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.


Chris Martin

I agree, if it is a genuine registration that happens to spell out something relevant to the car - XJ12 or 300SL - but the younger texting generation are so busy mangling the English language they have forgotten how to spell anyway !
Chris M.



Of course folk are welcome to spend their hard earned however they wish, but I have always thought that when the time comes to spend cash on something that does absolutely nothing to enhance a car's performance, ability, character or style that the owner's money to sense ratio has reached a sad tipping point. Take my 1275GT Mini. Would I prefer to have a novelty number plate that either confirms the bleedin' obvious (that it's a Mini) or advertises my name to the world or an Arden 7-port head/Dunlop D1 alloys/new set of adjustable shocks, Wood and Pickett interior/Jack Knight 5-speed box....it'd be a pretty long list before I reached novelty number plate.


Just read the whole thread, and predictably in a magazine keen to preserve old cars and presumably their identities, the majority come out against personal registrations.  Some of those against express their views surprisingly strongly on how others choose to spend their money - it is, after all a fairly harmless affectation.

Speaking as someone whose cars have worn the plate PJ I44 for the last 20 years I apologise to all whose stomachs have been turned at seeing my initials on display, but at least I'm adding a little irony with the I44 suggesting that such plates are indeed a little gross!

Speaking of F40 numbers, the then manager of Rolls-Royce leisure centre in Derby bought a new Lada in the late 80's with the registration F40 GTO.  The car and number disappeared after a few weeks, and I like to think the number found a more suitable resting place.


144 a little gross - like it, but fear that subtlety will be lost on most. And that's another of my beef's - there's no way of noing whether a novelty plate is a private joke, relates to the owner or is just the plate that came with the car. I dunno, maybe I am over analysing this, and it's only my opinion but I do stand by the thought that there surely has to be something better to spend money on...

As an aside I saw a new shape black BMW M3 in Cornwall this year with the plate EV1L 666. Two thoughts - I bet he doesn't get let out of many junctions and you'd have thought Lucifer would be a bit more subtle....


There was a main ford dealer here in Sheffield that used to own a lot of plates with the Company's initials on them for many years until they sold the business. This company was rumoured to own lots of interesting old cars and regularly had a Ford GT 40 in the show room and a Benneton race car etc at various times. I also heard they made a lot of money out a car in the late 1980's boom. Imagine my interest when this very magazine showed some old photos recently which showed 2 Ferrari 250 GTOs in an early photo shoot from the 1980's wearing the plates TCH1 and TCH2. The rumours for me are now confirmed as true, I wonder if they sold both or just the one to Japan!

My old alfa still wears the plate it was first given and will stay that way.


So who is going to speak to Nick Mason about his Ferrari 250 GTO?

Chris Martin

First, if Nick cared what we think anyway, I am sure he could shrug it off as jealousy, and second, at least that registration is just right for the car it is on . I think it is the half-arsed attempts at making a clever acronym that annoys most, followed by the 'half a registration that fits' idea - like the F40 selection James started with. How often have you seen a random group of letters with 911 in there somewhere on a Porsche?
It would have looked a bit sad if it just had 895GTO or similar, but no, Nick can get away with that one; just be Careful With That Axe Eugene !
Chris M.



I agree completely. It's not just marque-specific plates that I find offensive, it's the whole thing.

Did you know that 86% of BMWs have tacky personalised number plates. No, I didn't either, as I just made that statistic up (I'm considering running for parliament at the next election) but you'd have no trouble believing it, would you?

While we are at it, what is this obsession with blacked out rear windows? Have we turned into a nation of drug dealers? Sorry, getting off the point here...

Apparently, Lord Reith had the personalised registration 2 LO, which is about the only tasteful one I can think of. You might want to Google that one.

Where are the bad-taste police when you need them?

Anyway, all modern Ferraris are tacky. Essex is full of the things. Good heavens, Clarkson likes them! What more evidence do you need?

Chris Pollard

Uncle Benz

86% of BMWs you say. I reckon it must be over 95% when it comes to Range Rovers.

I regularly see DEL 80Y and B1 MBC - both on RRs.

The dodgy level has been notched right up on the latter by inserting a black bolt into the C shape and squashing all the characters together so it looks like BIMBO. Suffice to say it's a lady driver.

Tacky, humorous, sad ?

You've surely moved well into tacky look-at-me territory when you have to use a bolt head to try to make your plate have the effect you desire.


I have noticed some personalised plates near my workplace area too but I couldn't care less about them. I know you have to have quite a thick pocket to have your car plate personalized so I readily let them express their 'creativity' the way they like it. But after reading your article, I think we do need to have a set of number plate police deployed to the car shops to control and regulate the creative juices of the rich man's sons. I have seen some distasteful personalised plates myself which are better left unsaid. Usually they are on expensive and fast cars (well, obviously), like Lambo, Porsche, BMW and what nots.


Best regards / Peter Mould / pmwltd

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