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Hooniverse Asks: Legacy Plates on Modern Cars- Brah! Or Blah?

Robert Emslie November 16, 2015 Hooniverse Asks 42 Comments


California recently started offering legacy license plates in black and yellow, a color pattern that harkens back to the 1960s. The plan is to do the same thing for the blue and yellow plates of the ’70s if the DMV can get enough pre-orders to make the vanity plates economically viable. It shows just how cool California’s DMV is, and how smart they are when it comes to generating incremental revenue. I’m sure other states will follow California’s lead.

The plates make total sense when bolted to an older ride. In fact, I have put down my deposit for a blue and yellow set for my 1971 240Z. They will look loads better than the sunset-topped white and blue plates that were stuck on the car back in the late ’80s. Yuck! The question for today however, is how appropriate these legacy plates – specifically the black and yellow ones which are available today – look when applied to a modern set of wheels. Is that a cool mash up of classic and new, or a total mismatch? What do you think about the use of legacy plates on modern cars, Brah! or Blah?

Image: Camaro5

  • Maymar

    Ontario’s plates have only shown incremental change in over 40 years, and the plates stay with the owner anyhow, so more than looking cool, it just looks like you’ve been driving decades (old plates are just as often found on Dodge Grand Caravans and decade old compact cars, the stuff of senior citizens).

    Also, I like the 80s California plates. Especially on the right car (like Matt Farah’s Delorean).

    • I also have always lived in states where the plates are assigned to the owner, not the car, so the reverse seems a bit odd to me.

  • Taylor Nelson

    I’ll be honest, on most modern cars, the legacy plates look pretty crap. Call it too anachronisitc, but it just doesn’t look right. However, I have seen a handful of modern cars wearing them and they look alright. So a tasteful land cruiser with a neutral color may get away with it, but that electric blue PT Cruiser is just trying too hard.

  • PotbellyJoe★★★★★

    This could be a fun issue for collector cars in California. I can foresee a lot of owners getting blue or black plates for their collector cars simply to list them on eBay with them as Blue-plate or Black-plate cars.

    My in-laws have very old NJ vanity plates from 1977 on their van (from the 2000s.) I don’t dislike it. In fact it’s funny because it pre-dates the yellow-on-blue plates so people get really thrown off by it.

    When I had my red pickup I hated how the yellow NJ plates looked on it, I hoped they would release something different, but alas, they have not. If i had access to blue plates i would have put them on in a heartbeat.

  • smalleyxb122

    The only reason legacy plates look odd on newer cars is that you have grown accustomed to seeing that color combination as vintage plates. I don’t care what colors a state issues for license plates; I just wish they’d go back to plain colors. Stop trying to get artistic with license plates! A solid color is best, but a solid color with a horizontal band at the top of a contrasting color is acceptable. (See Illinois 1984-2000, or Michigan 2007-2013)

    I miss Michigan’s blue plates, but I was okay with the ’07-’13 plates. The new plates look upside down, and the asymmetry of the wave bugs the hell out of me.

  • engineerd

    On the right car, it could be cool. I’m thinking the retro-futuristic Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger. On anything else it’s like a 50 year old with a faux-hawk…it’s trying too hard.

    • jeepjeff

      I am sort-of tempted to order black+yellow plates for my yellow Jeep Wrangler (retro enough look, and it’s got a black soft top…)

  • Citric

    I’m cool with it, just because so many modern plates look kinda crap.

  • hwyengr

    They will look loads better than the sunset-topped white and blue plates that were stuck on the car back in the late ’80s

    Them’s fightin’ words. High on my regrets list is not buying an red on black ’87 951 with sunset plates for $6k a couple years back. How much more California can you get?

    But being a license plate geek, I’m all for retro plates on any car.

  • Why would you want this? Do any other states even allow this? I know you can often put on a vintage plate from the car’s year of manufacture, but I think a new-old plate on a new-new car is fairly ludicrous.


  • 0A5599

    It is Ok, but a little lame. I much more admire people who make their own plates, whether out of wood, or painted directly onto the back of the car, or sliced and reassembled.


  • Cool_Cadillac_Cat

    I honestly don’t care, as long as they’re simple, like this Cali plate, or Texas plates from say, the late-60s/early-70s.

    All this decorative bullshit…it drives me up a wall. It’s a licence plate, not a damned decoration.

    Texas went from this:


    To, thankfully, this:


    Though I’m 100% fine with this:


    Simple, easy-to-read, to the point. Done.

    • I don’t care how geegaw-y they make the plate design, but just have ONE DAMN PLATE per state! Right now Missouri has 57 different plates, plus another 19 that have been authorized but never issued. Does Missouri really need to issue an Arkansas Alumni – Go Hogs plate? Three different combat veteran plates? Five different conservation heritage designs? Really? It’s absurd, and I think it could potentially hamper law enforcement when a witness can’t identify whatever goofy-ass plate design they saw leaving the scene. One state, one plate, people.

      • That would be my preference, too, provided that all existing specimens are grandfathered. I wouldn’t want vintage plates to be removed from service in the name of uniformity.

      • I miss my Texas Truck plate. When I left Texas they had a gazillion differnt vanity/specialty plates and when I moved to the AR Ozarks I found out that the “Natural” state had even more – any vehicle owner can apply for a special Rice Council plate or black lab plate plus many, many more.

