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Prefix Number Plates

Number plates that have the year letter at the beginning of the registration, for example B21 VAN. 
MS61 TCH

Current Number Plates

Current style number plates were introduced in September 2001 and they follow the 2 digit year identifier, 3 letters format, for example XX10 VEU (Kiss Kiss Love You).
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Dateless Number Plates

Registrations which can be transferred to any age of vehicle, for example 70 NNX.
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History of Number Plates

The history of numbers plates can be divided into sections:

GB mainland number plates
Irish number plates

GB mainland number plates

Jeep number plateAt the beginning of the century, with mechanically propelled vehicles increasing in the number, and with accidents occurring it became apparent that a means of identifying cars would become necessary. Therefore under the Motor Car Act 1903, required that from the 1st January 1904, every motorcar should be registered with a number plate. This was 5 years after Dutch authorities first introduced the idea to the world.

The first mark to be issued in London was the simple, bold A1, registered to Earl Russell, who wanted the mark so badly he is known to have camped out all night to secure it, making him not only the first registrant but also the inventor of the idea of having a distinctive, personalised or cherished plate on your vehicle.

It is interesting to note that our Director Des currently has O 11 on his vehicle, which dates back to 1903 and was originally issued in Birmingham.

Since Russells day, the registration system has changed 4 times to accommodate the ever-growing demand for vehicle registrations.Dateless car number plate

Dateless

The earliest type of registration survived for an incredible 60 years, from 1904, and had nothing at all to denote the year of issue.

Initially, the marks were made up of a local council identifier code, of up to 3 letters, followed by a random number, eg. ABC 123.
In the early 1950s, as numbers started to run out, the components were reversed, giving rise to registrations in the format 123 ABC.

All dateless registrations are now in high demand, especially short combinations, 60 E for example, which is worth in excess of £12,000 because of the single initial and the fact it is made up of only three characters.

Suffix

By 1963, a number of local councils (each of which had until then issued plates beginning with letters identifying their area) had run out of registrations.

As a result of this, the Suffix system was introduced, a letter indicating the year of registration being added at the end of the plate, which until then had comprised only 3 letters followed by 3 numbers.

Thus, 1963 plates had the format AAA 111A, 1964 plates AAA 111B and so on.

Prefix

Prefix number plate carThe Classic Prefix system started in August 1983, and has a single letter identifying the year of issue at the beginning of the registration mark.

Prefix registrations can be broken down in three sections:

First Letter: The year the car was registered and put on the road, hence its age. A for 1983, B for 1984 and so on

Last two letters: An area code that indicates where the plate was registered.

The three numbers and the first of the three letters on the end, have no meaning, only providing a variation for identification. The final two letters are the area code.This system continued until the end of August 2001, and a large number of these registrations were held back for later release or for personalised registrations.

The letters I, O, U and Z were not issued at all as Classic Prefix letters, and Q was used only where the age or origin of the vehicle could not be identified.

Van current style number plateCurrent Style

In 2001 the DVLA changed the system to take account of police evidence that suggested witnesses, particularly in hit and run incidents, remember the letters of a registration mark much more easily than the numbers. As people read from left to right it made sense to put this information, the local code, at the beginning rather than the end of the number plate. As the result the current system for registrations is made up of 3 parts, as shown below.

Local Region
This represents the place where the car was first registered. Vehicles registered in Birmingham, for example, begin with the letters BA BY; those registered in Chelmsford begin EA - EY.

Date ID
This indicates the date of registration of the vehicle, and changes every 6 months, in March and September.

The system started with the use of 51 to denote the 6 months from September 2001, with 02 replacing it in March 2002. 52 then denotes September 2002, 03 denotes March 2003 and so on. This will carry on until March 2010, by when 10 and 60 will have been reached.

Random
The last three letters are random to any vehicle, and can now include Z.

 

The Motoring Age

To celebrate the newfound freedom resulting from the Locomotives and Highways Act of 1896, the Motor Car Club was established and organized an informal and celebratory drive from London to Brighton, which is still commemorated annually. The 1896 Act had introduced some basic regulations, yet the new breed of motorist, running a powered vehicle on two, three or four wheels, could effectively do whatever he or she wished, since such vehicles were virtually untraceable. At that time only large road vehicles had to be registered or licensed and amongst other things, the Motor Car Act of 1903 sought to address this anomaly by requiring motor-vehicle drivers to be licensed ever year.

