Californians Should Clamor For These Old-School License Plates Starting January 1

I got insanely lucky the other day driving north on Highway 101. In a stretch of no fewer than 30 miles, I passed a Volvo P1800S, Jensen Interceptor and a Mercedes 300SL. And all of these cars had one noticeable thing in common: they all had modern California license plates.

License plates are usually uninteresting things, but California's are blander than most – blue characters on white plates with California in script at the top. Oh, and now the DMV's URL at the bottom, presumably as a way to discourage ever setting foot into a DMV office unless you absolutely must. But the boring white plate looks way out of place on an old car to Californians.

Until the 1980s, the California plate had a succession of more striking color combos: yellow plate with black letters, then black plate with yellow letters and then finally, blue plate with yellow letters. And those are the plates that look most at home on classic cars like the Volvo, Jensen and Benz I saw. It used to be the only way to keep those was if the car was continuously registered, but now there's the chance any car that had a black plate can keep it.

That is, unless some faction of the classic car culture shoots it down. In a Los Angeles Times story from Friday, it was reported that as of January 1, 2013, Californians with these old-timey license plates can apply for new ones that haven't weathered four or more decades of abuse. You can get a shiny reproduction if you can prove you've the old plates on your car are still valid.

Or if you just like the look for your brand new Focus, you can request the style and a sequential number/letter combo. But a yellow plate on an orange Focus ST might clash just a bit.

There's a hitch, though. The DMV needs at least 7,500 people to pay $50 by Jan. 1, 2015 in order for the program to continue. And the Times found someone saying this could dent the vibrant industry of buying and selling old license plates. I'm sorry, but I don't want to mount them on a wall, I want to put them on the P1800ES I've just decided to buy someday.

So, fellow Californians, there's one good reason to set foot in a DMV this year and it's to get an old-look license plate for that old car you have either in your garage or under the tree in your backyard. I'm sure there are 7,500 of you who will spend $50 on this instead of a "Save The Whales" plate. Haven't those whales sucked up enough attention by now?

Photo: Flickr/jerseygal2009