The First of August is here at last! I celebrated by taking my 1975 Fiat 124 Spider out for a long cruise on country roads this morning.
What’s so special about August in Michigan? And why celebrate by driving to nowhere-in-particular in a classic car? The short answer: because I can. Legally.
But I owe you more of an explanation than that. So, here goes:
Most people with classic cars don’t drive them very much. Even if our cars aren’t show-stoppers or in perfect condition, we want to save them and enjoy them. For those of us in this situation, the state offers a couple of money-saving alternatives to standard vehicle registration: an Historical Vehicle plate, or an Authentic plate.
The Historical option is a plain, current-production, white plate that costs $30 and is good for ten years. No annual renewals, so the cost of registration essentially works out to about three bucks per year. (If you still own the car ten years later, you have to buy a new plate.)
The Authentic plate option is much more cool, and a better investment for those of us who plan on owning a particular car for the rest of our lives. If you can find an actual Michigan license plate that was issued in your vehicle’s model year, you can put it on your classic car and use it. In addition to buying the plate, there is a one-time registration fee of $35 — and it’s good for as long as you own the car.
Whichever option you choose, however, the same restrictions apply. You can’t use the vehicle for general transportation. You can’t use it to commute to school or work, or even to run to the store. You’re only allowed to drive the vehicle to car shows, exhibitions, club events, parades, and so forth.
Except [drum roll, please] … in the month of August! A special provision of the law allows a vehicle with an Historical or Authentic plate to be driven as much as the owner likes, in August.
I kept a standard registration plate on my Fiat for a long time, because I wanted to be able to drive it any time I wanted. I was also kind of proud of the fact that it was a “driver,” and not relegated to a limited-use category. However, as the years went by, and I got the car increasingly cleaned up and refreshed, I found myself driving it less and less. It wasn’t just a question of not wanting to risk “breaking” it. With the arrival of Kid #4 and then Kid #5, I was taking at least one small child (often two) with me on most errands. And even if I were inclined to hook up a car seat in the Spider, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer would strongly disapprove. The car has no roll bar, and no safety features other than lap belts (and it doesn’t even have lap belts in the back seat).
So, last Fall, when I was preparing to put the Spider away for the winter, I decided it was time to get an Authentic plate. I did some research, and learned that my vehicle would’ve used a dark blue plate that was produced between 1973 and 1975. The plate had a “73” embossed on it. Vehicles from model years 1974 and 1975 would need a year-specific sticker added to it.
But how to find one? There are websites that specialize in Michigan plates, and have a nice selection across many years; one in particular that stands out is Mad Max’s Authentic Plates. Of course, eBay also offers a wide range of older license plates. I ended up scoring a really beautiful set of 1975-stickered plates on eBay for about $26, delivered.
When the plate arrived, and I put it on the Spider, I immediately knew I’d made the right decision. Especially with a chrome frame, it completed the vehicle’s “look” perfectly.
And as for the restricted driving? It hasn’t bothered me. In fact, because I’m driving the Fiat less often, I’ve come to appreciate it more when I do have an opportunity to get behind the wheel. It’s also made me more attentive to the schedule of local car shows, cruise nights, and club events. For example, in May, I spent a Saturday cruising rural roads around Ann Arbor (and getting lunch) with a few dozen other Italian car enthusiasts; it was an absolute blast. As Spring progressed, and turned to summer, I discovered all kinds of other shows and events within a reasonable drive of home. As a bonus, Kid #4 is now old enough to go with me to these events, and we’ve both appreciated having that time together.
The bottom line is that I’ve still been getting plenty of time to drive the Spider, and I’ve been enjoying those drives more.
And I’m especially looking forward to these thirty-one days of August!