Michigan bill would revive two popular retro license plate designs

Everybody loves nostalgia. Just look at the crazy number of niche car shows focusing on models from the 1980s and 1990s to see how far some are willing to go to relive their golden years. License plates play a big role in the warm feelings, and Michigan is ready to capitalize on the craze with a pair of new options from the late 1970s and early 80s.

State senator Mallory McMorrow proposed legislation that would bring the plates back. The blue plate included in the bill ran from 1983 to 2007, but the black plate was only available from 1979 through 1983. Both plates come stamped with Michigan’s nickname, “Great Lakes State.”

Michigan saw success with its revival of the classic Water-Winter Wonderland plate in 2021, seeing more than 650,000 people pony up the extra $5 for the privilege. Though fun for drivers, the retro plates bring in quite a bit of revenue for the state. The two new offerings will cost $50 plus a $5 service fee, and renewing the plates costs $10. That potential is exceptionally attractive for states, and the extra revenue Michigan’s plates generate goes directly to its highway fund.

Other states are jumping on the retro license plate bandwagon, too. Maine recently announced that it would do away with its long-running chickadee license plates in favor of a new design with the state’s early-1900s flag. Some, such as California, have fought against waves of fake mail-order retro plates that let drivers add their plate numbers to third-party designs.

License plates are going digital in some places, including California and Michigan. Other places are looking at ways to make traditional plates more visible. Colorado recently introduced legislation requiring new license plates to be screen-printed, which would help prevent corrosion and wear from road salt and winter weather. New York had difficulties with its plate design, going as far as cutting its contract with 3M after finding that many drivers had badly worn tags.


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