Today, 1 August used to be a special day, no not a birthday or wedding anniversary, but New Car Registration Day.
For 30 years it was always 1 August, and, for many of us here an important day. It had been in January when applying Suffix letters began in 1963 but quickly a decision was taken to move to the warmer (allegedly!) climes of August. I imagine not many dealers wanted to trudge in on New Year’s Day to sell a Mini no matter how good it was! Dealers also found it was nigh on impossible to sell a car in December as people simply waited until Jan for the new letter.
I certainly recall the excitement at spotting the latest letter out on the roads and can remember the little games I used to play with my school friends – it was simply not good enough to spot any new car but extra points would be given for foreign or unusual marques or if it was a van/lorry (these always seemed to appear much later). I think we may have had more rules than the Olympics!
Although today people seem to change their cars more often than even 20 to 25 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for people to keep their car for five years and seeing a plethora of brand new cars just didn’t happen.
I can still picture now the day my parents brought home our first ever brand new car, a Renault 19 (I know, I know!) – that new car smell and the immaculate interior. I had not long come out of hospital after an eye operation and had spent the first part of the summer break cooped up indoors so to be allowed outside to look at the new motor was a real treat. I can also remember my father making bold claims about cleaning it every week inside and out, but those were soon forgotten!
Dealers also used to make a big thing of the new letter – you would see big adverts go up in their windows in the dying weeks of July, reminding us all of what was coming (as if we didn’t know) and would play on the letter to garner publicity (Drive ‘A’ new Metro for example). Ford themselves went one further in August, 1980 (W) with their drive a ‘W’inner television advert.
Sadly, it all had to end and, towards the end of the 1990s, it became clear that all they had done was shift the bubble of car sales from January to August – no real strides had been taken to try and balance out sales so that dealers had consistent business throughout the year. The prefix system was almost at an end so a decision was taken to move the August plate change to September and have an additional one in March to try and flatten out sales across the 12 months of the year. It also had the knock on effect of finishing the prefix system earlier than planned with the new system starting from 1 September, 2001.
So let’s raise a glass to August 1st, gone but not forgotten!
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
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