The Art of the Model Car Decal

The Art of the Model Car Decal

My mom loves vintage board games. In recent years, we’ve made an effort to track them down and give them to her for Christmas. “King Oil,” “Bermuda Triangle,” “Sunken Treasure,” the list goes on. Last month, I caught wind of an especially obscure CB-radio based game called “10-4 Good Buddy” for sale in the Metro Detroit Area. It was NOS and the price was right, so I reached out to the seller.

Soon thereafter, my brother and I were on our way to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We pulled into the driveway of a nicely kept older home, and I hopped out of the truck. The seller greeted me on the porch and directed me to the house next door. That, she said, was where the games were stored.

I soon discovered that the sellers used this space to house their impressive antique collection. Everything from old cameras to vintage toys filled wire shelves and just about every other surface. I immediately noticed a wooden box stuffed with records sporting a smattering of decals, including the classic STP oval. “My husband made that when he was in high school in the ’60s,” she said.

After picking up my absolutely mint “10-4 Good Buddy,” she encouraged me to look around for anything else I might like. Like a moth to a flame, I somehow managed to find a shelf of model cars. All of them were unbuilt kits from the 1960s in their original boxes. I examined each one. Then, over by a NOS model airplane engine, I spotted a miniature cardboard box that caught my eye.

“DECALS FOR ALL KINDS OF MODELS,” it said in shaky Sharpie lettering. “HOT RODS, ARMY, NAVEY (sic), STREET RODS, MARINES, AIR FORCE, GASSERS, ETC.” Intrigued, I pulled it off the shelf.

You know those moments where you act on instinct? This was one of them. All it took was one quick glimpse at the first couple sheets for me to know that I needed to take this little box home.

I couldn’t hide it—I told the seller how excited I was to find the decals. If I remember correctly, she said they also belonged to her husband, and he has had them for nearly 60 years. I told her I wanted to share them here on The Jalopy Journal, and hopefully they would bring back some fun memories.

Before I left, she and I chatted about our backgrounds in journalism and our mutual admiration for San Francisco. I told her and her husband to give me a shout next time they’re in town so I can show them my car. Hopefully they will!

In all the hustle and bustle of the Holidays, I wasn’t able to think too much about the old box of decals. We did, however, play “10-4 Good Buddy” on Christmas, and it’s now one of our favorite family activities (as long as we can avoid the Smokies!)

Earlier this week, I was able to break out the decals and really get a good look at them. With some good music playing and much of the city asleep, I studied each one and scanned it in high-resolution.

I’m not sure what it is about vintage decals that I love most. The ones in this box are the often imitated, never duplicated sheets from the 1960s. The earliest examples come from a time when outlandish flames and scallops were all the rage, and then they transition into show car territory with names like Barris and the Alexander Brothers. My favorites, however, are the drag racing decals. The mix of actual brands like Joe Hunt, Valvoline, Moon, M&H with fictitious speed shops and manufacturers make things undeniably fun.

These decals were the finishing touches on a kid’s pride and joy. They dreamed of putting big versions of these on a real car one day. I know I did.

—Joey Ukrop

 

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