate is assigned to a vehicle, not a person, but it's messy and most CA DMV clerks don't have a clue). However!! Your profile indicates you are in VA, so all CA bets are off, find out what VA wants to provide you with a clear title. Whatever I tell you about CA probably wouldn't/doesn't apply in VA.
BTW, back in '71 the rules were pretty straight-forward and one could clean up an antique car title themselves; back in '74 I got title to a '30 Ch**y that was an abandoned vehicle, and did it all myself with help (YES, HELP!) from the local DMV clerks. Nowadays, I go to a title service as really only they know the ways around the convoluted regulations we now have.
SO----Find out what VA wants and go from there; ignore advice from folks like me who live out of your state as each state pretty much has their own rules and doesn't really care what another state has or follows!