Yet the 1903 Act is more notable as the instrument that brought wide ranging, vehicle registration and licensing schemes to Britain for the first time. An important new requirement was for all vehicles to display a registration mark allowing them to be easily traced. There was also an increased speed limit, of 20 mph, and another new concept: fines, for the driving of unlicensed vehicles, for general speeding, and for reckless driving,  a new offence. County Councils and county borough councils were appointed as the authorities responsible for the new registration and licensing schemes, with fees set at 20 shillings for a vehicle registration and 5 shillings for a drivers license.

Responding to the Act of 1903, a now long-forgotten Westminster civil servant came up with a straightforward, easily recognizable system of vehicle registration marks  which developed into one of the most enduring features of the entire age of motoring in the British Isles. The new alphabet-based system included a regional identification plan, founded on the then national arrangement of county councils and county borough councils (burgh councils in Scotland). Early registration marks consisted of single letters and up to four numbers, the letters representing strategically placed urban or rural councils in descending order of total population around the British Isles. Under this system, the first registration mark to be allocated was A 1, issued by London County Council soon after the 1903 legislation received royal assent. Some letters  G, I, S, V and Z  were earmarked for use in Scotland and Ireland, and along with Q, were withheld. The remaining twenty letters were insufficient to provide all English authorities with registration allocations, so (with some exceptions, particularly combinations that included letters from the list above as second letters) two-letter combinations starting at AA and preceding as far as FP were also issued.

During the period of 1904 to 1920 only 70 new registrations were allocated. In some areas, where a high demand was anticipated, multiple allocation of often consecutive pairs of letter were made, and there were also attempts to make some marks identifiable with specific area from which they came such as DV for Devon, and several others. Rural counties and remote areas frequently received only single allocations.

The Roads Act of 1920 consolidated and further formalized vehicle registration marks in Britain and also removed some interested anomalies. Until 1920, authorities had not been prevented from keeping separate registers for both cars and motorcycles so it was possible, and not unknown, to find a car and a motorcycle with the same registration mark. Some counties used "leading zeros" on two-wheeler registrations as a method of differentiation. Also, before 1920, marks could be reused: if a vehicle left a councils area it would lose its registration, gaining a new one elsewhere. The mark thus released would then use again- on a completely different vehicle.

New allocations appeared over quite a long period. During 1931, for instance, Northamptonshire was just starting to issue NV marks with one or two numbers, NV 9240 not being issued until 1937. Yet, in contrast, authorities in areas with high registration demands Middlesex and Staffordshire, for example were already on the point of exhausting their allocated combinations of one or two letters plus four digits. So, by mid 1932, Staffordshire was already introducing its first plates of three letters and up to three digits, which became the backbone of the registration systems until the mid 1950s. In such registrations the second and third letters provided the established are identification, while the additional first letter (with I, Q and Z not used) provided councils with nearly 23,000 extra marks for each area identifier under their control.

After the introduction of this new arrangement, three letters followed by up to three numbers in the 1930s, the number-plate system entered a period of stability. Ever-growing vehicle sales followed the Second World War prompted the next change, when some authorities simply came to the end of all their available three-letter/ three-number allocations. Further combination were made available by reversing the order of marks available for issue, putting up to four numbers ahead of one or two letters, or up to three numbers ahead of three letters. This theoretically gave issuing authorities the same number of reversed combinations as had already been allocated in the original format  the plates once again carrying the now long-established are identifiers in the single, or second and third, alphabetical characters.

The post-war years: changing times

Throughout the 1950s car and motorcycle sales increased inexorably with both issuing authorities and the Government gradually realizing that the fifty-year-old vehicle registration system was approaching the end of lengthy road. The advent of numbers first, letters last combinations, first issued by Staffordshire in 1953, marked the start of a period during which some authorities worked through their available allocations with alarming speed. By this time, vehicle sales growth was such that the system which had lasted in many cases fifty years or more in its original guise- was all exhausted by some authorities in around ten years when the format was reversed!

