Blog : Today used to be a special day

Ben Adams

V-registration day, 1 August 1979
V-registration day, 1 August 1979

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!


Keith Adams


  1. I remember going to DC COOK in manchester in 93 to pick up my new L reg cinquecento at midnight. All the other dealers were also open.

  2. Ah yeah, I remember those cheesy ads that would plaster the windows of Bristol Street Motors in Cheltenham when I was a lad- ‘For the latest Fords, C Reg’, etc…

    I’ve never really warmed to the latest numerical year marker type registrations. I miss the three-letter area code- currently all of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire shares the same V* prefix with random letters. Doesn’t have the same magic.

    Things were better in t’olden days…

  3. I remember a local dealer advertising that you could pick up your new Princess 2 at a “Midnight T party!”. Or a friend, who was working at a Ford dealer at the time, telling me that he was delivering a new registration car, on trade plates, on the 31st of July and he got berated by an animated little old lady, who got really angry, telling him that he shouldn’t be driving it yet!

    The new system seems to attract no interest whatsoever….

  4. I agree with all comments here… On 1st August 1979 I took delivery of my first brand new car (V reg Datsun Cherry). In those days, because the letter lasted a full year, you felt that your car was “still new” for a year, whereas nowadays the number/letter combination changing twice a year is not the “event” it once was.

    Of course it was back in 1998(?) that the prefix letters, started with ‘S’ changed every six months

  5. Close Hilton, ‘S’ was the final August registration and lasted from Aug 1st 1998 to Feb 28th 1999. Of course dealers played on this due to the fact that ‘last’ and ‘August’ both have the letter S in them!

    @ Chris Baglin it is a shame that the new system doesn’t make more of its 2nd letter, there also seems to be a concerted effort by DVLA to avoid issuing anything remotely memorable for free, I am told they offer three random choices and then if the dealer wants anything else they ask for money!

  6. Oh yes… I’ll drink to that.

    I have great memories drilling number plates and tuning the Wireless presets into 96.6 (the hot FM) and BBC Radio Northampton on the 31st of July 1988 till 8.00pm clearing the PDI backlog…. Cash in the claw too!

  7. When I worked in the trade, the dealer I worked at actually opened at midnight, so people could collect their cars. It meant muchos overtime for me, making sure the cars were prepped and ready for the eager punters. A bit sad really

  8. I realised last night after I had written this that I actually have an Aug 1st car here on my driveway. My Nan’s 100! Registered 01/08/1996.

    Although I cannot see her tootling down at midnight, having a coffee with the dealer principal and then driving home. I rather imagine she popped down mid morning whilst Ken Bruce did Popmaster!

  9. my rover sd1 is a 1984 A suffix second showing of the letter i guess and the beggining of the end of letter use?

  10. Nothing like spotting a new reg back in the day…I remember some excitement when in ’84 the letter switched to the front of the plate, as my neighbours new Ital did.

    I still notice a ’61 plate etc. but it’s not the same, still could be worse, didn’t the UK nearly go all European with thier number plates, with french/German/Irish styles?

  11. I remember very well 1st August 1978 and breaking all records for our dealership. I believe we registered around 200 cars for the whole month and something like 50 being collected on the 1st.

    These were all lined up along the front of the site on the evening of July 31st ready to be handed over the procession of new owners the following morning (we didn’t do midnight parties in those days).

    There was a fine assortment of Princesses, Marinas, MGBs, SD1s, Allegros, XJ6s etc etc.

    Only problem was our site was close to one of the roughest neighbourhoods in town and all the cars along the front of the display lost their wipers during the night.

    You can imagine the panic in Parts trying to source replacements from all the local motor factors before the punters arrived.

  12. I remember looking out for new regestrations when I was young, as they often appeared on the orads same week I was going on holidy to north Norfolk.

  13. Having worked in many large dealerships during the nineties I have mixed memories of the mayhem that surrounded the 1st August registration change. To have criticised it at the time would have been similar to Santa complaining about Christmas and the paychecks at the end of the month were enormous- usually around a quarter of your annual income.

    As a sales person the days leading up to ‘New Letter Day’ were extremely stressful- with up to 200 cars being delivered on 1st and I remember sleepless nights worrying whether cars would arrive to the dealership on time, or whether Mr Grey’s Bluebird had its mudflaps fitted. I recall having to move hundreds of cars from the compound on a regular basis as it was always the car furthest from the gate that was required for PDi. Due to the volume of cars being stored at the dealership there were inevitably a few bumps and scrapes and you had to try to get the car in and out the bodyshop before its new owner picked it up at midnight on July 31st.

    The midnight collection was always entertaining as customers fought with each other to be first out the dealership and over 100 brand new Micra Dots and Sunny Spays went tearing off into the night like the start of Le Mans, each owner desperate to be the first to be spotted in his new-reg car in the otherwise deserted streets. And God help any sales person that failed to secure and deliver the required new car on the first- a customer’s failure to get the required car on the required day promped the most severe levels of complaint to the MD with the promise of never setting foot in the dealership again.

    Those were the days!

  14. Yup. Every year one of my uncles would always change his car on August 1st!
    I remember one bloke turning up to pick his new motor up, and going over it wearing white gloves to check for dust! It was only a bloody Felicia 1.3 GLX as well!

  15. I remember reading in my local paper about someone who picked up their new car at midnight on August the 1st, & managed to crash & write it off on the way home with just 16 miles on the clock!