      • Citric

        But I’d also like that one plate to be vintage style – metal, raised lettering, two colours, state/province name, no websites, no advertising. I guess a slogan can be allowed though I’m kinda proud that I got the last of the slogan-free plates in Sask.

        • I dunno, I don’t mind Missouri’s current “bluebird” plate…although I wish they would change the die for the sticker recess to match the shape of the newer registration stickers!


          • Citric

            Well the plate I’ve got now has a wheat graphic – it looks like this but with a different number – so graphics aren’t necessarily bad, but after years of turning plates into an advertisement going back to basics would be refreshing.


      • dukeisduke

        It’s all about making money. I mean, why else would they sell a plate about the hated OU, in Texas?


        • Vairship

          And advertising laxatives at the same time. Boomer sooner!

    • dukeisduke

      To me, the new ones are boring. They even got rid of truck plates. I like these:


      They lightened the sky, because the cops complained about the legibility of this one:


    • jeepjeff

      Simple plates are readable, which is their purpose. Plates that are too decorated can obscure what the license plate says. Take, for instance, this fine example from Florida:


      (See: http://www.snopes.com/photos/risque/license.asp )

    • Beartoall
      • Cool_Cadillac_Cat

        Yeah, price those out…

  • Batshitbox

    To me it’s like seeing some 20something wearing a Dead Kennedys or Duran Duran or Joy Division t-shirt. I’m always tempted to ask if their dad was in that band. It looks so out of place! Wear the identifiers of your own generation, not someone else’s! Lawn! Off! Get!

    I see them as just another iteration of the Vanity Plate, which is in the Blah group. When I see modern cars wearing classic colors I think, oh, you’re trying too hard. I’ve been convinced that if the plates actually match the color scheme of the car, they’re okay, but I have to ignore my ideas about how to identify cars. Old car with new plate: Saved from the crusher! Old car with original plate: Survivor! New car with old plate: Huh?

    However! I was looking at spending over $200 if I wanted to buy YOM (Year of Manufacture, another lovely program from our DMV) plates for my 1962 Scout. Legacy plates on old cars are Brah! Even if they have too many digits.

    • Tiller188

      …but I like the identifiers (or bands, at least) of previous generations…my own, not so much.

    • dead_elvis

      Seems analogous to driving only vehicles that came into production once you acquired a license. Nope nope nope.

      • Batshitbox

        I probably just have Annoying Jaded Gen-Xer Syndrome. I was also more thinking of the kids that dress up like it’s a punk-rock reenactment weekend. Like Rockabilly style, it’s a style that was invented as a thoroughly modern, forward looking, fluid style, and to try to replicate it decades later, with studious attention to detail and correctness… that’s just stamp collecting. You’re preserving something that was inherently self destructive, deliberately disposable.
        Studious attention to detail and correctness are good for classic car restoration, though. That’s why seeing a modern car with a black and yellow plate with a 7 digit series number on it annoys me so. All the meaning is washed out of it.

        So, listening to the music and learning the lessons from it aren’t offensive. Hell, I listen to Professor Longhair and Desmond Dekker. But I don’t affect a New Orleans accent or wear Ben Sherman shirts, and I wouldn’t dress my bumpers funny either!

  • Sjalabais

    Oh, it’s a Zeus!

    Legacy plates on a modern car make as much sense as whitewalls on the same vehicle.

  • I found a fantastic set of original 1960 Ohio plates for my T’bird. They were evidently put on someone’s summer only toy back in 1960 and therefore never saw any snow or salt. They are like new. Unfortunately, they are also yellow with blue numbers. The ’59 plates were white with red numbers and would look much better on my black with red interior T’bird.



    When I got mine, I found an ebay seller selling a bunch of old Ohio plates and I was able to get Dad matching ’56 and ’57 plates for his T’bird & Caddy:

    • Batshitbox

      You know, I never looked closely enough at your avatar. I always thought it was a Weiand ‘Bug Catcher’ intake for a blower.
      Also, I was just spouting about how three round lights is a classic Chevy thing, and here’s one of the numerous exceptions.

    • Sean McMillan

      can you really register 2 cars with the same tag number? or is one just for show?

      • They are both registered. In Ohio you must first register for standard “antique car” plates, then you attach the vintage plates to them. You have to keep the antique car plates with the car at all times. I assume that this is OK because each car is primarily registered under its own, unique antique car plate.

  • ptschett

    I guess my vehicles have a legacy plate now. After 23 years, North Dakota is officially phasing out the “Buffalo Plate” to be replaced with the “Sunrise Plate” (and I’ve already seen a few Sunrise Plate cars around.) The Sunrise plate’s font for “Legendary” is nice, but the “North Dakota” & “Peace Garden State” font is regrettable…


    • Is that… Bank Gothic? I’d like to give a swirly to whomever decided that was appropriate for a North Dakota license plate.

      • Top-dead-centre

        These license plates are beginning to look like Angry Font Salad.

      • ptschett

        I actually kinda like the old plate’s font, Bank Gothic or not. It reminds me of the opening credits of 24, or the corporate logo on Canadian Pacific railcars.
        But the new one looks like someone hasn’t grown out of using Playbill yet.