Between 1953 and 1963, five and six character reversed plates became commonplace, with some authorities (where such marks were allocated many years earlier) using allocations comprising four digits followed by single-letter identifiers. The use of reversed single-letter allocations invariably indicated a pressing shortage of available registration combinations for the authority concerned. Single-letter allocations known to have been issued in reversed format before 195 include d (briefly in 1964), E, F (in two stages), H, K, N, R, U, W, and Z. Some other low number, single-letter reversed combinations were allocated for trade-plate sequences, and there is circumstantial evidence that the same single-letter numbers were occasionally used for both normal and trade-plates allocations.

In the days long before sales of specific registration marks were contemplated, or any status of financial value was attached to them, all available letters and numbers in a sequence from 1 to 999 were usually issued. Unless buyers could pull rank or had contact in the right office at the licensing authority far from unknown, particularly with the bigger dealers-until well into the 1960s vehicle buyers simply took potluck on their new registration number. After 1983, low numbers (invariably below 20, and often up to 100) were not generally issued, being held back for outright sale by the DVLA. Yet the system that operated until 1960s on the basis of "Heres the next number in line, take it or leave it led surreptitious backhanders apart to the numbers 1 to 100 being a more common sight on the roads than has been the case since 1983.

By 1960 there were wide variations in the rate at which authorities were registering vehicles. In sharp contrast to the pressures of demand in the urban areas, registrations proceeded much more slowly away from major population centers. In Scotland and Ireland, 1960s allocations were still being made from the two letters followed by four numbers series, first issued in 1904. By the time suffix letters were introduced in 1963-4, Bute (SJ) was still registering vehicles in the SJ 2800 range and never actually issued any three-letter/three-number combinations.

These varying circumstances meant that, as the 1960s approached, British roads were alive with a more diverse selection of registration marks than at any time during the previous fifty years. Perhaps that is why the 1950s and 1960s were the golden age of the schoolboy number-plate collecting craze.

Though there was little outward sign, by the early 1960s it was becoming an increasing Government priority to find alternative ways of dealing with vehicle registration and ownership procedures. Slowly but surely the amount of paperwork and its movement around the country was gradually overwhelming the systems ability to cope. In 1960 alone, over 820,000 new cars were sold in Britain, adding to those already on the roads- yet vehicle registration administration was still based on manual systems established almost sixty years earlier. Another problem was the lack of direct, automatic correlation of vehicle and driver records between autonomous areas. Routine police requests to check vehicle records were labour intensive and time-consuming, which in turn made fraudulent activities relatively easy.

The public was also starting to suffer, as delays within the registration and licensing system lengthened. Yet, aside from these growing administrative problems, as we have seen, there was another major issue. Some authorities were facing a shortage of vehicle registration marks as the last of their available reversed allocations appeared on the horizon. By 1960, major changes to Britains driver and vehicle registration systems were not just inevitable but looming large.

Arrival of Computers

At the start of the 1960s, Britains registration mark system was under review. In sixty years the only major change have been a move to reversed plates, but by 1963 all obvious possibilities of the original system had been exhausted. Consultation was undertaken with the police and the motor trade, after which officialdom decide to add a new suffix letter at the end of the plate as a year identifier.

The opportunity was also taken to revert to the principle of letters first, numbers last in order to avoid confusion with the immediately preceding issue of non-suffix plates and the new system brought some very benefits. For the first time, it was possible for anyone interested to quickly date a vehicle to within twelve months and the new system also neatly overcame the inherent volume limitations imposed by a registration marks previous six-character format. Influenced by the earlier system, the new plates featured three letters, with the second and third still indicating the issuing area, plus up to three numbers all followed by an A suffix, denoting 1963 as the year of registration. Followed tradition, neither the first letter nor the suffix could be Q, Z, or I but all numbers up to 999 could be allocated. The added suffix letter allowed many more registrations combinations effectively all those available with each two-letter allocation possessed combinations being usable in a period of just twelve months. Then, by adding the next alphabetical suffix letter for the following year, precisely the same number of possible combinations was available again, every single year, for at least twenty years to come.

