Blog : Personalised plates – one of my games

I have an interesting commute into work. It’s not exactly terrible as, apart from once I get into the paradise that is also known as Peterborough, there’s little in the way of standing traffic. Most of the time, I do end up in slow moving lines of cars plodding up some of the country’s finer A-roads, at somewhere between 37 and 43mph. It’s not so bad I guess, as I used to drive into the City of London every day (and anything compared with that is going to be a piece of cake), but boredom is the main problem…

To alleviate this, I make up all sorts of car-bound games. In the old days it used to be trying to make legible words from the scrawl on the bootlids of the cars in front (i.e., Astra GL became ‘astraggle’), or seeing how many other drivers behind me would also flick their washers if I sprayed my screen in a standing queue.

Nowadays, the roads are full of debadged cars, and we don’t get much sun, so I’ve reduced myself to trying to spell out the words that people are trying to convey with their personalised number plates. Some kind of make sense – such as the car above, which is obviously the world’s only single-exhaust E60 BMW M5 in existance (owned by a chap called Stuart), but I’ll be blowed if I know what the one below is (an ex-Somalian perhaps?).

Try it sometime – when you see an obviously personalised number plate, try and read out what it is trying to say… It’s fun for a few minutes, until you start to realise that these people have paid for the privilege of displaying such nonsense on their cars…

Keith Adams


  1. I quite like your original game! Can we legitimately move the spaces? In which case, the Astra legitimately become “A Straggle”? Mine then becomes “Autobiographys DV8” (if you see what I mean?!).

    Good game 🙂

  2. Vanity plates are genius, most people believe they ‘own’ it when all they’ve purchased is the right to display on an appropriate vehicle, as all vehicle registrations are owned by the Secretary of State for Transport. Having said that, I have got one, but it does actually spell something without having to pretend a ‘5’ is an ‘S’

  3. Those cheap and illegally altered plates really annoy me. That having been said I’ve seen inexpensive plates that really go with the car or person without making the driver look like an idiot.

    Why don’t the police crack down on these things? They are clearly breaking the law with the layout, along with those “smoked glass” plates designed to fool speed cameras, ones using the wrong typeface, ones without the proper imprint of who made it on or ones with illegal symbols on the plates themselves. The number plate is an official document – do what you like with the rest of the car, but they have to follow a certain format for a reason.

    • Another growing trend is the fitting of ultra bright number plate bulbs which pretty much make the registration illegible at night. Surely these aren’t legal?

  4. I bought my wife one for her 30th Birthday, L444 *** (+her initials)
    I was left a little money earlier this year and have bought 3 more matching L444*** plates with my own and my 2 sons initials. All 3 on retention at the moment, the boys not old enough to drive yet!
    Nice matching numbers for the whole family and they were only £250 ish each.

  5. Keith, you are not alone…..I used to play a game looking for trees on number plates, ash elm box, the list goes on. It progressed to anything wood related. Saw log etc.
    I do not get personalised number plates at all. In Cornwall they even pay to have a Cornish letter on their car (AF) I assume they think it makes them more Cornish. As I said I just don’t understand it……..

    • I’m with you never got the whole personalised number plate thing – I remember the old days of Top Gear when Quinten Wilson use to tell people to buy an old Lexus or Merc and stick a private plate on it so no one knows how old it is!

      I like to play spot the silly side. My favourite one was on the A3075 between Newquay and the turning for Perranporth at Goonhavern. There was a small holding which had a sign at the top it said Pigs below it said Eggs – Pig Eggs – only in Cornwall!

      • I agree with Quentin’s idea – my last car came with a personalised plate from the previous owner who had given up driving and although it was made in 2006 it could have been taken for a 2011 model and was easy to sell.

        Many cars owned by JCB have old JCB and three digit numbers – I guess it helps with advertising.

    • I believe there is a Haulage firm up near Wick that gets its vehicles registered in Edinburgh so as to keep the old SK (which used to be Wick VLO) plates.

  6. Ones that stick out in my mind are a pink Escort cabriolet I saw on the M6 in 1990 driven by some Barbie doll type with the plate SE5Y 1, and a black and white Granada in North Shields with TOON 1 on the plate( doubt he ventured into Sunderland much).

  7. I don’t know when you took these photos, Keith but, at time of posting, neither of the plates match the vehicles to which they are attached, according to the DVLA website. The ‘TUL’ plate is registered to a Nissan which is neither taxed nor MOT’d and the ‘MAL’ plate is registered to a Bentley.

    Yours, nerdily…

  8. I have a plate on one of my vans (we are heating engineers, HOUSEWARMERS). The plate reads E2 OTT. Most people make the connection- the rest are just thick!!

  9. The best one that I remember was SAA8 on, of course, a Saab 900 – later on it was transferred to a Renault (I think), which doesn’t make so much sense. Recently I’ve been driving all over the country delivering vans and I’ve seen no end of interesting cars – from a Reliant Robin holding a steady 70mph on the A1M to a 205T16 shell, a full house Stratos and an Aston Martin Rapide in quick succession. Interesting to see how small an XJ40 looks in today’s traffic. Back to subject, I was passed on the M62 by a Maserati with the numberplate DR 51LLY.

