HOW IT STARTED .....
HOW IT MAY HAVE STARTED .....
(Click on any picture below to enlarge it)
Back in the 1930's, there were several clubs racing for
top speed on the dry
lakes of the Southern California deserts. One club had an idea to paint their club's
name on a license plate sized piece of metal to display on their club's cars and
other clubs soon followed. This was a great way to advertise the club they belonged
to and here are some early examples.
With these types of plates now seen running around town, it
wasn't long until other car clubs saw them and though it was a good idea to let
everyone know which club they belonged to. Some clubs had their name painted on
a license plate sized piece of metal by a member or a local sign painter while
others use various material, like the fiberboard used by the Dallas, TX
Ramblers. Some of the examples below are known to be for clubs formed in the early 40's.
It's unknown exactly when the first aluminum car club
plaque was cast, or which club cast them. Because the sand casting
process is fairly simple, a lot of high schools in those years had facilities
on campus to cast small parts from aluminum. Some contributors to this site have
mentioned that their clubs did cast their plaques in High School Metal Shop classes
so it's possible that
the first plaque was cast in school.
Some clubs started with the painted plates then had
aluminum plaques cast, like the clubs above. Perhaps they saw
another club with cast plaques and had some made for their members.
When Dan Waite sent the photo of his dad's Ravens plaque he
said "My Dad and his friends were involved in this Burbank, CA club in the early 50's.
He doesn't remember much about it except that they didn't have a lot of money
for fancy cast plaques like the big clubs, so they made their own." His dad,
Bob Waite, had this plaque hanging from the rear bumper of his 40 Ford in the
50's and it's now hanging in Dan's garage.
The member belonging to this Wilmington, OH club made his own
plaque by buying some letters from the hardware store and nailing them onto a
piece of wood. I wonder if everyone in the Saints had one like this or if they
ever had cast plaques made for their club.
The first step in
producing a cast plaque is creating the pattern. Many early clubs made their
pattern by carving the design and letters in wood. The King Pins plaque below
using a wood pattern. The original Relics & Rods plaque was a high school metal and
wood shop project. Club member Ron Crone was the metal shop teacher and he gave
a drawing to the wood shop teacher who had his students make a pattern with
Masonite. The metal shop then cast the plaques, using melted beer and soda cans.
Patterns were also made from
plastic, linoleum and metal, but any hard material could be used. Speed Gems made plaques for J.C. Whitney, and other mail order
houses, and all
of their 4,100 patterns were carved out of linoleum. All of the 8,000 Chicago
Metal Craft patterns, as well as those made by Koehler Foundry, were made using a blank plaque and gluing on pot metal foundry
letters and a hand carved linoleum "graphic". More information about
these companies can be found on our Stock
Plaques page. Some smaller foundries
used a piece of wood or Masonite and added a frame to it. They could then attach
letters made especially for foundries, some with prongs on the back, and a
graphic made from wood or clay. Many of the early patterns had a textured
pig-skin like background.
Nes Synadinos, who
provided the photo of his Millwinders plaque above, wrote about how much time it
took in the early 50's to cut out and mount all the letters on their wood pattern. When they took it
to a local foundry to have their plaques made, they discovered that the pattern
needed to have some "draft" in
the design so it could be pulled easily from the sand. Draft is an angle from the face of
the letters, graphic and border to the base or background of the pattern and they must be
narrower at the face than at the base. Nes had to disassemble it and he spent the
next week sanding an angle on each letter and the border, so the pattern could be
used for their plaques.
Jim Lindsay sent the following photos showing the wooden pattern, that had
glued on foundry letters, and a cast plaque for the Hylifters, a North
West Timing Association club out of Corvallis, OR.
patterns, like most of the 3,000 made by O'Brien Truckers, are made using a chemical engraving process that allows much
greater detail than what was available 50 years ago. This process requires
camera-ready black & white artwork that is used to acid etch the
design into a flat piece of magnesium. Patterns are made slightly larger than the
finished design to allow for shrinkage as the aluminum solidifies.
When an existing plaque is used as a pattern, the copy will be slightly smaller
than the plaque and some details will be degraded.
To start the
process, the sand casting
mold is filled with "green" sand, usually made with silica, clay and
water or with "black" sand that uses oil as a binder and gives
better detail as used by O'Brien Truckers. When the
liquid (water or oil) is added, it develops the bonding characteristics of the
clay that binds the sand grains together. The
sand is compressed in two open boxes called a cope and a drag. The pattern is
mounted on a board between the cope and the drag and the sand is shoveled in and
compressed on both sides. When the board and pattern is removed it leaves a
cavity and a system of runners, gates and feeders into which the molted metal
will be poured. Most plaques were cast with aluminum but some clubs chose brass,
or bronze, for the rich gold color or if their plaques were going to be chrome
plated (although aluminum plaques can be chrome plated by some platers). Once the
to be used for casting is melted, it's ladled or poured into the cavity and allowed to solidify.
foundries would stamp the back of the plaques with their company's name to show where it was made, while others cast their name
into the back side.
Original plaques with known foundry marks from the 50's can be quite valuable today.
Most clubs ordered
their plaques in an "as-cast" condition and the members would finish
and paint the plaques. The common practice was to sand and
polish the high points of the plaque and paint the background. Some clubs had
standard colors that the plaque had to be painted while others allowed members
to paint the plaque to match the color of their car. Some clubs left their
plaques unfinished or just painted the surface and/or background.
Somewhere along the time-line, in an area east of Los Angeles,
CA around Downey, one unknown club had an idea to put their club name on top
of the plaque instead of inside the border. Other clubs from that general area copied
the design and there are several examples on the Bellflower,
Downey and Maywood
In the late 60's, Koehler Foundry in Bell, CA cast the plaques shown below and the club name
was now the major part of the plaque. The Artistics plaque was cast in 1968 for an early lowrider
custom car club in Paramount, CA and it's believed by it's owner to be the first plaque of
it's kind. These plaques were cast in bronze or brass.
As other lowrider clubs were being formed in the Los
Angeles area, these types of plaques became somewhat of the standard design for these
Koehler also cast these plaques in aluminum for
the Informal Gents from South LA, and the Jades from Pomona, CA.
The following plaques for the Cali Grown, Kingsmen, Solitos and Villens are examples of
lowrider plaques that had mounting straps cast as part of the
plaque or attached to the plaque.
These types of plaques were what most clubs were flying in
their back windows as the lowrider clubs became more popular. As time
progressed, they became more
ornate. The latest trend with these clubs are plaques that
are laser cut from a solid sheet, instead of being cast. They may be engraved on the face and be chrome or gold plated. The focus of this website is on the older and traditional type
sand cast plaques. There are numerous sites on the Internet where lowrider plaques are shown and,
except for the examples above, they will not be featured on this website.
TO THE PAST
The latest trend with
some new clubs is a return to the past. They build cars that look like they may
have been built in the 40's or 50's, and their members dress like they did in
those eras. Some of these "Traditional Hot Rod" clubs have created
their own style of plaques. Some have been flame cut, some have had engine
parts attached to a plain piece of steel with the club name painted on and some
have the club name added with a welder. As we
get more of these hand made plaques, they will be posted here.