Inset License Plate

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In 1936, the first inset license plate was fashioned by Frank Kurtis on an early Airflow DeSoto. This feature was widely copied later.
Norm Milne's 1938 Ford convertible sedan of Sacramento, California. About 1940 Norm drove the Ford to Los Angeles to have Carson Top Shop chop the top and make a padded top. The rest of the car was restyled by Harry Westergard. Harry recessed the rear license plate on the car.
George Barris' 1936 Ford Coupe of Roseville, California. This was George's first real custom. He bought the car from money he had earned while doing some odd jobs for Harry Westergard at Brown's Body Shop. George worked at the car between the staggering amount of school work, and working with Westergard. The build was completed in 1941, featuring an inset license plate.
Tommy Jamieson's 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe was restyled by Howard Fall in 1940.
Neil Emory's 1937 Dodge, completed in 1941, had two recessed plates in the rear. One for the license plate and one for the club plaque.
Kenny Controtto's 1939 Ford Convertible of South Gate, California was restyled in the 1940s.
Mel Falconer's 1939 Ford, of Sacramento, California was restyled by Harry Westergard and completed in 1945.
An early 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe custom from California. In addition to a 1940 Ford front, the car is running a ribbed rear bumper, tear-dropped 1939 Ford taillights, and an inset license plate. A beautiful early kustom we would love to know more about. Photo from The Robert Genat Photo Collection.
A rear end shot of Emil Dietrich's 1939 Ford custom taken in the mid 1940s. Rear end modifications included a shaved deck, inset license plate, and a 1941 Ford bumper. Photo from The Glen and Forey Wall Photo Collection.
Dick Fowler's 1938 Ford coupe was restyled by George and Sam Baris at their first shop in Bell between 1946 and 1948. The car ran an inset license plate
John Vara's 1941 Ford Convertible was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1948. John's convertible featured a sunken license plate that was mounted behind glass. John sold the car to Johnny Zaro of Maywood, California before the build was completed.
Eddie Dominguez' 1939 Mercury convertible of El Paso, Texas. Eddie bought the already customized Mercury from a local kid in 1960. The car featured an inset license plate.
Johnny Aguirre's 1940 Dodge Business Coupe of Riverside, California. The build was completed early in 2019, featuring an inser license plate.

In 1936, the first inset license plate was supposedly performed by Frank Kurtis on an early Airflow DeSoto. This feature was widely copied later, becoming one of the most popular custom touches of the 1930s. According to Motor Life May 1955 this feature more than any other feature marked the "California Car" back in the early days of customizing.[1]

This operation is not a simple matter. The size of the opening is determined by the size of the plate, after which a hole is cut into the metal allowing an inch or so additional material to be rolled inward giving the deck lid apparent thickness. A box must be fabricated to hold the plate, and its light, and the unit mounted to the inner side of the deck lid.[2]

Cars Featuring Inset License Plates

Dick Ceola's 1930 Ford Model A Truck
George Barris' 1936 Ford 3-Window Coupe
Tommy Jamieson's 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe
Neil Emory's 1937 Dodge Convertible
Dick Fowler's 1938 Ford Coupe
Norm Milne's 1938 Ford Convertible Sedan
Emil Dietrich's 1939 Ford Convertible
Kenny Controtto's 1939 Ford Convertible
Mel Falconer's 1939 Ford
Eddie Dominguez' 1939 Mercury Convertible
Johnny Aguirre's 1940 Dodge Business Coupe
John Vara's 1941 Ford Convertible



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