    • I remember seeing 5AAB on a Saab, on a family holiday, in 1979. I saw a Mk 3 Cavalier saloon during the summer and that, just like the XJ40, looked tiny!

  10. Meant to mention the firm in Bristol that have company cars with letter-number-0-RYX. They’re called Oryx, of course.

  11. NI plates, usually bought by GB motorists to hide the age.

    For a while in the 80s-90s they could make ‘nickname’ plates from them eg. BAZ, DAZ, GAZ etc.

    When I lived in Scotland with an originally NI car they thought my nickname was ‘MAZ’.
    Cue that old Viz joke about changing your name to match your plate…

      • Nice one!

        There are registers of ex-Ulsterbus/Citybus/Metro fleets which have went to GB coach operators but kept their plates.
        3 old Bristol RELLs ended up over in Pinewood studios where they play bit parts eg. the bus in Children of Men and the school bus in St Trinians but difficult to tell if they were re-registered, in CoM I think they had futuristic dystopian plates made up anyway.

        Ulsterbus/Metro tend to match the plate number with the bus number, say ABZ 1234 might be bus fleet number 234.

        London has copied this approach – fun fact as to where this is leading to – their numberplates on the new buses are LTZ xxxx which were specially licenced by DVLA as NI plates, built in Ballymena but given LTZ numberplates. Otherwise the dateless NI *TZ series hasn’t been used yet.

  12. I still occasionally see personalised number plates with incorrect spacing to create words as mentioned and shown here. Also still see plates in italics and so called illegal typefaces. I understand such practices can lead to fines of up to £1,000?

    How then is it that these practices are commonplace yet I don’t hear of many prosecutions?

    • Because the police are already stretched, and enforcing correct number plate spacing is (rightly) a long way down their list of priorities.

      • A valid point Andy… so it begs the question why do we have rules & laws for relatively trivial matters in this country which are obviously un-enforceable? Unless you’re unlucky by a chance encounter.

        In my town, there is an Audi TT which has had italic plates on for years and parks not far from the town’s Cop shop. Obviously that owner has got away with it – thus far?

  13. I used to be quite dismissive about private number plates until I bought a car that had one fitted. Now I’m in the process of selling the car and I’ve already coughed up £80 to the DVLA to keep the plate, as I’ve grown quite fond of it!

    As to the whole spacing issue being illegal, surely the idea of the plate in whatever form, is to identify the car. Therefore given that I’m sure you’re far more likely to remember MAG1C (owned by Paul Daniels as it happens!) than F 714 KCG (one of my old cars) when you see it jumping a red light* makes this a good thing?

    *Not that I’ve ever jumped a red light. Nor did Paul Daniels, I’m sure!

  14. And another which always made me chuckle was a chap at work with an M3 coupe – W110 OPS. The black screw was between the 1s to give WH0OPS.

  15. I personally like to keep a car’s original registration – I see it as part of a car’s identity in much the same way as its VIN number.

  16. I remember seeing NAD 1R on a Merc. The spacing was legal, with a gap between the D and the 1. My dad said what a shame he didn’t space it all out evenly to spell NADIR, but I answered that illegal spacing is for numbers that aren’t quite right. If the number is perfect, like this one, then legal spacing gives it a kind of class that sets it above the rest.

  17. Local to me is 2 UF, on a series of (i.e. frequently changed) top end marques/models. No doubt the plate is intended to be read in the rear view mirror of the car in front…..

  18. The US system is better, where you can have pretty much anything you like on your numberplate for a fixed fee..

  19. The 1970s porn star Fiona Richmond had a car with FU 2 — I only admit to knowing this because it came up in a car mag when she was selling the plate. I do admit to knowing who Fiona Richmond is, however, 😉
    Best I’ve ever seen was a (legal) GUM800T on a green Range Rover (original model)
    There is a driving school car with an illegal plate round here — my kids are not learning to drive with him.
    The other stupid trend at the moment is for removing the front plate and having it stuck (usually illegibly) inside the windscreen.
    I regard anyone who does this as a complete prat, along with the ones who change the spacing / use screwheads etc to change the plate.

    • See what you mean Tony… I see a lot of “illegal plates” – dodgy spacing, italics etc on cars in my area, but they don’t seem to get stopped & fined as the authorities profess to do. I’ve seen one car (AUDI TT) with such plates on, for years.

  20. The reason you see front plates in the windscreen is simple…… they don’t register on speed cameras. The drivers will claim “it fell off and I haven’t had time to put it back on”. They don’t get done for speeding, and they also don’t register on ANPR camera, car park cameras, etc etc..

    • I had thought that most cameras take the rear of a speeding car so an out of place front plate wouldn’t make a difference.

  21. Locally there is a car with TO11RET on it. Not sure whether that’s a random plate, or one that’s making more of a statement.

    And more prosaically, there’s one that says HU58AND. Not sure if that’s her telling us that that’s his car, or its their surname!

  22. I remember at one of the top London hospitals there was someone senior in the Oncology department whose Bentley had the registration B10PSY.

    And locally there is a Range Rover with LE55TAX as his plate.

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