Cars may deteriorate, but there is plenty of life left in a number plate, even years after the vehicle has turned to rust. They have become a booming investment and the number plate industry has now become even more accessible to a wider audience of motorists.
People are willing to pay for something that reflects their favourite football team, memorable dates or simply their name, which they can keep for years and pass on to a loved one if they eventually wish to do so. But how exactly did they originate in Britain?
The original plates, known as the Dateless number plates were first issued in 1903 as part of the Motor Car Act and ran until 1932. The first ever plate being A1, was secured by Earl Russell who camped outside London County Council’s vehicle registration office to ensure he got it for his Napier car. The letter, or pair of letters, indicated the local authority in which the car was registered, for instance, ‘A’ was for London as it had the highest population at the time.
Dateless plates ran from the series ‘A 1’ to YY 9999’. The position of the letters at the beginning makes these particularly desirable.
By 1932 an extended scheme had to be introduced as numbers in the initial sequence were fast running out. This consisted of three letters and three numbers running from ‘AA 1’ to YYY 999’. The letters I, Q and Z were never used as they were too similar to other numbers or letters and could have caused confusion. Instead they were saved for special use, such as for Irish registrations and temporary imports.
The popularity of the automobile was ever increasing and numbers from the new scheme were soon running out in some areas. By the start of the 1960s the four-number sequence was set up in popular areas, with one letter and two letter area codes, i.e. ‘1 A’ to ‘9999 YY’.
The DVLA brought in the Suffix range of registration plates in 1963 where the last character, a letter, represented a year. Although it was not the most expensive range, a plate such as ‘PET 3R’ is still highly coveted as it is recognisable the popular name Peter.
In 1974 the DVLA began licensing and registering all new cars and in 1983 the Prefix range of private number plates began where the initial letter represented the year, a good example being ‘S1 MON’.
In 1999 new number plates were issued twice a year in March and September and in 2001 a re-vamped number plate came into force, the New Style which will continue to 2099. In this series, the style has two letters at the beginning and three at the end. The numbers in the middle represent the release date. There are two number digits, the first of which indicates the part of the year – 0 for March and 5 for September. The second represents the actual year. This sequence allows for plates such as ‘RU55ELL’.
It is now believed that the registration A1 is worth in excess of £1m. Other notable plates which have been sold include F1 which fetched £375,000 and 51 NGH sold in 2006 – surprisingly enough! - to a Mr Singh.