California DMV vintage-style license plates .
By: Blake Z. Rong on 1/03/2013 Autoweek .
Astute readers may recall that back in March, we reported that California State assemblyman Mike Gatto was pitching a reissue of vintage California license plates, perfect for your Kaiser-Darrin (black on yellow), your Pontiac Star Chief (yellow on black), or your Holden Hurricane, (yellow on blue). At the time it seemed like the pipe dream of a particularly enthusiastic legislator, one whose pet project would be guaranteed to be mired in bureaucratic forgetfulness and left to languish, like the revival of the 30-year smog exemption and the ability to import Audi RS2s.
But California cool makes a comeback -- and the money helps.
Out of the darkness comes news that Assembly Bill 1658 has not only passed the gilded pen of Gov. Jerry Brown, but will take effect at this juncture, three days into the new year. Enthusiasts can pay $50 to reserve any of the three almost-period-correct styles. California will need 7,500 detail-sweating obsessives to lay down deposits by Jan. 1, 2015, to make the program work; furthermore, it will need $385,000 to cover start-up costs, which the application fees will cover. If the program fails to meet these numbers, applicants will get their money refunded.
Why are these plates so significant, anyway? Aspiring eBay Motors watchers may have come across the "original black plate/blue plate car" listing, which adds value (and mostly gives sellers free reign to charge way too much for a 1976 Porsche 914 with the 1.8 engine). Unlike other states, the plates on Californian cars stay with the life of the vehicle. Having an older plate is a sign that the car's been continuously registered since it was new. Consider it a sign of prestige. It's a sign that the owner cared, no matter how infinitesimally. Even if it has sat in a Long Beach wrecking yard since the Carter administration, at the very least it still shows that, evidently, somebody cared enough to annually give the DMV its 120 bucks. Let your registration lapse, or move out of state, and boom -- modern plates on your New Yorker create a strange type of cognitive dissonance.
Unsurprisingly, the plates have been updated to meet modern standards. For one, they're reflective. And the cool CALIFORNIA lettering might be replaced by a print, easily distinguishing a survivor from a reissue. Both of these will be just another thing to look out for when collecting -- or worse, used for unscrupulous skullduggery.
For that reason, some enthusiasts aren't having it. "Will classic car collectors buy into the impostors?" asks the Los Angeles Times -- vintage plates, the real survivors, are the genuine article, and for obsessive restorers only those will do. “The people I talk to at swap meets are dead-set against it,” says a David Hindman, quoted by the Times. “They want original plates.”
One hundred people have laid down their deposits, but that 7,500 figure calls for a lot of continuous momentum. That $50 could go towards skull shift knobs, for example, or a lot of Tecate. And there's an entire industry out there for vintage original California plates. As of this writing, an original set from 1956 will run you $330. Even an original sticker from 1969 will go for $50 on the Bay that is Electronic. (A replica from the same year is just $12, but don't tell Jay Leno.) If anybody ever said Californians were weird, this ain't the place to reaffirm it.
Yet, $50 is a smaller price to pay for a hit on authenticity. To those hen-pecked originality snobs, the plates are fun, eye-catching, and suitable for daily survivors instead of 100-point concours queens. They'll be available for any model year, which these obsessives will surely flip at: perfect for the Torq-Thrusted Challenger, the Mini Cooper, and the Morgan 3-Wheeler, and possibly my Miata, because why not? Hell, when these plates were issued Toyo Kogyo was still figuring out this "Wankel" thing. My Maybach's in NY, but I still got the Cali plates.
The plates will be available both sequentially numbered and personalized, with due consideration to not issue character sets. Imagine the Kafka-esque nightmare that would ensue! Happily, you won't have to go to your DMV to experience Gregor Samsa's nightmare, as local offices won't accept applications. If you want a nuevo-retro plate, mail a check to Sacramento, along with the accompanying form.
Update: Gatto assures us that yes, the DMV will be using the old molds for these new plates. Expect plenty of raised CALIFORNIA lettering goodness. Also, Gatto tells us that he used to drive a 1969 Camaro -- with white plates.