Private number plates: an acquired taste or just poor taste?

The British have a penchant for personalised number plates whether as a prank, a pretentious flaunt or a way to make a serious statement. If you can afford it, could you resist having the his-and-her numbers 2BE and NOT 2B side by side in your garage? Part-time Riviera resident and wealthy property developer and philanthropist Robert Bourne (he once bought and subsequently closed down the St Jean Cap Ferrat Zoo) has these Shakespearean plates parked in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, one of London’s poshest neighbourhoods. It’s an appropriate choice for this lover of dramatic art – Bourne purchased the ailing Old Vic theatre and saved it, appointing Kevin Spacey as artistic director.

Private Number Plate: No2tax

How about telling HMRC just what you think about their fiscal policy with the tag shown in the picture above? Pope John Paul II’s popemobile once had the UK number VIP1 but it was sold on to Roman Abramovich for £285,000. Lord Sugar drives around with AMS1 on his Bentley and Vinnie Jones sports 100VJ.

Marketing personalised plates is big business and not only for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) where UK domiciled cars must be registered. The DVLA sold the plate “D1” for a record £352,000 but private sellers can do better.

A sharp businessman can make a good living from buying and selling rare numbers through car shows, auctions and dedicated websites.

Plate collectors don’t part with their treasures easily. In 2008, Bradford businessman Afzal Khan bought the number “F1” on an old Volvo S80 for £440,625 and it now adorns his rare Bugatti Veyron supercar. It’s the favourite of his collection and he recently refused an offer of £6m for the number from an undisclosed purchaser. Kahn also owns UK numbers “4HRH” and “NO1”. He holds the UK record for the price paid for a licence number but it’s not a world record. A 25-year-old Abu Dhabi businessman Saeed Khouri is believed to have paid £7.1 million for the UAE plate “1”.

None of this is possible in France but we’re told that some Monaco plates can be acquired with enough influence and cash. Don’t count on getting any single-digit ones though. Most of them are reserved for the princely family.