Enacted by some authorities in England, Scotland and Wales for vehicles registered on or after 1st January 1963, the new marks first appeared in areas hard pressed for available registrations. Interestingly, the new suffix system seems to have coincided with some authorities treatment of numbers below 100 as rather special. Alot of authorities reserved numbers below 100 for motorbikes and sometimes 3- wheelers on the basis it was difficult to accomodate an ABC 123D format on a small number plate. Also more buses would have numbers below 100 as many fleets had a practice of matching region and fleet number. The implication is that this was deliberate policy, since private car registrations in 1963 considerably outweighed those of all other vehicles so cars ought to have had mote low-number allocations.

The new system had clear practical advantages, though not all authorities used it immediately. Quite a few areas did not issue any A suffix plates, and more than a handful did not issue any B suffixes either, but by 1965, under Government exhortation, all authorities were using the new scheme. Many authorities never exhausted their stock of six-character allocations, which was perhaps fortunate, since they were to prove useful many years later!

There were 1,148,718 new cars sold in 1965, and many more changed hands and owners and drivers of course continued to change addresses. Councils were still updating driver and vehicle registration records manually, and existing handling systems were indisputably overwhelmed. A complete breakdown of the license system was averted in the nick of time with the establishment of the new Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLC) in Swansea in 1965.

The DVLC, with its centralized systems, brought benefits in the faster processing of driving license changes, but did not immediately become a Centre for the administration of vehicle registration marks. That required a common, centrally based registration system- achievable only by transferring huge amounts of vehicle data, until then held by local and county councils, on to a new computer record. The belated move in 1965 requiring authorities to use the annual suffix-letter arrangement was the first step in that direction. However, actually implementing a computer based vehicle registration system took far longer than anticipated and left a legacy those vehicle enthusiasts and historians alike have come to regret.

Modern Times: A Fresh Start

In 1967, largely at the behest of the manufacturers and retailers of private cars, the start of the new registration year was changed from 01st January to 01st August. The intention was to move the peak of new car sales activity from Christmas and the New Year to the summer, when the theory went, fewer people would want to buy new vehicles. It did not turn out like that, but the change nevertheless became permanent, running for thirty-two years until 1999. This let to the E suffix becoming the first real oddity in the new system, used only for the first seven months of 1967.

Some years later, legislation significantly altered the appearance of British number plates for the first time in seventy years. Government had tinkered with the dimensions, spacing and layout of characters on number plates on several occasions since 1903, but a dramatic occurred on 1st January 1973. Newly registered vehicles were required to have reflective style number plates, with black letters on a white background at the front, and on a yellow background at the rear. Older style plates, with white or silver letters on a black background, remained legal for vehicles already registered.

Then, in 1974, after nine years of seemingly endless delay, the DVLC was finally able to administer new vehicle registrations centrally in practice via its Local Vehicle Licensing Offices. In October of that year, formal responsibility for the issue of vehicle registration marks passed to the DVLA from local councils, coinciding with a time of major reorganization of local government. From 1974, the waters of the established vehicle registration system became muddied, as new boundaries, the new centralized structure and continued growth in vehicle numbers forced the reassignment of many long-established area codes to improve the efficiency of registration mark usage.

Many marks then came to represent newly defined and occasionally completely different licensing areas, whilst others were gradually withdrawn from use. For many years the Local Vehicle Licensing Office network remained quite faithful to the original system, even though further complications arose as the number of local offices now called Vehicle Registration Offices continued to shrink. Then, following the introduction of automated first registration, the eighty original offices were reduced to around forty. This brought yet further changes to both regional identities and the range of marks allocated.

Once the centralized process of registering new vehicles had started, the DVLC set the huge task of converting existing vehicles old and increasingly fraud-prone, three-way folding log books onto less characterful, computer-generated slips of paper denoting ownership. To enter each individual vehicles data on the computer, owners log-books had to be sent to the DVLC. On request, the original log book could be returned afterwards, but only the most dedicated owners seem to have asked for this, so relatively few such log-books (V60) now exist. Fewer still remain with the vehicle to which they truly belong.

