How to Install an Automatic License Plate Retractor

What’s the ugliest part of your car’s body? Ask our friends at Carolina Custom in Clinton, North Carolina, and they will say it is your car’s license plate—and they have a cure for it. It’s called a Carolina Custom license plate retractor. Depending on how it’s wired it can be used to conceal the license plate when parked, or go James Bond style with the flip of a switch and hide the plate while the car is in motion.

In the case of our hot rodder buddy Kent Adams and his flathead V-8–powered Model A, he wanted his modern California license plate to disappear automatically when he shut the engine off. Start the engine up and the license plate returns to full view.

The installation of Carolina Custom’s billet aluminum–bodied license plate retractor can be as simple as Adams’ original installation that only involved cutting and drilling a piece of flat stock steel and then wiring up the Carolina Custom license plate retractor.

There are before and after photos. After Adams’ initial installation, he decided he wanted the license plate retractor completely out of sight and cut and welded the original flat strap, added a couple of gussets, and tucked the Carolina Custom license plate retractor clean out of sight.

It is an easy install anyone with basic tools and half an idea about how to fabricate and wire can do. It took Adams about two hours of time in his driveway (not counting searching for tools) to install the license plate retractor.

Kent Adams’ Model A Ford started life as a coupe, and then met with decapitation. The current-style California license plate is mounted using original Ford location holes.
The first step was to peek underneath and figure out a way to mount the Carolina Custom license plate retractor.
For a quick and easy solution, Adams measured from left framerail to right framerail and determined a length of heavy-gauge flat strap laid side-to-side would work.
Painless Performance Products was the source for color matching the wiring and covering the loom with Power Braid; Carolina Custom license plate retractor pictured in open position.
Before installing a 12V battery was used to open and close the license plate retractor to understand how it worked.
A square and a Sharpie and the flat stock steel was marked at the measured width between the framerails.
A cutoff, also called a chop saw, would have been ideal, but Adams made a clean straight cut holding a body grinder vertical.
Adams held the flat stock into place with C-clamps.
Drilling the boltholes, bolting the ends by eye, and getting the bolts slightly off would not have affected the overall look.
Care was taken to find dead center. Drilling the mounting boltholes off-center for the license plate retractor would have guaranteed a cockeyed appearance.
A firm smack with a ball-peen hammer onto a sharp center punch provided a deep pilot hole and prevented the drill from walking off center.
Wiring the Carolina Custom license plate retractor requires three wires to be connected. Yellow wire from the retractor is switched to hot (ignition key on). Adams tapped an existing red lead (wire) intended for a radio.
Next the brown lead from the license plate retractor is required to be connected to a fused constant hot. Note the previous (dumb) owner used black battery cable for hot and red battery cable for ground.
Butt connector black wire from inline fuse to brown wire being crimped. Note inline blade fuse used for constant hot strung back to Carolina Custom license plate retractor.
The constant hot (brown wire on retractor) strung back to retractor. The switched ignition on red wire strung back to yellow wire on retractor.
The green wire on the retractor goes to negative ground. It will be the shortest wire.
Here’s the Carolina Custom license plate retractor mounted on a flat bracket. Recessing the bracket upward moved the license plate retractor clear out of sight.

Sources

Carolina Custom Hot Rod Parts Clinton, NC 910.564.6123carolinacustom.com
Painless Performance Products (800) 423-9696www.painlessperformance.com