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Ford Bronco Parts - Classic Vintage Early Bronco Parts

License Plate Restoration

Tech article by Schreiber and filed under Body

Tech article by Jacob Schreiber (Schreiber)

Although covers almost every Bronco project imaginable, one I’ve never seen is a write-up on restoring original license plates. This is an easy project. I took some pictures while refinishing mine, so why not share?

I found my tag at a local antique shop for $10. I was also fortunate find one with the correct county prefix numbers. Ebay is another good resource when shopping for old tags.

When I bought my tag, I didn’t realize I could potentially register it to use with my Bronco. It was only after reading about purchasing a new ‘antique vehicle’ tag that I realized this was a possibility.

The most tedious work is not the sanding or painting, but researching your state’s laws regarding using original plates. In Alabama, for example, one can register early license plates as long as the year on the tag corresponds with the year of the vehicle. The only other requirement is that the tag must be in very good shape and readable. In this case, I knew my tag would need to be refinished.

The first step was sanding. Because these license plates are old and made of relatively thin metal, I decided to hand sand mine. I made sure to hit the rust spots first, and then moved on to removing the old paint.

bronco license plate 01

The paint came off easily enough using eighty grit sandpaper. I didn’t worry about removing every bit of paint, just cleaning up the obviously ugly parts. While reading about similar projects on the web I heard that paint stripper might work also. I didn’t try this method.

bronco license plate 02

After working on the rust and old paint, I got down to mostly metal surface. I was happy with how well much this shined. I also took time to straighten out the plate. There were small dents and curves where the tag should have been straight. I was able to straighten out the old tag by hand.

bronco license plate 03

I sprayed my first coat with a Rustoleum grey primer. I was amazed at the difference this made. I sprayed front and back, and allowed the tag to dry per the directions on the rattle can.

bronco license plate 04

My next coat was again Rustoleum. This time I used a white semi-gloss. I allowed this coat to dry. Next, I sanded with very fine 220 grit sandpaper. I sprayed a second coat of white semi-gloss front and back and allowed it to dry.

bronco license plate 05

Finally I was ready to paint the numbers and letters. I painted with a model paint found at my local craft store. This model paint worked well mainly because there was a large selection of colors to choose from and it was dirt cheap. I painted by hand with a detailing paint brush with a tiny tip. It didn’t take long to paint, and I’m sure the results would be better one took their time to make it flawless. I did mine quickly (and a little sloppy).

bronco license plate 06

The tag turned out well. Like my Bronco’s paint, it looks better from ten or fifteen feet away. This tag adds an extra bit of originality. Even better, I can keep using this tag year after year and don’t have to switch to a different tag.

bronco license plate 07

The folks at my motor vehicle department took a minute to figure out how to register the tag to me, but once they figured it out, it was as easy as sticking a little decal with the current year on the tag; just like you would do with a normal tag.

Check with your state’s motor vehicle division to ensure you can register and use your old tag as a legitimate tag. Alabama has interesting references where one can learn more about old tags:

8 Responses to “License Plate Restoration”

  1. 70EB Says:

    Great writeup. I found in NC that there is a copy of the DMV law that allows you to have an older tag on the vehicle if you maintain the DMV issued tag in the vehicle in case you are stopped. I found a 1970 vintage tag that was beautifully restored that I run on the back (have to change it now that I live in WA state) and then carried the DMV tag and a copy of the regulation page in the Tuffy center console.


  2. 76 bronco J Says:

    >>>> to get better results painting the letters,#’s & lines , I suggest using Frisket film over the plate to cutout what needs to be painted….. it’s availabe at most art supply stores…… here’s link to what it is>>

  3. croft75 Says:

    another way to paint the raised letters is to use a foam roller, thats how they paint them.

  4. idhawkdriver Says:

    Idaho has the same law and I just found a ’66 plate for $5 on eBay. I’ll end up refinishing it this winter, but for now it’s in good enough shape to run as is. I am curious to see if I can get away with not putting on the current registration sticker.

  5. broncobilly72 Says:

    To strip a license plate get a shallow pan a little larger than your plates. Get a can of Draino, place the plates in the pan, add the Draino and enough warm water to cover the plates. Let the plates sit overnight in the mixture. the paint will peel off like majic but be carefull with the Draino… can burn your skin.
    As for painting scuff up the plate with steel wool then primer the plate with a quality primer that will allow for laquer to be applied. Paint the plate with lacquer paint that matches the lettering and let dry overnight. Next paint the plate with enamel that matches the overall plate color. Let the paint dry to touch. Take a cotton rag wraped around your index finger and dip it in paint thinner. Gently rub the lllllletters and numers till the lacquer base coat shows through. It takes some time but the plates come out premo. Note: Wear rubber gloves during the whole process. The paint thinner will remove the enamel but won’t touch the lacquer paint.

  6. Ranger 302 Says:

    I have found the best way to make the letters look correct is to use any type of roller or large, (3″ or 4″) pipe and cove it with masking tape until it has a semi soft surface. Cover the roller with paint and roll it across the plate. It’s how they painted them in the first place. the more times you cover the roller in tape, the softer it gets and the further over the edges it will roll the raised parts of your plate. You can easily get a cheap plate to practice on. Just work on the practice plate until it looks right, then do the good ones.

    This is a much better way to go because it is so hard to hand paint the letters or to cut out a stencil, and those methods almost never look authentic.

  7. LawNerd Says:

    Anybody know if this would work in Florida under the DMV rules?

  8. Chase Says:

    Louisiana allows you to do this, too. For some reason though, they’ve removed the instructions from the OMV (DMV) website. PM if you need to know how to do it.

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