What a Ride: The Wonderful World of Sign Painter Vehicles

40+ hand-painted, lettered, gilded, and illustrated sign painter vehicles from around the world.

What a Ride: The Wonderful World of Sign Painter Vehicles
Detail of the gilded and hand-painted rails on Hire Hand Signs' 1969 Ford F100.

It isn't known which sign painter first took to four wheels, although it could well have been Winslow Quince on his horse-drawn wagon. What is clear is that trucks, vans, cars and trailers have served the trade for many years.

In this follow-up to the piece on sign painter bicycles, you'll find some of the rides that craftspeople around the world are driving today.

Most of these are lettered within the constraints of the available panels and windows, but others (like this one and this one in Los Angeles) have been customised to really ram home the message.

Vintage Vehicles

First, let's take a look back. While archival photos of sign painter vehicles appear to be rarer than those of shops and work in progress, some do exist.

There's even a book, Van Writing Up-to-Date by W.H. Coates, that features lettered vehicles for Oldham Sign Service in Leeds, UK. (Thank you to Rob Metcalfe for sharing this.)

Page from a book showing hand-painted vehicles.
Oldham Sign Service vehicles from the 1949 edition of Van Writing Up-to-Date, first published in 1937.

And, jumping forward a bit further...

Watch When Better Letters Met Stan Wilkinson for more about Stan and his life and times on the brush.
Hand-lettered and illustrated van parked on a street.
Studio Signs & Pictorial Displays in Portland, Oregon, 1964.

Studio Sign Co.

Portland, Oregon

Studio Sign Co. / @studiosignco

Noel B. Weber

Boise, Idaho

"I bought this truck from a friend, Mike Moore, in 1979, and it was some of the best money I ever spent on a vehicle. I sold it in 2016 to help pay for the first 300 books copies of A Sign Painters' Sketchbook which we sold at the London Letterheads meet."

Classic Design Studios / @noelbweber

And then Australia in the 1980s...

Larry Stammers

Melbourne, Australia

"This is my Holden Gemini panel van that I painted over 40 years ago, and the original felt-tip artwork. I was hooked on the Letraset book, and the lettering here was based on Serif Gothic Heavy and Avant Garde Gothic."

Signvision Melbourne / @signvision_melbourne

Shane Mc Mullen

Hampton, Victoria, Australia

"It was the early 1980s and I’d just finished my signwriting apprenticeship. I was 21 years old and decided to travel around Australia with this F100 and the 22 ft (6.7 m) Viscount caravan.
"We (me and my then girlfriend, now wife of 35 years, Sally) spent four years on the road working, travelling thousands and thousands of miles, signwriting in lots of small country towns in the Australian Outback.
"From Broome to the famous Birdsville Pub, all parts of Gulf country including Cattle Stations, and lots of towns in Queensland, The Northern Territory and Western Australia, we were never without work as most towns rarely had a signwriter pass though.
"The long wheel base F100 was a terrific reliable workhorse as we could carry all our trestles, work plank, paints and sign equipment, including a Honda XR 500 Trailbike."

Shane Mc Mullen / @shanemcmullen0

Cameron Gordon

Perth, Australia

"This is my old ute [utility vehicle] that I had in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, along with my dog Rory. I wish I'd kept it; it certainly got noticed around Freo [Freemantle]."

Cameron Gordon / @cg_signage

Keeping it Classic

Just like painted signs, old cars age gracefully. These have been further enhanced with fresh paint and gold leaf.

1951 Ford Panel Truck with 'Gold Hand Signs' painted and gilded on the side.
72 years old and enjoying a new lease of life.

Colt Bowden

McMinnville, Oregon, USA

"This 1951 Ford Panel Truck was originally owned by the US Navy. I picked it up two years ago, stripped it down completely and took it apart, and had a friend help do some metal work. I repainted the whole thing, reassembled it, then finally added my signage."

Gold Hand Signs / @goldhandsigns

Truck painted green with a dog looking out of the driver's window.
Fern the Ford and "trusty sidekick" Cowboy.

Jess Marsh Wissemann

Sunderland, Massachusetts, USA