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Classic Car Decals History As Seen Through Decals

Things really were cooler in the 60s

Think back to the earliest memories of your association with high-performance cars. Maybe it was your dad or older brother who introduced you and ruined you for the rest of your life. If you were like many red-blooded American kids who grew up immersed in the era of gassers, muscle cars, carburetors, and gasoline, then you started your automotive infatuation with a decal collection. One of my earliest car crafting memories is of Lindys Speed Shop in my hometown of Boone, Iowa. During the late 60s, I would run errands around town on my Schwinn bicycle for owner Paul Lindahl in exchange for any decal I could dig out of a big box he kept behind the counter.

After I completed my first mission, he pointed to the box. When Id made my choice he said, Thats exactly the one I thought youd pick. The one I chose was a Genuine Chevrolet Parts water transfer decal that was also the largest one in the box. I immediately went home and placed it on a bulletin board in my room. That decal and a whole bunch more eventually ended up plastered all over my bedroom window. At this same time, I managed to con our local distributor out of a handful of STP decals. When I discovered how much my friends coveted my stash, I took them to school and sold them to all my buddies for 50 cents apiece.

Now, some 40-odd years later, these simple adhesive icons are again in demand as signposts back to a different time. Beyond vintage drag race cars, there is also a growing movement toward 60s vintage cruisers and street cars that hang on the early-to-mid-60s vibe where these period-correct decals work to enhance the presentation. Or, perhaps you just think these decals are cool and would like to stick a couple of them on your toolbox or shop refrigerator. Its all part of our culture.

The early days of decals were populated with what are commonly called water slide or water transfer decals. These were decals printed on a thin vinyl sheet that required the installer to dip the decal in water for 30 seconds and then slide it onto its final destination. You had to be careful because if the decal was in the water for too long, it lost its adhesion characteristics. But the beauty of these decals is they could be placed on the inside of your cars side or rear glass where they had a better chance of survival. Later, dry transfer decals came along that were cheaper to print and easier to install but could only be placed on the outside of windows or on fenders. Exposed to the elements, these early dry transfer decals generally faded after a few years. As weve found, the earlier, old-school water transfer decals can sometimes withstand decades of abuse, and their cracked and weathered features add that touch of character that is nearly impossible to duplicate.

Icons are what make the world go round. The 21st century marketing machine has spent the last 50 years perfecting the trade, but back in the day, it was far less sophisticated. Even before virtually all of todays aftermarket companies were created, Clay Smith had already built a reputation within the industry as a race car engine builder, tuner, and cam designer. At this same time, a friend penned a quick sketch of the outspoken entrepreneur as a red-haired, cigar-smoking woodpecker that soon became the now-famous Mr. Horsepower image. Clay was killed in an unfortunate pit accident in the 50s, and the company is now owned by George Striegel. According to his wife, Patty, the company has documents that acknowledge an agreement between Clay Smith Cams and Walter Lantz, the originator of the Woody Woodpecker cartoon character, that they both could use their cartoons in their own separate environments. Patty says that while their company has no proof to back up this position, she feels the Mr. Horsepower character predates the arrival of Woody Woodpecker. Regardless of which came first, the Mr. Horsepower image is an enduring icon of the performance industry that started life as a penciled piece of shop wall art.

There was certainly no bigger or more well-known cam company in the performance industry in the 60s than Iskenderian Racing Cams. There are few who would argue that owner Ed Iskenderian was an outstanding cam grinder and designer. But Isky was even more a successful promoter and marketing genius. This is evidenced by a string of creative marketing schemes that perhaps reached its crescendo with the Isky Super LeGuerra 505 campaign. Amid Iskys other prolific marketing efforts was the decal trumpeting 406.6 MPH Officially World Fastest. This was in reference to Mickey Thompsons one-way, 400-plus-mph shot at Bonneville in September 1960 driving his Challenger I streamliner powered by four supercharged and Isky-cammed Pontiac engines. This effort wrestled the unofficial top speed title away from Britains John Cobb, who had earlier clocked 402 mph in a one-way run. Mickey broke a driveshaft on the required return pass, which prevented him from backing up the run to make it an official record. But the effort still stands as the first American car and driver to eclipse the magical 400-mph speed. The Summers Bros., propelled by their famous Goldenrod streamliner, would be the first to achieve the official two-way record at 409.277 mph five years later at Bonneville.

