FLINT, MI — Eying the more than 1,700 cars at the 19th annual Back to the Bricks, most people are checking out numerous features on each car.
Paint and color. Engines. The builds that make up different decades, makes and models.
Car enthusiasts love to peek inside the cars for unique features, and have conversations with owners about whether the car is stock or there have been modifications made.
One thing often overlooked? The license plate.
While historic vehicles carry markers of the year the car was made on plates and other information about the car’s history, some classic vehicle fanatics take it one step further to get noticed with custom license plates.
Each one is unique to the vehicle, its owner and their combined character. Some are poignant, displaying an ode to the vehicle’s make and model, like “1WOODIE,” “SHOBALT,” or “73VETTE.”
Others, such as “STOLEN,” TNKSDAD,” and “WRECKUM,” take on punchlines to bring joy and laughter to any who see them.
MLive photojournalist Jake May rounded up 75 photos in the gallery above for readers to enjoy. Click here to peruse all of the custom license plates Saturday, Aug. 19, throughout downtown Flint.
While each motorist has their own meaningful memory behind their custom plates, May stopped to speak with three owners to get more detail on the “why” behind the message.
Robert Linn, 83, of Swartz Creek was laid back in his chair enjoying the passersby checking out his 1988 red GMC Sierra Stepside “Sportside” pickup truck with one modification — it rides low. Very low.
And thus, his license plate proudly reads: “LO RIDE.”
“I’ve always had a low rider for the last 25 years, and can’t stop now. I just love being low, riding the road. It’s a great vantage point on the road,” he said, stating he’s had a few low riders manufactured in the 1970s. “I wanted to have some fun with the plate. It’s funny.”
Flint resident Tina Wise owns a 1951 Miller Cadillac, and proudly shows it in a lineup with other hearses.
Wise found it online for $1,900 about 10 years ago in South Lyon. She said she knew from the moment she saw it she had to have it and restore it — and she wasn’t afraid to modify it.
“It’s been a work in progress ever since,” Wise said. She has poured at least $15,000 into the project. “A lot of people want to keep everything in its original form, and I wanted to update parts so that it worked. I kept most of the paint job from the belt line up, all original with a crinkle top. I had to change the engine out, (as well as) the breaks, wiring. I even redid the chrome — everything.
“I wanted it the way I wanted it. I want to drive it. I want to show it. It’s part of General Motors history, and I want to keep it running as long as I can. I enjoy it.”
Wise said the car is heavy. She placed a 350 V8 engine in it from a motor home to ensure it would have no trouble on all roads, including highways where she says it handles 80 miles per hour without issue.
As for the license plate on her hearse, it’s all about organ donation and bringing attention to it before its too late.
The license plate reads “1DAYU2,” or to write out, “one day you too.”
“Everybody looks at a hearse, kind of has this morbid thought, and for me, I want people to see the car and the license plate and think of what they can do to help others. This means a lot to a lot of people,” she said. “It really does a lot of good. So instead of being morbid with it or whatever or funny, it does get you to think about death and think what you can do while you’re here. We’re all going to die, so why not organ donation?”
Goodrich resident Tom Topo has been a car enthusiast since he was 5 and raced raced friends on the street where he grew up.
Topo, now 70, is proud of his white 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and a member of Shifters Auto Club in Pontiac.
After having a conversation with a friend, he decided to customize his license plate with a bit of humor.
It reads “SNOFLAK,” which stems from the idea that all over the U.S., states are being hit with hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. For Topo, he’s not moving because snowflakes “don’t do much.”
“It was the right fit for my car,” Topo said with a laugh. “Back to the Bricks, this has always been a good show. It’s a nice place to come and show cars.”
Scroll below to see 27 more of our favorite custom license plates: