California Black Plates

The California black plate was the first plate the state has issued that has remained in circulation, prior to that plates were replaced every few years, 1951 and 1956 were the recent times. In 1963 every vehicle in the state was issued a new plate starting with AAA000 for automobiles and A00000 for commercial (trucks). To see these plates on a vehicle use to signify that a vehicle is an original California Car and has been in the state its entire life (for the most part, more on that later).

There are a lot of misconceptions about these plates and I hope to clear some of those up. In 1963 every DMV office was sent a stack of plates to be issued as part of this replacement run, at that time one might have been able to determine a county based on the sequence but aside from that California does NOT have series assigned to particular counties. The initial release of plates used up everything from AAA to about RDA, it is virtually impossible to determine the proper sequence for a 1963 or 1964 vehicle as they were caught up in the mass reissue of plates.

In general it is commonly accepted that the plates ran out near the end of 1969 so it might be possible to see a 1970 model year car with a black plate (trucks through 1971, more later.). On all plates in California regardless of where the letters fall the numbers change first then the letters so you have AAA000 – AAA002 through AAA999 – AAB000.

In any system you will always see vehicles that are older that the sequence, this can happen when it is brought in from out of state or needed replacement plates for some other reason. You should never see a plate that is too old for the vehicle this is a problem that you will see with YOM (Year of Manufacture) programs where you can put old plates of vehicles that qualify.

Understanding the distribution one can better select a plate that might have been issued to the vehicle when new.

This list outlines approximate sequences based on issue date not model year

  • 1963 – AAA – RDA
  • 1964 – RDB – SDR
  • 1965 – SDS – TEH
  • 1966 – TEI – UGC
  • 1967 – UGD – WEI
  • 1968 – WEJ – YCH
  • 1969 – YCI – ZZZ

The commercial sequence is a little different and easier to understand. Again in 1963 they started with A and probably went to about Q so it was obvious that the trucks would run out sooner than the cars. About 1968 they ran out, Z99999 so the letter was moved to the end and they started over, 00000A. The problem is the trucks were out of sync with the cars, at the end of 1969 the trucks were in the E’s at first they just continued the series in black while the cars have moved to blue with the inverted sequence. I’m also theorizing that this might have been done to use up the inventory of black blanks.

Somewhere near the end of the 1971 year the plates went from black to blue mid sequence at the end of the J’s. So you may see 1972 trucks with black plates.

Again this list outlines approximate sequences based on issue date not model year

  • 1963 – A to Q
  • 1964 – Q, R, S
  • 1965 – S, T, U, V
  • 1966 – V, W, X
  • 1967 – X, Y, Z
  • 1968 – A, B, C
  • 1969 – C, D, E, F
  • 1970 – F, G, H
  • 1971 – H, I, J, K
Both of these plates count the same...
  • A00000, A00001, A00002 to A99999, B00000, B00001, B00002
  • 00000A, 00001A, 00002A to 99999A, 00000B, 00001B, 00002B

YOM (Year of Manufacture) Process

Over the years people have played all sorts of games to get vintage plates on cars originally before the 1963 plates were added to the YOM program. These generally revolved around requesting personalized plates matching the sequence of a set of plates one had in hand, DMV wised up on this and no longer allows personalized plates matching any sequential plate series. The other thing people will do is paint later plates black with the gold letters to give them the look of the older plates or have replica plates made in the old style with current plate series.

In July 2009 the black places were added to the YOM program to some taking away the mystique of the plates. In this program you can have a pair of vintage black plates assigned to a 1963-1969 car and 1963-1972 truck. Once you have acquired a pair of plates (hopefully in the correct series) DMV requires the plates to have the correct DMV sticker for the year of the vehicle, this is simply you stating that these plates are correct for the year, they do not have a reference for this.

The DMV technician will need to see both plates with the sticker applied to one of them along with the application (DMV form reg352). Once registration has been issued to a particular plate sequence it is permanently assigned to that year and can not be transferred to a different year (this holds true to all YOM plates). There is a $45 application fee along with a $10 annual fee.

The program is not without its faults. Side by side the car with a YOM plate has to pay the $10 fee where a car that has had the plate since the 60’s does not. The trucks can use a six digit BLUE plate when they were not issued to trucks until 1972 (I think they were aware that there was something about 1971/72 but forgot). The only saving thing about this is that a 1963-72 truck could have had a blue plate if it had been issued in 1972 or later


Vehicles not in the system and Nonresident Vehicles (from out of state)

If the vehicle hasn’t been registered in many years it may have fallen out of the system and you’ll need some extra forms. In addition to the YOM form (reg352) you’ll need the Application for Title or Registration form (reg343). With this form you’ll need a VIN check (Verification of Vehicle, Form reg31) that must be filled out by an authorized agent, typically this can be the local AAA office, some local Police Officers and the DMV themselves. If for some reason the DMV doesn’t like the VIN check or the way you had the form filled out they may refer you to the CHP and they will do a much more thorough check. The process is the same for vehicles that were purchased out of state.


Reassignement of plates (to vehicle they came off of)

On a slightly different note, it has been a standing rule that you can have a pair of plates reassigned to a vehicle that they were originally issued to. DMV will require documentation showing these plates on this specific vehicle along with a Statement of Facts form (DMV form reg256) stating why you want to reassign these plates. You will most likely hit a wall at the DMV on this one as it isn’t clear what constitutes documentation, typically registration or title. This is an option for those with vehicles that have fallen out of the DMV computer from lack of registration or non op for a number of years.

I see no reason why this shouldn’t still apply to the black plates even though they qualify for the YOM program, this would save the $10 annual YOM fee.

I have personally done this on two cars, my 1967 Barracuda (actually did in June 2009 just before the inclusion to the YOM program) and my 1969 CHP Polara, this was the difficult one as it was a blue plate being assigned to a 1969 car.

I hope this has been of help and I am open to corrections as I’m no expert in this.


AB-1658 – Legacy License Plate Program (LLPP)

The offical CA DMV page.

  • REFLECTORIZED
  • Three styles
    • 50's Gold w/Black letters
    • 60's Black w/Gold letters
    • 70's Blue w/Gold letters
  • ANY year, ANY vehicle (in CA)
  • 7500 pre order needed
  • $50 fee

I had high hopes that this program would be administered in the right way and it doesn’t agree with what I felt it should. I will not be reregistering for plates and hope it fails. I do not agree with the any year or the reflectorized.