Where should you look for classic muscle car decals?

Sometimes, finding the right decals for your classic muscle car can be one of the trickiest parts of the restoration process. See more pictures of classic muscle cars.

For most of us, refurbishing a classic car is a labor of love. There's the body to rehabilitate, with its rusted panels and dented fenders, and then a million engine problems to discover and fix. Tracking down and installing replacement parts, learning new skills to repurpose the parts you can salvage, and making decisions about what's good enough for the road or for show are all parts of the pastime.

With muscle cars, of course, the emphasis isn't just on power; it's also on design. From the time we're children, learning about classic automobiles and their detailing, we learn to recognize the specific badging -- racing stripes, brand identification, even telltale hood ornaments or paint jobs -- that tell the story of our particular passion's history. That means finding, replacing or recreating a lot of those specific details in order to get the look we want.

If you're looking to recreate those childhood dreams of the perfect automobile, perhaps it's worth it to find lookalike details, decals and stickers -- or even make your own. But if you're interested in recreating the original look of the car at all costs, that means tracking down and working with dealers, manufacturers and other collectors to find the vintage detailing that will make the package complete.

Online auction sites can be misleading, or price-gouging, because unethical sellers for any collector market know how much these tiny details can come to mean in the pursuit of your dream. While it's highly possible you'll find original, unused decals in a simple online search, there are plenty of sellers catering to a "whatever works" market that doesn't really care when those decals rolled off the printing press -- a group that could include you, if you're honest about what really matters for your personal stake in the pastime.

With a little ingenuity, those last details can be applied at home, whether through repurposing newer decals, varnishing over homemade contact-paper stickers, or a thousand other do-it-yourself options. However, if you're the type that wants total authenticity -- which is to say, if your plan from the outset was to recreate the car as though time has been standing still -- the way can be trickier. On the next page, we'll look at some of the pitfalls you may run into when seeking original decals.

Suggestions, Warnings and Tips

Connecting with other collectors, so you can get tips from them, is one of the first steps in the hobby. There's also the possibility of repurposing decals from scrapped parts, if you're handy with a razor and know your fixative agents. Some used-car dealers keep a hand in the detailing game, so it's possible that -- if your reassembled classic is missing just a few pieces -- they'll be able to get you the decal in relatively good condition even if larger parts are out of their hands (or your budget). After all, stickers and decals are just sticky paper that's been glossed over -- not exactly made to live as long as the steel and chrome of the car's larger pieces.

Muscle cars, in particular, are a great source of excitement for classics enthusiasts precisely because they were made for a younger market that prized looks and power over long-term investment. They're rare because they were produced cheaply for a punishing market, and their scarcity is what makes them so valuable. And what goes for a steel body or an engine block, of course, goes double for paint jobs and external details. Don't let the rarity of these items fool you into thinking they're more than they're worth, even though it may seem essential to follow up just as strongly on the final cosmetic details.

In any case, it's important to keep a handle on your collector's impulses and remember what your end goal really is. If you've already made compromises on the recondition -- for reasons of budget, speed or just practicality -- it doesn't make sense to go insane trying to track down year- or model-specific branding when a lookalike will work just as well. What's important is remembering that a hobby is just that: something you do in your spare time to make yourself happy.

If you're going to be happiest with vintage decals and stripes, create a budget and compare prices to make sure you're not getting fooled. If you're more excited about getting that monster on the road, by all means, don't interrupt your own pleasure by waiting around to find the perfect shade or nick-free racing stripe. Remembering to stay out of the money pit is, in this instance, just as important as remembering why you came to the hobby in the first place.

For more information on classic cars, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles


  • CarsDirect. "Muscle Car Decals: Tips for Putting Them On and Taking Them Off." 2011. (June 18, 2011) http://www.carsdirect.com/car-buying/muscle-car-decals-tips-for-putting-them-on-and-taking-them-off
  • Muscle Car Facts. (June 18, 2011) http://musclecarfacts.net/
  • Power Block TV: Muscle Cars. (June 18,2011) http://www.powerblocktv.com/site3/index.php/musclecar
  • Top Speed Blog: Muscle Cars. (June 18, 2011) http://www.topspeed.com/cars/muscle-cars/ke507.html