  16. I appreciate how nice it is to have the latest plate on your car, but I think I could wait until a normal time to pick it up! Wouldn’t be too bothered about an early hour collection..unless it was a 75 V8 maybe

  17. My Dad used to dish out some extra pocket money for the first new reg spotted.
    i’ve kept up the tradition, £2 for the 1st, £1 for the second, evidence being the number, colour and make, and it being checked online.The kids love it.
    This year I offered 2 more, first MG6 (£5) and first Great Wall (£10). After many months I had to cough up for the MG6 last Friday when a white one shot past on the M6, I reckon my money is safe on the Great Wall though…

  18. @11 Jason… Didn’t the ending letter “Y” change to front letter “A” in August/Sept 1983 – not 1984? A colleague got a new VW Passat in Autumn 83 and was definitely an “A” reg.

  19. I remember Gordon Honeycombe announcing “D day” on TV news in 1986. They showed a lovely jaguar xj6. How I wanted my dad to trade in his granada for one! Funny what you remember, I was only 7!

  20. Hi

    Does anyone remember the BL 1978 advert “get the ‘S’ reg special right on time” showing a green marina.
    cheers Paul

  21. I used to like the transition to the new letter – but when I bought my C6, I got C6 RTK for it from the DVLA so I wouldn’t have a ’57’ plate – it cost less than taxing it for a year.

    The plate stayed with the car when I sold it, so I have no idea if the owner kept it on it or not.

  22. @ #23, Paul, I remember the adverts as being ‘Get your ‘S’ plate special….. with the word ‘plate’, rather than ‘reg’. Couldn’t remember the green Marina but do recall one with a white Mini. Funny, I can’t remember what I did yesterday but I can remember that!!

    Cheers, Steve

  23. I used to cheat on the new reg game. Our local Ford dealer Jessups of Stamford would have a growing number of the new reg cars in its stockyard in the week running up to August 1.

    Another cheat was being the first of my mates to sit in a new reg. The man next door got a new Cavalier every Aug 1. They got progressively better from a China Blue 1.6 L on a Y to a GSI 4×4 on an H. His last new reg car on the day of change was a 2001 Y Omega V6 Elite.

  24. Yes, its a pity the annual letter plate was done away with. When they reached the Y prefix, they could have moved the year letter to another position. ABC A123 for instance. By my reckoning we would have just got J reg again this year.

  25. ……….but buy that W reg Escort MK2 featured in the advert and you would have felt a bit sick the following month when the MK3 appeared. That was the problem with the August plate change, manufacturers often used it to clear out old stock before new models appeared during the Autumn motor show cycle.

  26. The new system is quite clever though, stil changes twice a year like the old prefix system, but will last a lot longer. I don’t know why, but ’04’ or ’59’ don’t seem to have the same excitement as ‘Y’ or ‘K’, has anyone seen a 62 car yet?

  27. I’ve only seen two 62 reg cars, and maybe it’s because I work in swanky Kensington but they were…

    a Porsche Cayenne
    a BMW X6M

  28. Best memory of August 1st. New reg FSO Polonez being towed away on Newtown Row, Birmingham. Still it had a dealer fit pop up sun roof to keep cool!

  29. @30 Indeed they are. Mk2 prices seem to have gone stratospheric. But you wouldnt have known that in August 1980!

  30. I miss the August 1st plate change , and it is definately not as special buying a new car now there are 2 changes a year. In fact I probably wouldnt bother trying to be first , i would just get a car when i wanted now. , instead of the first day.

  31. It was always fun spotting the tourists arriving in mid Wales from Manchester/Liverpool/Birmingham with new plate cars, especially as you’d usually spot a few “small number” plates like N6 WNX/P49 RMX etc.

  32. The old system seemed to define each year more clearly than now, you knew a D reg Metro was an 86/87 car and by looking closely you could often tell which year a car was sold with trim changes.
    It’s like fashion, you can tell almost to the month an old ’60s or ’70s film by the fashions being worn, today it’s almost impossible to tell which year it is as trends (especially men’s) have hardly changed in years.

  33. I’m noticing a lot of tourists in (Ro/southern) Irish hirecars with the number plates

    ‘131’ and recently the June plate ‘132’.

    The diesel Fluence seems to be a huge fleet seller.

  34. I think the Republic of Ireland has a simpler and more logical numberplate system, with a 2 digit number representing the year the vehicle was made (ie ’01’ for 2001)..

  35. I remember getting my company car 02 plate Golf TDI on 1st March 2002 delivered from London down to Sussex – proud as punch as I parked it up at home that night 🙂

  36. As a lad I remember the local rental firms in Leicester,Swan National (later Eurodollar) and Kennings having new fleets delivered.Forecourts full of Mk5 Cortinas and Transits or Marinas and Sherpa vans.

  37. @Adrian

    It has changed to mirror the GB system somewhat.

    ‘131’ eg. 131-D-12345 was used from January to June.

    ‘132’ is currently used for the remainder of 2013.

    Apparently to give car dealers an extra mid-year boost, rather than all new sales occuring in January. Though the fact that it happened when a ’13’ plate was to be introduced onto the superstitious Irish is just a coincidence.

    I like NI plates in that they are not attached to any date whatsoever. Good for hiding the age. Plenty of GB drivers / coach operators etc. buy them for this purpose.
    In fact, I’m heading to the tax office at lunch time to get one to replace the English (Reading = RJ?) ’02’ age plate.

  38. One way to date recent films & TV is to look at the technology in use, the designs of computers & mobile phones change fairly fast.

  39. Having lived outside the UK for far too long I find the present system a bit confusing. However not many countries have part of it relating to the registration period (age).

  40. I did have a August 1 car, registered in 1992 but I no longer have that as Mike humble prised it out of my hands.
    But I do miss those days gone by spotting the first new reg car of the summer.

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