If you are lucky enough to have the original set of plates, chances are that they are as tired as the rest of the car. Road use takes a toll here, and with plates from the 1970s and before, we are talking about units that are many decades all. At a minimum you may be faced with faded paint, but associated dings and metal damage are also all too common. A quick fix here would be a simple swap to a freshly issued set of plates, but in turning in those originals, you are also turning in a little bit of the vehicle's history. Many enthusiasts prefer to have plates that match the vintage of the vehicle, and often these plates feature a color combination that is unique to the era.
In the case of Sean Lorentzen's 1972 Le Mans, the genuine original issue plates were still with the car, owing to the fact that it had been continually registered since new. The California blue plates replaced the black series of plates in 1969, and this combination provides a nice harmony with the blue graphics featured in the car's paint scheme. As might be expected, the plates were in as much need of restoration as the rest of the car.
Restoring a set of plates is a task undertaken with the same basic techniques as any other paint and bodywork endeavor. Step one is to correct any dings and dents, working the plate with a hammer and dolly, much like attacking a dent in a fender. The subject plates here were in fairly good condition overall, but required some delicate hammer work to reach perfection. Next, there is the surface preparation. The plates can be stripped, filled, and sanded, just like any other part of the car. These were simply sanded and given a good coating of primer surfacer for preparation. The surfacer was then sanded smooth with a hand pad using 180-320-400-grit sandpapers, and then shot with the background color. The raised lettering and plate numbers were then hand painted in the correct yellow with a pin striping brush
So, what if your car is missing the original vintage plates? Many states have programs that allow a vintage set of plates to be utilized on a vehicle they were not originally issued to. Check your local DMV and inquire about their rules on Year Of Manufacture (YOM) plates. These vehicle code rules are specifically created to allow enthusiasts to add the "correct" plates to a vintage ride.