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A few weeks ago I started the process of getting our teardrop trailer licensed. Of course, one of the first items of business was researching how one used vintage plates on a vintage vehicle. Apparently California law says that any vehicle made before 1965 can use a vintage plate, provided that the plate year matches the year of manufacture for the vehicle. You couldn't say, use a 1955 plate on a 1937 car.

I started hunting around and one evening a 1945 plate showed up on Craigslist. The 1945 year was black with white letters and has the distinction of having only one plate instead of two per vehicle issued that year, apparently in order to conserve the metal that had become precious during WWII.

The price of this on was right...a mere $20.00. Some places I had looked online had restored plates that could be up to several hundred dollars so this was a deal. It had belonged to a So California man who apparently kept every license plate he ever had. Upon his death they fell to his grandson who had been selling them off, one by one.

When I picked it up, it looked like this:

Original Condition It had some bends and crinkles as well as being terribly rusted.

I went to the nearby hardware store (It's a blessing and a curse to have one in such close proximity) and got some paint stripper.

Paint Stripped I stripped the paint hoping the rust would come off it as well. Alas, no.

Derusted I went back to the hardware store and got some deruster. It took some rust off the first pass...and took a LOT more off the second. I knew it was going to be a quixotic task to try to take off ALL the rust...so I went back to the hardware store.

Primer Anti rust primer wound up being my good friend. I put two coats on and waited a day.

Base Coat The hardware store by now was getting used to my frequent ins and outs. After consulting with them, they ordered an extra duarable black epoxy spray paint. I put two coats on and had to wait at least 24 hours for each coat to completely cure.

Final When the black was totally cured I lightly sanded over the letters and the top bar and used a white craft enamel to paint the letters. It may require some slight touchups... but...voila! A restored 1945 license plate!


I need a teardrop icon. :)



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 28th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
Wow, that is *so* cool.
Apr. 28th, 2009 06:35 am (UTC)
Thanks! I plan on documenting the restoration every step of the way. Stay tuned!
Apr. 28th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
Yay California Black Plates! :-D
Apr. 28th, 2009 06:35 am (UTC)
I know eh?:D
Apr. 28th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC)
Nicely done! Thanks for explaining your process.
Apr. 28th, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
I figured I'd share all the blood, sweat and tears of the restoration. Glad you enjoy it!
Apr. 28th, 2009 05:51 am (UTC)
Impressive restoration job!
I didn't know you could reuse plates.
Apr. 28th, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
I didn't know you could either until I started researching how to be able to use them. There's a whole market going for old plates! Who knew? :)
Apr. 28th, 2009 06:44 am (UTC)
Very nice - do you need to seal it in any way to prevent the white from coming off? i.e. will white craft paint be good enough for the weather, etc.

I had seen re-used plates - I didn't know they had to be the exact year - that is kind of a pain I think, but it works if you can find them.
Apr. 28th, 2009 12:39 pm (UTC)
Very cool!

You can use the vehicle plates on a trailer? Some of the 40's California trailer plates I've seen have "trailer" written on them. The rules are likely more lax for vintage stuff though. I'd bet you can still use it. Oh! And wow for finding one for $20! I've always seen them for $200 myself!

Rust primer will work fine but another tip for dealing with rust is to use Naval Jelly. (phosphoric acid) It converts rust to a phosphate and prevents it from ever rusting again. Amazing stuff, really. I use it for all my bike restorations.

You've got the plate down and it looks great but another way to tackle it is to spray the whole plate with primer then several coats of white, then cover the whole plate with a thin coat of black. You then use rubbing compound on the raised letters and the white will quickly show through. Since the letters are raised, the paint will wear away to the exact shape of the letters without any form of masking. I restored my own plates using this method and it works quite well. Apply your clear coat and you're done! I don't know how much labour your method was, but the results look great. Good job.

(totally not criticizing, just trying to offer tips.) Your results speak for themselves.

Apr. 28th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
Next time I restore plates I may try that method!

Yeah, I've made several calls to the DMV getting the paper work and making sure all my ducks are in a row before we actually walk into the office with the plate but it looks like we're clear to use the plate.
Apr. 30th, 2009 04:24 am (UTC)
Hey, where does one get naval jelly? Is it standard issue at any hardware store? Is there any specific kind of paint you use once you've stripped and derusted the frames?
I ask because some of the boards at the base of the trailer were a little mushy in the corners. We figured we would just pull them out and replace them...basically get the trailer ready for another 50 years.
We saw a bit of rust (not TOO bad but enough we want to clean it up) underneath on the actual trailer frame so I thought I'd pick your brain a little bit on your derusting/painting process.
May. 2nd, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
I've actually never found a product specifically labelled "Naval Jelly". The bottle I currently have is labelled "rust dissolver gel", and yes it's pink. I've seen some that is tinted green as well. If it's labelled rust treatment or rust dissolver, that's probably the stuff and it's found in nearly every hardware store. Look under first aid treatment on the label and if it says contains phosphoric acid, that's the stuff.

Scrape off any of the flaky rust with 50 grit sandpaper or a wire brush then coat with the anti-rust gel. For really rusty stuff I leave it on over night. The next day I'll rinse with water and scrub a bit with a nylon brush. (since I don't want to remove any of the black phosphate.) Powdery rust will totally dissolve but pitted rust will turn into a black phosphate coating that will no longer rust. I just coat this with an etching primer to be sure and then any type paint for the top coat. I'd probably use a Tremclad if I was doing a trailer frame.

Good luck, I'd love to see the process and your results.
May. 1st, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Naval Jelly can be purchased at a hardware store also. It is pinkish looking goop--wipe on, wait a while, then wash off.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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