By 1983, as the Y suffix letter changed to a "prefix" doubling the life of the system, just as had happened thirty years earlier the records of all licensed vehicles registered in England, Scotland and Wales had been entered on the Swanseas computers. Many other vehicles sill existed that, for a variety if reasons, were not at that time licensed for road use. During 1983, advertisements were placed, and vehicle clubs contracted, encouraging owners to preserve existing registration marks by registered them on the Swansea computers. Around 200,000 not in use vehicles were notified to the DVLC before the vehicle record was finally closed on the 30th November 1983. This closure was to become a bone of contention and a source if difficulty for historic-vehicles owners for years to come, though for most vehicles users and owners it led to another period of registration-numbers stability.

Ever increasing new car sales and the limitation of a twenty one letter usable alphabet (excluding I, O, U, Q and Z) effectively spelled a twenty year maximum lifespan for the prefix-style registration system that commenced in 1983. Several options for the best way forward were reviewed by Government, and consultations opened midway through the 1990s. The responses indicated that, to cope with rising vehicle-registration volumes and to aid policing as far as possible, a new system was necessary- bringing Britains original, time honored registration system to an end. Twice yearly prefix letter changes, enacted in 1999 with the change months becoming March and September brought forward the demise of the old system. Post 1983, from A to H prefixers 1 to 20 were withheld for sale, followed by 1 20, 22, 33 etc, 30, 40, 50 etc, 100, 200 etc and 111, 222 etc from J to R and then finally S to Y 21-31, 121, 123, 321 etc. The final Y prefix plates were issued on 31st August 2001.

The brand-new registration system introduced the following day created some press interest but was hardly an issue for most motorists. Yet the new arrangement was completely different, designed to cope with registration volumes such that the designers of the earlier system could hardly have imagined. The numeric basis of the original was replaced by an alphabetic foundation in the new system. Two letters unrelated to the earlier area codes- indicate, first, the issuing region and, second, the issuing office, these are followed by two numbers, indicating the month and year of issue. The plates are then completed by three randomly selected letters, excluding only Q and I.

Some 13,824-registration combinations are therefore possible for each issuing-office prefix, so in the system volumes can be huge. With twice-yearly plates changes and nineteen DVLA regions. Designated A-Y (excluding I, J, Q, T, U, X for VAT-free sales and Z), the maximum number of vehicles that could be registered nationally each year is over 12.6 millions. With monthly plates changes, some 75.6million registrations each year could be accommodated! The considerable amount of reserve capacity available can be appreciated by comparing this potential annual registration figure with the all-time record new-car sales of 2001, which reached 2.46million units. Furthermore, this new system will not be exhausted until 2049, when reversed plates might once again be used, thus immediately extending the systems life by another forty-eight years.

Only time will tell whether registration marks now being issued will have a similar resilience for survival or the following amongst schoolboys with notebooks that their illustrious predecessors enjoyed in their heyday.

Islands

The Isle of Wight

For many years the Isle of Wight, with county council status, used the areas letters DL within the general system for all vehicle registrations. Following gradual rationalization of DVLA local offices. DL identifiers were issued by Portsmouth Vehicle Registration Office. Under the system that started on 1St September 2001, the island falls within the Hampshire and Dorset region, and HW is used exclusively for residents of the island.

The Isle of Man

The Isle of Man introduced vehicle registration soon after Britain, in the same format, with the first MN registrations, having up to four digits, issued in 1906. This series endured for some time, before the island moved on to a three letter, three digit sequence commencing with AMN. The MAN series was also used, diverted from West Ham Borough Council, where it was made unavailable. The letters MAN followed by four digits have also been used. All these series have also been issued in reverse. The island did not follow the British year identifier system introduced in 1963, though since then its plates have utilized both suffix and prefix letters as integral parts of the registration, on a seven character plate of British appearance

Guernsey and Jersey

Vehicles here have carried mandatory registrations marks since before 1915, with each island having a unique arrangement not related to the British registration system. Guernsey vehicles carry straightforward numerical plate with no letters and in 2003 up to five figures. Jersey also uses a five-figure series, preceded by the single letter J. Interesting, J, was also allocated by the mainland county Durham, between 1903 and 1922.

The Isles of Scilly

The registration mark SCY was made available for use on these islands in 1971, and simultaneously withdrawn from use by Swansea, which had previously issued that combination. Because there are relatively few vehicles on the Isles of Scilly, any plate carrying the registration SCY is a rare sight in the mainland.

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