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
It's unknown exactly when the first aluminum car club plaque
was cast, or which club made it. 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 club did cast the club's 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.
Some car clubs had "Toppers" cast for their clubs
that could be attached above or below the license plate. On early 30's and 40's
cars and trucks, the license plate was often attached to the tail light with a
bracket. Here are a couple of examples that clubs in New Zealand had made for
Both of these clubs also have traditional plaques for members
and they can choose which one they want.
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. This could have been used as a
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
was cast 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 metal to be used for casting is melted, it's ladled or poured into the
cavity and allowed to solidify.
Some 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
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
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.