DMV cranks ignition on production of black California license plates

The DMV has started production on new California license plates with black backgrounds and yellow lettering.
The DMV has started production on new California license plates with black backgrounds and yellow lettering. Courtesy of the DMV

California license plates are finally back in black.

The Department of Motor Vehicles announced Monday that it had started production on new California plates with black backgrounds and yellow lettering. The model, originally used from 1963-69, is available through the California Legacy License Plate Program – a result of Los Angeles Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s Assembly Bill 1658.

For the black plates to be issued, a total of 7,500 applications had to be turned in to the state agency. The DMV reached that number in June 2014.

Gatto said his bill, introduced in 2012, was an attempt to preserve the state’s “strong automotive culture ... . It started with the realization that there are an awful lot of people who like classic cars in this state. If you complete an old car restoration from the ground up, nothing is worse than being forced to stamp the current, bright-white license plate on it.”

Gatto is a car buff whose first car restoration was a 1971 Triumph Spitfire. He said that before his bill, the only option for car enthusiasts was to find old, authentic plates on eBay or at garage sales.

The problem, said DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez, is car owners must find a license plate that matches the car’s model year, in compliance with the DMV’s year-of-manufacture policy.

“It’s not easy and people end up paying an arm and a leg to get one,” Gonzalez said.

The California Prison Industry Authority discovered and restored the 1960s license plate molds at Folsom State Prison, where the custom classic plates will continue to be made.

Eric Menjivar, Gatto’s communications director, described the reintroduction of the plates as a “nice gesture for old car lovers,” trading “ugly white” for shiny black with yellow lettering.

California car owners can order the reproduced plates through the DMV for $50 online or via mail. The price is the same for standard or personalized plate numbers.

The DMV began processing 7,500 preordered plates June 17. Preorder customers can expect standard plate numbers to be complete within two to three weeks. Personalized plates – accounting for 55 percent of preorders – should be ready in August, Gonzalez said.

Standard plates will be sent to customers via mail; personalized plates will be available for pickup at local AAA or DMV locations.