Let's get personal: is it time to bring in the number plate police?


Author: James ElliottPublished:

Why is it that some marques and models attract (usually horribly contrived) personalised number plates so much more than others?

Of course there is no type of classic that doesn't have the occasional devotee of the comedy registration, but with some makes of car it appears to have become compulsory.

And when you see them en masse it instantly turns their "individuality" into a whole different ball-game.

This came to mind twice this year, both times when I saw huge gatherings of F40s. At the most recent, there were 14 of the Maranello wonder-cars in a row and the obsession with personalising them came into sharp, I hesitate to say slightly nauseating, focus.

Of the 14, three (at the most, I had my doubts even about a couple of the 'normal' ones) were still wearing the plates they were born with.

All the rest were personalised, one or two relating to power or colour, but generally just starting with F40. No fewer than eight of the 14 in fact. From F40 SAY to F40 SHY and pretty much everything else you can imagine.

Now, I can see where they are coming from and I bet that a plate starting F40 doesn't make that much of a dent in the pocket, especially if you can afford the supercar to go with it.

I will also concede that I might even be kind of impressed by such a nice detail touch if I saw each of them individually, but when you see row upon row of them (and it was far worse at the Silverstone Classic where there were 70-plus F40s!), it all starts to seem just a little bit tacky.

Is this just my usual hubris, to think that I am in a position to tell people how to dress their cars? Probably, but remember that it is just an opinion, one that I am fortunate enough to have a platform to express.

Jealousy? Hmmm, maybe, but I don't think so. After all, it is not just F40-related envy. The other worst offenders in my book (and some of their efforts to spell out marque or model, or even a nickname, make the F40s look positively classy) are Subaru Imprezas and Lotus Elises.

And it is not just the public, either. Sharing a car park as we do with Autocar, What Car? and Pistonheads, we see a succession of awful stuff on cars supplied by manufacturers who really should know better.

Is this all too cruel? Maybe, but think of some of the ones you have seen, puzzled over for ages in traffic jams until any misspelled, vaguely tenuous connection to the car becomes clear, at which point you think "plonker" and hope they promptly disappear.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against personalised number plates per se, and there are many brilliant ones, but there should be some sort of enforced quality control: a panel of taste-arbiters such as Peter York and Stephen Fry to discern between what is witty, meaningful and acceptable and what is just a little bit desperate and sad.

Similarly, just as with disparate extremists (of any sort), these plates may be palatable in isolation, but it simply can't be good for the rest of humanity to bring them all together in one place.



Couldn't agree more.

All this is largely thanks to the DVLA Select scheme, introduced in 1990.

TRA61C, if you ask me.

Coventry Climax

Wise words James!


The worst offenders here in California are the Tesla Roadsters. I don't think I've seen one without personalized plates that reference the fact that they are not oil-burning.

I'm actually a fan of the car, just not the owners. If I had one I think I'd have to get a plate that said "Coal Pwrd"

Chris Martin

When that whole DVLA plate scheme first started I was living in north west London surrounded by BMW driving estate agents called SIMON.
Then there were the cheapskates called JOE333 or whatever, and even cheaper would have been LES814N but as a general rule the less taste displayed on the plate, the less classy the car anyway. Of course at the other end of the scale there is Nick Mason's GTO, but who is going to bitch about that one? I agree in isolation you can appreciate the car, but when seen en masse it does rather look like the herd mentality has taken over, and the one car with the original random plate starts to look more, well, original.
Another Ferrari I remember was in the paddock at Silverstone a good few years ago with the registration PLA70 - no prizes for spotting which BTCC star was posing in it. Me? No thanks. I have a psychotic aversion to voluntarily giving money to a government department.
Chris M.



hmmmm I tend to disagree with this.....:)

I own 2 private plates - 1 that I bought and 1 that came with a car and I now stick it on whatever car I'm driving.

I reckon that private plates are quite rightly another extension of man's obsession with cars. If you dote over a car, wash it/polish it/clean it/ every week like some people do, then you would quite likely be called sad, with or without a private reg.  

If you have a nice car, why not jazz it up with a quirky or clever plate that spells out the car model or something to describe the car, or the driver - just makes it that bit diferent.

The only reason that there are so many ferraris out there with plates is likely that as suggested, F prefix plates wont break the bank, whereas F1 might :)

A personal choice indeed - but I luv em :)

Cha tig an aois leis fhein - Age does not come alone


Interesting you should mention the registration SIMON, (51 MON to be precise), because I knew this guy.........Simon Riley, who was working for the estate agents Grant Wilkinson & Co who had offices in and around the Beckenham area in the mid to late 60's !!

Mike Cole

Beckenham, Kent 


I'm reminded of the classic Viz Top Tip...

Drivers, save a fortune on personalised number plates by changing your name by deed poll to your current registration.


Mr T480 CBL

I've always thought personalised number plates are a total waste of money and pure vanity. Surely, every registration is unique anyway and most cars have badges on them to tell folk what they are.



Heaven help us .The thought police have infiltrated the classic car movement.
Next we will have you as arbiter of what we should drive to fit the mould
Rusty Lancias or odd ephemera probably?.
Go away and live and let live.
I don't like Ferraris period.but if someone wants to fund one let them get on with it however they see it.
Oh an interest to declare I have owned a plate with my initials as 2 letters and numbers for 40 years and frankly sir,I don't give a damn

Chris Martin

Well done again James.

I thought this thread would polarise views between the two sides - but it is funny how SOME of those that do fit dodgy plates (obviously not the last poster above) get so touchy about criticism from those that don't. Does that say something about the vanity mentality, and maybe the underlying cause of attention seeking meaning low self-esteem? I think James was just playing agent provocateur with the suggestion of Registration Police, but it seems to have hit the intended target.

As for the VIZ top tip, that is funny as I thought I had invented that idea. There was a similar argument raging on an Australian car forum a couple of years back and I suggested I had changed my name to AH62BT thereby cheating the government out of a few dollars for the annual personal registration fee. Obviously my attempt at humour annoyed the poseurs but it was worth it for a laugh.

As for a group of registrations that probably would be worth the price of an F40 now, you would be hard pushed to beat the late Teddy Turner and his well-known Hampstead collection of Thunderbirds. I have mentioned him here before, but I remember in the eighties he had on various cars I think, CAT1, SAT1, STT1, TT100, and many more similar. CFC2 I do remember was on the '66 convertible which he used to drive to Chelsea football matches as he was on the board of the club at the time. You might say that is not so bad as at least he can still only drive one at a time. Wrong. He often used to ask others, myself included, to drive some cars to shows so he coulld display several together. I suspect he bought them all when such trinkets were fairly cheap too.

But James is right, while each individual may do whatever they choose on their own car, and some registrations may even suit the car occasionally, whenever we see one on the road we can either have a laugh or ignore it. But when there is a field full of 'look-at-me' cars each with a desperate black on white and yellow attempt at being clever on the front and back, it does look a bit childish. May I suggest next week (when the fuss about registrations has died down) James comes back and tells us what accessories are cool at car shows - original sales brochure on the seat, or nodding dog on the back shelf - and we can start a new argument. Good Fun !

Chris M.



There's nothing at all wrong with an interesting classic registration number.

It all becomes sad when desperate individuals convince themselves that their plate spells something that it clearly doesn't. If you fall into that camp I'm afraid I have some bad news: a 5 is not an S, a 4 is not an A and 12 does not spell R. If you have X's at each end of your plate, the whole world can see them even if you can't. Emperor's New Clothes, and all that.

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