Originally created 04/02/97

South Carolina unveils new license plate

COLUMBIA - "Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places." describes South Carolina best, so more than 2 million cars will display it next year on the state's newest license plate, officials said Tuesday.

The slogan, already used by the state tourism department, will be featured across the top of a blue-and-white license plate with a green-and-brown palmetto tree and mountains in the background.

The new plates will be available in January to replace the yellow Carolina wren plate, interim Public Safety Director William Gunn said. The new plates will be mailed to everyone with a Carolina Wren plate, a department spokeswoman said.

The state has run out of numbers and letters in the Carolina wren series, the Division of Motor Vehicles said. New plates are needed about every five years, the department said.

About 2.5 million regular license plates are issued each year at $24 each, not counting more expensive vanity plates.

A new combination of numbers and letters will be used to differentiate the new tags from the Carolina wren series, which has three letters followed by three numbers. The new sequence has not been decided.

The "Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places." theme has been part of the state's television and radio ads to attract tourists since about 1984, a parks and tourism department spokesman said.

"When you ask the average South Carolinian, when you start singing that song, that's what comes to their mind," Mr. Gunn said. "They say, `Oh, yeah. That's about us.' I think this reflects South Carolina values, and it's true."

Artists expect to complete the final design within a couple of weeks, Mr. Gunn said. It then will be sent to Gov. David Beasley for approval.

Mr. Beasley backed off his first choice, "Putting Families First," after critics said the 1994 campaign slogan was designed to boost next year's re-election bid.

He then appointed Mr. Gunn; Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken; Rep. Brenda Lee, D-Spartanburg; state Tourism Director Grace Young; and state Hospitality Association Director Tom Sponseller to come up with a new design.

The look of the plate was important, Mr. Sponseller said. "It has to be a very attractive plate, otherwise we're going to force our citizens to (buy) vanity plates," he said.

South Carolina has more than 250 specialized license plates. Designs range from endangered species to college logos and cost from $54 to $94 apiece.

The committee received at least 100 suggestions from the public for the new plates - some less-than-serious, Mr. Gunn said. One was for a tag that says "The Shag State" with a couple of little dancers, and another suggested leaving the plate blank with just the required letters and numbers.

"We had one that I remember called `First in Fight,"' Mr. Gunn said. "North Carolina had ... "First in Flight' for the Wright brothers. Ours had `First in Fight' because of Fort Sumter. They had to explain that one to me."

Charlestonians fired on Fort Sumter to start the Civil War.


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