Another interesting selection from Michael Goydas personal collection is this Isky Championship Drags decal commemorating the first NHRA Nationals event held at the Great Bend, Kansas, airport. The finals were rained out by the biggest rainstorm in 30 years, which eventually relocated the race three months later to Phoenix, where Calvin Rice defeated Fred Voight for the first NHRA Top Eliminator title.

Of course, when acknowledging iconic 60s hot rod images, it is imperative that we include Moon Speed Equipment. Many of todays car crafters may not realize that while the company continues as Mooneyes U.S.A., Dean Moon was the man behind the company that had its start in the late 40s. He quickly made a name for himself creating the classic Moon tank and the top speed-inspired Moon Disc full-wheel covers. Its said that Dean got the idea for his Mooneyes decal from the double-zero number used on Creighton Hunters early drag car. Dean then commissioned a Disney artist in 1957 to finalize the now-famous logo. But Deans creative mission didnt stop with a few decals. According to Moon biographer David Fetherston, at one time there were dozens of merchandising efforts, including Mooneyes swimsuits and even a Mooneyes hang glider.

We had fun digging up some old Car Craft and Hot Rod magazine stickers and found several we had never seen before. Mike Goyda sent us a vinyl sticker that places a whole different definition on the phrase flower power with this multipetal decal circa 1968. Former CC editor Rick Voegelin recalls that this style decal was popular during Eugene McCarthys Peace With Eugene 68 presidential campaign, and clearly Car Craft was caught up in the moment. Going back even further, we also found a rare 64 Hot Rod Stroker McGurk decal with him behind the wheel of his ubiquitous bucket T. In that same year, Hot Rod magazine created the inaugural Hot Rod Drags staged on the back straight of the now-long-gone Riverside road race course. The commemorative decal finds Stroker riding a blown Hemi and brandishing a jousting pole. If you look carefully, you can see a parachute strapped to his back and wheelie bars extending from behind the engine. Mike also has several intact trophies from that first Hot Rod race in his personal collection, plus posters and a ton of other stuff that is for sale. If you are into drag racing nostalgia, his website is a great place to spend a couple of hours.

We could fill this entire magazine with cool, original, and reproduction decals from the 60s. In fact, one of the hardest parts of this story was editing the selection to the ones you see here. In the midst of our research, we met Mike Gillespie, aka Muttley, on the Hokey Ass Message Board (H.A.M.B.) forum thats part of m. Mike sells original, not reproduction, nostalgia decals that are available in surprising numbers (at least until this story comes out). He sent us several great decals, including the Autolite and the early Crane Cams decal. The Crane sticker is 50s vintage, perhaps created not long after Harvey Crane founded the company in 1953. Mike also sent us a cool vent-wing Olds Genuine Parts decal that we slid into place on our 64 Olds. He also has Pontiac versions in a couple of different sizes.

Mike Goyda sent us that cool Duffys Performance Specialties decal similar to the one found on Paul Blevins M/P Corvette and many other strong East Coast NHRA door-slammers from the late 60s. And when you speak of East Coast power mongers, catching a glimpse of a Jenkins Competition decal on the fender of a car in the other lane was enough to put trepidation in the heart of any drag racer. Our decal came courtesy of Mike Goyda.

Our friend Greg Smith is also a decal collector, and he shared his Sox and Martin vinyl sticker with us as well as a Plymouth Rapid Transit System member decal that was intended to represent your true Mopar status. Lincoln-Mercury was also part of the 69 Streep Scene with its sticker waving the flag for its hero racers. Mercury built a red Cale Yarborough-edition Cyclone Spoiler and a Dan Gurney version in blue but, unfortunately, no Dyno Don Nicholson Merc. Dyno Don did have a fan club that offered a decal that weve seen on the Internet.

Giving a 2003 Cobra the onceover before a possible purchase

Blackdog Speed Shop 1969 Pro Touring Camaro

Scott Roberts True-To-Form 1954 Mercury Custom


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