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Early Vanity License Plate




Chas Haggert used a CHUCK Vanity License Plate at the 1954 Pennsylvania Autorama Show. So far this is the earliest sample of a Personalized plate on a Custom we have found.

A little while ago was discussing some old Custom Car photos with my friend David Zivot when he spotted one of them, a photo of a mildly restyled Shoebox Ford Convertible with the letters “CHUCK” on the front license plate. The photo of the Ford was among a few others photos taken at an early ’50 East Coast indoor Car. At the time there was no info on the car, apart from the Penna license plate, nor the show the photo was taken. But we both agreed that it was very exceptional to have an personalized or “Vanity” plate on a Custom Car this early. We had never seen that before until much later.

After looking at this photo, and thinking about it some more my brain started to work, and I realized I had seen a picture of Chuck’s mildly restyled Ford Convertible before… And I also knew it must be in one of my vintage Car Show folders on my old website. And there it was, part of the Hank Wieand Bowman Collection. Photos taken at the 1954 Pennsylvania Autorama by Hank. And the Shoebox Convertible was listed as Chas Haggert’s 1949 Ford Convertible. This photo was taken at a different show than the first photo. Some more searching in my files resulted in two more photo of Chas “Chuck” Haggert‘s Ford. Both taken at an unknown drag race, one from the front, with the CHUCK Vanity plate, and one from the rear showing a regular Pennsylvania plate.

This is the photo that David and I discussed, when David noticed the Personalized CHUCK license plate. This photo is taken at an unknown Car Show.

Early Vanity Plate

So Chas already had a personalized or “Vanity” license plate on his car as early as 1954, at least, since don’t know when the outdoor photos were taken. After doing some research I found out that it was in fact the state of Pennsylvania that allowed for personalized plates the first. And that the very first one was created back in 1931. This means that most likely there might have been a lot more around, that we do not know about. Or perhaps it had not yet become popular on Custom Cars and Hot Rods, and was used perhaps on business cars? The first time I really got aware of Personalized plates on Custom Cars and Hot Rods was from 1970’s and up in California. There it became very popular, and in the 70’s and 80’s a lot of the popular cars ran the personal plates on the front.

Back in the 1950’s and even today many of the States in the US do not require a car to have a license plate on the front, including Pennsylvania. This allowed Chas to have his personalized “Chuck” plate on the the front. Chas was happy to have this Custom plate on his Custom Car, and the State was happy selling a personal plate on top of the regular plate, making some extra money. I have not able to find out when other States allowed the Personalized plates at first. But it for sure did not become very popular on Custom Cars until one or two decades after CHUCK’s Ford.

This photo of Chas’s ’49Ford was taken at the Pennsylvania Autorama in August of 1954. (Photo provided by Tony Sundstrom)

About the Chas Haggert 49 Ford

We don’t know much about Chas’s Ford, only what we can see in the photos. The car is a really nicely done Mild Custom based on a 1949 Ford Convertible. The hood with either replaced with a 51 model, or the hole for the original grille was filled in. The hood ornament and center trim was shaved for a smooth look. A 49-50 Mercury grille surround was molded into the front fenders. (or perhaps Chas used a hood and the grille surround of an Canadian Meteor, Thanks Richard Bartrop) The headlight rings were molded to the front fenders and the front bumper was replaced with an 1951 Oldsmobile 88 unit together with the floating grille bar. The stock height windshield was dressed up with a set of Appleton Spotlights.

A bit closer look at the front of the Ford at an unknown drag race event.

The door handles were removed and the holes filled, at the back the trunk was decked for the same smooth look and the bumper guards were removed from the stock rear bumper. Two rectangular shaped exhaust tips were set into the rear bumper and the license plate was protected by an 1949 Chevy over rider. The car was moderately lowered all around, and the skirts at the back are either cut down ’51 Mercury units, or perhaps an aftermarket unit. Chas mounted wide white wall tires and it looks like he also used the hubcaps from the 1951 Oldsmobile. The car was painted in a very light color.

At the rear we can see the smoothed trunk, the lipped fender skirts, the stock guard-less rear bumper with exhaust tips and Chevy plate surround protecting the regular Penna license plate.

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Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

6 thoughts on “Early Vanity License Plate

    • He could very well have used the Meteor hood and grille surround. I all forgot about that… I have added it to the article, thanks. And no I’m not sure he used a Merc grille. The sign in the windshield states it is a ’49 Ford.

      • Okay, I didn’t see the sign. Technically, Meteors weren’t actually Fords, but were sold through Mercury dealers in Canada.

  • Very cool! Guy should have capitalized off of that…then he could have invented the black CA plates with yellow numbers that were meant for antique cars nowadays but have ended up on all new cars 🙂

    Neat little shoebox convertible…

  • Yes, a neat little shoebox convertible! I wonder what happened to them all – pictures of all sorts of them from back in the day seem to be turning up in threads everywhere lately. They make such great mild customs, and who wouldn’t want a convertible?
    From someone who has personalized vanity plates on nearly all of my cars (including one from the first day issued in Saskatchewan), it’s cool to hear how early some parts of the world had realized the revenue potential.


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