Andrew Miles talks alphanumerics.
Would the elder brother of Bertrand Russell really have camped out all night by the London council offices? Or, as one would back in the autumn of 1903, simply sent ones butler? History on this occasion just may be bunk.
For although A1 is the perceived and openly referenced original British number plate, with one Earl Russell being the purchaser, DY1 is in fact the first officially registered number plate in England. DY1 is recorded as being issued on 23rd November 1903 in Hastings, A1 in London the week before Christmas 1903. 24/11/1903, BH1, Buckinghamshire. 25/11/03 Y1, Somerset.
Records show that Russell was indeed an early motoring enthusiast, just not the owner of A1. But it makes for a good story.
The Motor Car Act 1903 officially began to record all UK motor vehicles in a register from New Year’s Day 1904 and subsequently started the craze that became the number plate. For everyone wants the best plate, don’t they? It denotes individuality, creativity, power.
A little history. The Netherlands was the first country to issue a national registration plate or “driving permits” in 1898 with the French and Germans swiftly following. The French had been the first to start with plates but these had been confined to the capital with the Paris Police Ordnance of 1893, where virtually all cars were sold at that time.
Car purchases were burgeoning and no-one had a clue as to ownership. When considered to be speeding or perhaps the cause of an accident, “the well dressed and politely spoken fellow in the nice hat at the wheel” counted for nothing. Who was it? What car? Where are they from? The authorities needed registration.
Most countries started quite simply with the number 1 and kept adding one until some clerks additions got crossed and we have the first duplicated number. History hasn’t recorded that exactly either but it simply must have happened. Consider that in Milan, Italy the plate had a number and the name of the driver to the front of the vehicle and placed on the left.
1901 saw them add a rear plate with the full name of the driver’s original region and was actually made by the driver, or at least his minion. If deemed legible and with no strict rulings, anything could be had. Imagine the chaos.
New York State asked for the drivers initials on the rear and nothing more in 1901. Just how many Cole Trickers or Charlie Templeton’s could there be? Rather a lot, actually. And in the early days, the “plate” was often just embossed into the bodywork. Other bizarre plate fabrication experiments include the use of leather, cardboard and pressed soybeans, meaning they easily fell off or broke and therefore rendering the vehicle identity-less. Where’s the local Motor Factor when you need one?
Talking factors, some modern day shenanigans in China. The world’s largest market has a problem of supply and demand. Millions of Chinese want a car but only a relative handful of plates are available and depending on the city, are obtained through a lottery or auction or a combination. A black market of “renting” a plate exists and even sham marriages occur for man and wife may swop plates.
And one has to have a plate (for life) in order to buy a car. When something like ten thousand plates are up for offer, hundreds of thousands apply. Being no mathematician, the odds of the common man or woman snapping up that plate is remote as the prices spiral out of control. Ironic that the most populous land mass on earth has such a problem where the UK’s current system of plates has permutations into the tens of millions. Mind you, on my commute to work most of those millions are in my way…
One expects a Rolls Royce of any vintage to “wear” a private plate. In fact one balks if the Wraith has a current year tucked under its front valence. Supercars too “need” that special alpha-numeric blend to look the part. Even men with steel hearts warm a little to a McLaren if the plate reads something like 27 MF. But turn the opposite cheek and a VW Polo or middle generation Clio really shouldn’t have something similar. Nor should a car have a plate informing the world they have an SLK, BMW or JAG. The manufacturer sees to that, even if removed from the rear.
A regular plate though can lend charisma and a persona. Many years ago I once worked as a drivers mate for a company who had a lorry named “Goo.” Hardly imaginative but that was the plates last three letters and to the driver, me and the haulage firm, lent itself a character. Goo was a bit of a diva in a nice way. Plus it was my first and sadly only trip to Dublin which lends itself a romantic image. GOO took me on many trips to Scotland, etching rose-tinted memories. Daft? Maybe, but true. A name, to me, sounds a whole lot better than taking H367 FJY to Droitwich.
You probably know someone who makes a name out of the cars registration with its unique code, never mind filling the coffers of DVLA (or your own countries authorities) to say nothing of the private reg plate dealers. Akin to the most expensive cars, the plates follow.
25 O was sold for half a million pounds in 2014 to the fellow knows a thing or two about Ferrari’s. John Collins owns Talacrest, a Ferrari specialist and the plan was to connect the plate to a GTO. And as fitted is no doubt illegal due to its lack of spacing.
F1 was once owned by Essex council for over a hundred years. Sold for £375,000 to one Afzal Khan, the chap whose company alters vehicles for those who kick bags of wind around. He stuck it on a Veyron, as you do. Offered six million for the plate, the offer was deemed unworthy. He now seeks buyers with a fourteen million pound purse. Form an orderly queue, please.
And as for A1, it has seen many a different caretaker in its 115 year career as the one to own. London County Council, motor traders, Dunlop and oil sheikhs. Been fitted to MG’s, Alfa Romeo’s, a Daimler and even an ‘80’s Ford Granada. It was once sold for £2,500 in the 1950’s as part the deceased’s estate, the money going to the Guide Dogs for the Blind. Nowadays believed to be fitted to a twenty year old MINI although rarely, if ever seen.
Other notable international plates being SCV1 which resides with his holiness’s Pope Mobile. The German president wafts round with 0 1 on the Mercedes. Czech cars who wish to drive mainly sideways start with a capital R for Rally. Whereas in Russia, diplomatic cars with 001 mean they are with the British embassy; the First Nation to establish good relations with Russia.
Germany is second, Canada third with 003. If you see a car with no registration whatsoever, best bet is that it’s the Queen’s whose official vehicles need no plates. Unless you’re in Antarctica where there are no plates. Not too many roads, either.
To conclude; wanting that private plate to enhance one’s motor and ego is nothing new. Perambulate with haste, sir. To the issuing office for our oneupmanship must occur forthwith. Or just click here to buy it now for 27 large.
We head ever deeper and faster towards autonomous driving, ANPR as opposed to police officers and no doubt bar or QR codes instead of the humble plastic number plate. For all their idiosyncrasies; Me, I’ll stick with what I’ve got: TFN, which is (almost) Ta Ta For Now
Footnote: Think of a Number was a BBC children’s programme from the 1980’s with presenter, Johnny Ball who made maths and science cool.