Hot Rod Swag
The Art of the Dash Plaque
Advertising is one of the most important aspects of ensuring a successful car show. In the early days, word of mouth would suffice, but nothing could get a large selection of people to show up to a city park on a random weekend, quite as good as a show poster. The idea was simple: Have an artist friend draw up a cartoon and then slap your shows name, location and times on it and then hit every car related establishment with in a given area and leave some or post one up.
The simple idea worked. Car show flyers became a tremendously effective way to inform attendees, and the general public, about a event. The flyers became so synonymous with the shows, that when the idea of handing out entry packets came around, the event flyer was turned into a semi permanent object known as the dash plaque.
I have to admit, I've never once put a dash plaque on a dash, but I have kept many of them from the various shows I've attended over the years. So have my family members and I'd like to share this tiny art form with you!
The car show dash plaque idea was well established by the time Street Rods started up in the 1970s. While the ones from this era were very basic in design, they are interesting for that reason.
From top row left: 1) Stone Mountain, GA 1973 2) Maggie Valley, NC 1977 3) Pigeon Forge, TN 1977. Middle row: 1) Winston-Salem, NC 1978 2) Cleveland, TN 1979. Bottom: Lookout Mountain, Tennessee 1979.
As the cost for printing small runs of things got cheaper, the designs on dash plaques got more detailed. The progression here shows a simple one color in '73 to three colors on a yellow background by '79.
The Great Southeastern Rod Run
The Great Southeastern Rod Run was held in Stone Mountain, Georgia and was put on by The North Atlanta Street Rod Club. Their distinctive "silver dollar" sized coin inspired dash plaques were unique in this area.
By the 1980s dash plagues weren't the only thing you would have found in your entrant goody bag. You were likely to find flyers for vendors that were at the show, some with show special pricing, stickers, flyers for other events, early registration forms for next years show, dash plaque, mugs and event buttons. The buttons were used much like wrist bands are used for events now. The difference being, the buttons cost more money to make, could be given to someone else and could even be passed through a fence to avoid the gate fee for a cheapskate buddy.
Top row: 1) Gatlinburg, TN 1980 2) McMinnville, TN 1980. Bottom Row: 1) McMinnville, TN 1981 2) Birmingham, AL 1985
The above examples show that plaques had started to become even more important to shows. This is evident in the increasingly elaborate artwork they have.
The NSRA Southern Nationals, Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Street Rodding movement had hit my area of the world in full effect by the 1980s! This was helped by the establishment of one very important show. By 1984 the NSRA (National Street Rod Association) had stopped moving their Southern Nationals around to different cities every year and had made Knoxville, Tennessee the permanent home for the event.
NSRA Street Rod Nationals
Above: 1) 1981 Button 2) 1981 Dash Plaque 3) 1983 Button 4) 1983 Dash Plaque 5) 1989 square button
As late as 1989 the NSRA was still moving the Nationals Event around the country.
The 1990s witnessed the golden age of Street Rodding. More money was flowing through the scene than at anytime in its history. This can be easily seen in dash plaques of the era.
The Frog Follies, Evansville, Indiana
Above: Top row, left to right: 1) 1995 2) 1996 3) 1997. Bottom row, left to right: 1) 1998 2) 1999 3) 2000
In addition to being one of the oddest themed Rod Runs in the country, the Frog Follies in Evansville IN has been responsible for some of the most artistic dash plaques. Also of interest is the fact that the plaques all have two louvers punched in them.
NSRA Southern Nationals, Knoxville, Tennessee
Above: Top row from left to right: 1) 1990 2) 1991 3) 1992. Bottom row from left to right: 1) 1993 2) 1994 3) 1996
The NSRA regional dash plaques include some of the best abstract art. I call it abstract because the art isn't in a setting.
Shades of the Past, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Above: Top row from left to right: 1) 1989 2) 1990 3) 1992 Bottom row from left to right: 1) 1993 2) 1994
The Shades of the Past Rod Run in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee was really one of the best Street Rod shows in the country back in the 1990s. While the club that put it on, called Shades of the Past Car Club, was affiliated with the NSRA, it wasn't a NSRA event. Sometimes that would mean a poor show, but this one had everything! Including some of the best dash plaques of the era.
The 1990 NSRA Southern Nationals dash plaque. My favorite from the era. I believe it's because of the subject matter, but also due to the stylized letters used in the word South. It's very '80s meets the '90s!
Dash plaques are still given out at shows, but most lack the flare of these early ones. They have evolved into camera pictures and include websites, facebook groups and email addresses. They've become more business card than art. That's sad, because they were once something really rather beautiful!
Keep on Cruisin'!
Art by: Chris Breeden
Thanks for reading!