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

| 26 Sep 2012

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.