Last weeks DVLA Auction

An excited murmur can be heard around the auction room when lot 623 was put up for sale.


The reserve is £3,300, but the final price reached five figures. That would buy you an extremely nice car, exotic holidays for the rest of your life or, in some parts of the country, a decent-sized house.


Yet all the winning bidder will take home is three letters and a number, embossed on to a plastic rectangle.


 A mock-up of how a Royal carriage would look with the personalised numberplate 1 HRH. The regal-sounding numberplate is the star attraction at an auction of prestigious registration numbers


These aficionados of ‘cherished numbers’    a British euphemism for what the Americans call ‘vanity plates’    are undoubtedly an egotistical lot. But who could possibly be vain enough to put 1 HRH on their car?


At least one thing: no one will be bidding on behalf of the Queen.


The official limousines in which she travels famously have no numberplates. As for the vehicles Her Majesty drives in private, she is as likely to put ‘Liz’ and ‘Phil’ sunshades across the top of her windscreen as she is to advertise her presence with the registration 1 HRH.


A few  suspected  the minor royals would be possible contenders    perhaps Her Royal Pushiness Princess Michael of Kent . However it was a Berkshire-based millionaire who scooped a highly desirable vehicle number plate.


The businessman – who asked to remain anonymous – bought the registration 1 HRH for £113,815 at a Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) auction in Northampton.


He explained he purchased the plate as an investment – and also due to its possible connections with royalty.


“There aren’t many registrations that can better 1 HRH. While I bought it as an investment, its obvious royal links made me determined to keep it in British hands,” the mysterious buyer added.


After all, the tradition of registration numbers being adopted as status symbols by the famous and wealthy dates back to 1903, when numberplates were introduced in Britain.


The first issued in London was A1, registered to the 2nd Earl Russell, who was so keen to acquire it that he camped out for the entire night before its release.


He sold it four years later, but should perhaps have hung on to it. A1 is now worth more than £1 million and is rumoured to be owned by the brother of the Sultan of Brunei.


Over the years, many stars have followed in the Earl’s tyre-tracks. Anyone who saw the Rolls-Royce EM 100 on the streets during the Seventies knew it belonged to the late Eric Morecambe. As for COM 1C, that is still a sign that Jimmy Tarbuck, and his distinctive comedy, may be dangerously close at hand.


Slightly harder to work out is RU 12    the registration number of Danny La Rue.


The sporting world has not lagged behind when it comes to vehicular one-upmanship, with Wayne Rooney buying the numberplate WAZ 8 for his £174,000 Aston Martin.


As for David Beckham, he has already acquired DB 7, but perhaps Victoria will persuade him that 1 HRH is the only registration suitable for Britain’s ‘second royal family’.


Like the other numbers sold, 1 HRH has a less-than-glamorous past    it dates back to the era when numberplates were issued by local authorities rather than the DVLA. Far from having any royal connections, 1 HRH was simply one of a series registered by Hull Borough Council in 1946.


Like many others at the time, the burghers of Hull withheld 1 HRH from release because it was clearly a special number, but they seemed unsure what to do with it.


Other numbers were not issued, because there weren’t enough cars on the road to need them    and when the DVLA was set up in 1965, it inherited 1 HRH and millions of other unreleased numbers.


Today, the DVLA has a huge surplus of such registrations dating back many years. Damian Lawson draws on these, and the best of the new numbers scheduled for release every six months, to put together a catalogue which will best exploit the vanity of British motorists.


Once he has chosen crowd-pullers-such as 1 HRH, he searches the list of voters and phone books to find out what initials and names are currently most popular.


‘Surnames change over time, reflecting what’s going on in society,’ he says.


‘I’ve been doing this job for 12 years and I’ve noticed personalised plates becoming hugely popular in the Asian community. Our record sale so far was 51 NGH, which was probably destined for someone called Singh and went for £254,000.


‘First names change in frequency, too. The sale, included KYL IIIE because Kylie Minogue has made that name popular for women who are reaching the age when they might want their first personalised numberplate., which speedyreg chose to purchase.


Lawson also considers letter and number combinations, which spell out different words. Since the UK registration system forbids more than three letters appearing consecutively without intervening numbers, auto-numerologists have long-convinced themselves that certain numbers can replace different letters of the alphabet.


In their world, a 4 resembles an A, and a zero can take the place of a D. This works, just about, but does a 2 really resemble an R, or a 3 stand in for an E?


Sir Ian Botham, AKA Beefy, apparently believes so, his personalised numberplate being B33 FYS, and devoted angler Chris Tarrant is another willing conspirator, with CHU 88 supposedly spelling the name of his favourite fish, chubb.


It’s difficult to imagine why anyone would want the numberplate 23 BO (reserve £2,500) or the seemingly related 5TINKS (reserve £350), but these are listed in the sales catalogue.


The low reserve prices of some of these plates suggest that buying a personalised registration is no longer the preserve of the very rich.


These days, it seems that any T0M, D1CK and H4RRY can put their mark on their car and earn the envy, or scorn, of their neighbours.


 Eric Morecambe had a Rolls Royce with EM 100 as its registration number


So what is their appeal to people like Ray and Ann Bowen, property developers from Stoke-on-Trent? They paid £1,000 at the beginning of the auction for the plate A130 WEN which, in numberplate lingo, spells A Bowen.


‘I suppose we must be posers,’ says Ray, who already owns R130 WEN    that’s R Bowen to the uninitiated. This is currently on his eight-year-old Vauxhall Corsa, which has 144,000 miles on the clock.


 ‘The kind of people who can afford to pay six-figure sums for these plates are not really affected by the recession,’ says Lawson. ‘What we have noticed is a drop in sales at the lower end of the market.’


TOP 16 PRICES achieved at the Auction

1 O               £170,000

1 HRH             £92,000

3 S                   £76,000

18 OY             £15,000

11 MCR          £14,000

85 J                £13,200

1 RGF             £12,600

11 FTY           £12,500

64 SH             £11,300

1 TWG           £11,000

888 M             £10,800

321 G             £10,200

MAL 1X        £10,100

TFB 1             £9,400

79 C                £9,100

3 ASK             £9,100

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