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The Riggs Report: Black plate nostalgia

California classic car fans embrace new DMV program

Earlier this year, my phone lit up with an “unknown” number. Against my better judgment, I answered, and I was glad I did.

The call, in fact, was from a woman in Bundaberg, Australia, whose husband had purchased a 1966 Ford Mustang from me a few months earlier. The Mustang was my latest in a string of restoration projects. It turned out that the Australian family, vacationing in California, had seen my ad, had come for a visit, fallen in love with the Vintage Burgundy V8-powered coupe, and bought it on the spot.

Another piece of California history, exported overseas.

The woman was now calling me to tell me the car made it undamaged through its long journey. It was driven from Sacramento to San Pedro, placed in a shipping container, then transported by cargo vessel more than 8,000 miles to its new home in Queensland.

In fact, she followed up with some pictures of the family posing with the pony in front of the Bundaberg rum distillery, which is apparently a landmark in that region. They get a thumbs-up, she said, whenever they drive it, and the kids’ school has even given it a special parking space.

I tell the story as a reminder of how big a nostalgia kick people are on with regard to classic cars like the Mustang. People in Australia, Germany, Sweden and Denmark are particular fans of American muscle from the 1960s.

Here in California, meantime, that well-established nostalgia trend got a big boost this week from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV announced that, under terms of a 2012 law, it had received 7,500 orders for re-issuance of the now-classic black license plates that adorned California cars from 1963 to 1969.

Having reached that threshold, the state will now revive those plates, using inmates at Folsom State Prison to issue the new–old plates. And—get this—they are going to be using the original molds used to stamp the plates in the 1960s. Proof that it’s OK not to throw some things away.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, authored the license plate bill. He’s a car guy, as you might expect from someone raised in the car culture of the San Fernando Valley, and he wanted to establish a way for fellow car buffs to obtain the black plates without having to scour junkyards or collector auctions.

The plates cost $50 and will look like the old versions, with one notable exception. As part of current standards, they’ll be painted with reflectorized paint.

They can be ordered for any car, but somehow, that vintage look just won’t seem right on a 2004 Nissan. They’ll be right at home on Camaros, Chargers, GTOs, Barracudas, Chevelles, and of course, Mustangs from the 1960s.

And car collectors, from San Bernardino to Eureka, will have a new way to indulge their interest in a period-perfect look.

As for my Aussie Mustang, I wonder what color plates it has now?