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Your license plate story: Low-numbered tags and a Ford-themed collection

Published in blog.hemmings.com

 

I took this photo of my black ’57 at the Classic Thunderbird Club International regional meet at Seven Springs around 1970 or so when we drove the Bird from New Rochelle to western Pennsylvania. Bill Brown, one of the longest-standing members of the (CTCI), is judging the car. It’s the only photo I could locate of my V-111 plate. Photos by Don Antilla.

[Editor’s note: This story is a collaboration between long-time friend-of-Hemmings Don Antilla and Thomas A. DeMauro.]

Muscle Machines feature car owner and past Muscle Car of the Year recipient, Hemmings Concours d’Elegance First Place winner, Motor News feature car owner, and loyal Hemmings Daily reader Don Antilla recently discovered his collection of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) keychain tags in his desk drawer.

Finding these DAV keychain tags provided the incentive for this article.

From the early 1940s to the mid-1970s DAV mailed these tags to owners of registered vehicles in various states. The license plate number was on one side and the DAV’s address and instructions were on the other to serve as a means for returning lost keys. Also included was a request for a donation to the DAV. When a set of lost keys with this tag was found, following the directive to drop them in a mailbox would get them to the DAV where the staff would match the plate number on the tag with the address of the registered plate owner, and then the keys would be returned.

V-149 and V-150 were the result of my attempt to get low-numbered New York plates in 1962.

Finding these tags got Don thinking about his own collection of license plates and of the April 14th, 2015 article I wrote, “License Plate Memories,” where I shared backstories on a few I recalled from my past.

I first got the FBIRD plate in early 1979 and had it on various vehicles, such as our 1986 SVO Mustang, our 2013 Explorer, and one other car. I kept switching it around because I wanted to retain it for our current 1957 F-Bird (a term used by Thunderbird enthusiasts due the F-code for the rare supercharged engine).

Don wanted to offer his article and photos, but pictures can’t be added to the comments section of the Hemmings Daily due to potential security issues (viruses etc.) associated with the upload process. Thus, he contacted me with the idea of Hemmings creating a series for reader-written license plate stories. I asked Hemmings Daily Editor Kurt Ernst and he also liked the idea.

I received the NASCAR plate around 1988 through a special effort by a politically well-connected friend. NASCAR wasn’t as popular in the Northeast then as it is today. First the tag was on our 1988 Bronco, then our series of F-150 trucks, and presently it’s on our 2017 Lariat F-150. People still look over when we’re on the road to try to see who’s driving that F-150 with NASCAR plates.  

To kick it off, Don provided recollections of various plates in his collection.

“I’ve had an interest in license plates since I was quite young,” he says. “My parents would play license plate games with me as we drove around, sometimes asking me to remember a plate that just passed by and recite it either forward or backward. I also had to tell them the make and model of the cars.

The BOS-427 plate is interesting; Rich Pedersen was a close friend of Jim Ryan who was the original owner of my 1966 427 Fairlane. Both Rich and Jim were license plate fanatics and one of them applied for this tag. Rich preserved this one never-used plate and gave it to me around 2000, since I now owned Jim Ryan’s original Fairlane. The matching plate was on the 427 Fairlane back in the sixties.

“I remember asking why Dad’s plate was “EA-73” and they told me that since it required a special request to get Dad’s initials (Oscar Edwin Antilla), they instead settled for EA-73 because it was pretty close.

Though it took me a few years to convince her, around 2005 the owner of the 428-JET plate agreed to write a short note to the DMV to release it to me. It’s the right plate for my 428 Cobra Jet Mustang.

“For some reason I remember the original New York State plate on my Granddad’s 1958 Cadillac (VV-2140). I thought he should have a better-looking plate for a man who drove a Cadillac, owned a construction business, and was so well known in New Rochelle.

Also around 2005, I personally visited the DMV headquarters to ask the Director to endorse the 427-AFX plate’s manufacture. He was enthusiastic about the photos of my cars, so he agreed. It’s on my 1966 427 Fairlane. While not really an AFX class race car, I thought the plate looked neat.

“I heard that New York State issued fresh plates every few years at the White Plains motor vehicle office. The series always started at V-101 and progressed upward from there, so when the new plates were about to be issued in 1962, off I went to the White Plains DMV at about 3:00 or 4:00 AM. I got the V-149 and V-150 plates for my granddad’s black 1961 Cadillac convertible and my mom’s 1959 Ford, which were later transferred to her 1960 Thunderbird.

The AWD-406 plate was found in an antique store in Vermont around 2007. I always wanted a 1962 406 Ford—it’s still on my list.

“A couple of years later, I decided to see how low-numbered a plate I could get, so I convinced my friend Joe Bianchini to go with me and camp out at the DMV. I think we got in line at about 10:00 or 11:00 PM and there were a few people ahead of us. We snoozed in the freezing cold on the sidewalks and had a good time talking with like-minded people in line.

About 20 years ago I asked Carol Herskowitz, our First Selectwoman, if she could obtain an out-of-date plate in the Public Works yard with the number “57” on it, and she did. “SBY” indicates the town of Southbury. I promised to not run about town using it!

“When I took a count of how many plates above V-101 I’d be at, it came to V-108 to V-110 for the three I was going to get. I wanted V-111 for my 1957 Thunderbird, so I invited the guy behind me to go ahead of me, which he was glad to do. Thus, I got V-109, V-110, and V-111.

The XE-69FE tag is unique; it has XE, which represents “Experimental” in Ford talk plus FE to denote the Ford FE engine series 332/352/360/390/396/406/410/427/428. I bought the plate at car parts swap meet around 2010.

“Having V-111 on my Bronze 1957 Bird proved to be a minor lapse in judgment. As a fast, young driver in that Ford with those plates, the local police never had a hard time identifying me, and I did get quite a few tickets.

I wanted 0427 (as in Ford engine). With sponsorship from my state representative, I got close with 0429 in 2014 for our 2004 Thunderbird (Pacific Coast Roadster model). By coincidence I met the owner of 0427, but he was reluctant to trade plates.

“When I got married in 1967 and moved to Connecticut, my interest in license plates remained high. I got LALA, my wife Linda’s initials, for our white 1967 390 GT Mustang, but she got too much attention, so after a few years she yielded the plate to an old high school friend whose mother’s nickname was Lala. Good thing Linda knew her nickname.

I received the P-427 St. Maarten plate from a good friend about four or five years ago who somehow got it when he was vacationing.

“We owned and switched cars over the years, and as I got into big-block Fords, interest shifted to plates with 427, 428, GT, or EXP ***.”

About six or seven years ago I found 5J- 427 at a swap meet.

For Don, acquiring license plates for his own cars and for his collection remains an enjoyable pastime. Backstories for his unique Ford-themed plates are revealed in the captions for this article.

Around 2015, KO 427 was also purchased at a car parts swap meet.

Do you have an interesting license plate tale to tell or a collection to share? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be as comprehensive as Don’s or have a specific theme. If you still have the plates, you can photograph them and email the photos and story to tomdemauro@hemmings.com. We will then edit and post groups of the stories as Hemmings Daily articles, so that the photos can be included.

The 289306 is a subtle one. Shelbys had a 289 engine rated at 306 hp. I bought this plate in an antique shop in Vermont in 2016. It was the last one in a deep stack.

However, if you no longer have the plates to photograph but still have great anecdotes about them, you can simply post them in the comments section of this introductory article.

I found this plate at the Rhinebeck swap meet in 2017. The 289 and 427 are two of my favorite engines.