A little while ago I was sent a couple of photos by one of PetrolBlog’s resident guest bloggers Darren Leslie. The accompanying words described his joy, not only of spotting an Audi 80 of similar vintage to his own, but also wearing a near identical number plate.
This is the kind of joy only a petrolhead would understand. To the great unwashed, a set of seven digits on the front of a car are merely a group of letters and numbers. But to a petrolhead they can unlock joy of unimaginable proportions.
Take Darren for example who went on to describe a childhood game he used to play when travelling in the back of his father’s Audi. You had to find the closest registration mark to the vehicle you were travelling in. Points would be awarded not only for the entire plate, but also on the letter or number section. Bonus points would be awarded if the make and model matched up, with mega super bonus points on offer if it was the same spec or colour.
Darren and his brother weren’t all that good at the game as seemingly nobody in Buckinghamshire bought Audis of late ’70s vintage from the Middlesex area.
So you can imagine Darren’s joy when, after nearly 40 years, he struck the jackpot. Sitting in an unassuming car park in Southampton was the holy grail, a car he had been tirelessly searching for. Seeing the Audi 80 resulted in Darren lifting his jumper over his head, raising his hands in the air and running around the car park shouting ‘vorsprung durch magnifico’. Or something along those lines.
Darren’s tale got me thinking. Number plates these days are a bit rubbish really, aren’t they? I mean the current system, it just hasn’t got any soul. Number plates today are just a shadow of their former selves. Things were much better in the days of the suffix and prefix system – the halcyon days of the British number plate.
In the days of the suffix plate (1963 to 1983), untold joy was on offer with the game of ‘first to finish’. You’d challenge a mate travelling in the same car to follow the alphabet using the suffix letter on other cars. One starts at A and the other starts a Y. First to finish wins.
Of course, if you were travelling with a mate who was unfamiliar with the system and therefore a bit stupid, you’d ensure he started at the letter Z. A guaranteed win for you every time.
You just knew where you stood before 2001. The suffix and prefix system made it easy to identify a car’s age and where it was registered. Where I grew up, JT, RU, EL and FX were the local heroes. And when on holiday in Cornwall, I knew AF and CV meant the car was of Cornish descent. People knew where they stood.
But veering towards a confessional blog here, I also have favourite number plates. Registration marks which I feel look better than the others. Narrowing it down could be a simple process, but to-date I’ve never attempted it. So now, for the first time, I’ll share this skeleton in my closest.
For a start, I’ve always preferred the prefix. The letter before the numbers is a statement of intent. By standing in front of the numbers he’s effectively saying he’s superior. I’m the boss around here. Oh and by the way, I’m not going to get into a debate over the gender of the prefix digit. We’ll just accept it’s a he.
Of the 26 to choose from, we can automatically rule out I, O, U and Z because they don’t exist. And the Q plate is a bit rubbish as it’s predominantly reserved for cars of questionable origin.
So we’re left with 21. The A can go because for some it had the nerve to replace the much-loved suffix system. And Y can go too for looking like a question.
I’ve never really liked H, probably because it signalled the end of the 1980s.
Some can be ruled out purely for cosmetic regions – they just look a bit rubbish. So it’s goodbye to C, J, L, M, N, P, R, V and W. A ruthless act, but in true Highlander style, there can be only one.
What are we left with? Just B, D, E, F, G, K, S, T and X – five from the 1980s, three from the 1990s and one from the new millennium. The truth is, I like them all, but we need to reach a conclusion. So how about a final three consisting of one from each decade? Yep, that ought to do it.
But which letter from the 1980s will survive? It’s a tough call. At least it is for me, any normal person wouldn’t be going through this process. OK, time for B to go. I was always a B grade student at school, so I’ve seen enough of them. And a D or E was a fail, so they can go too. We’re left with a battle between the F and G. I love them both. Many of the cars I fancy plucking from the classifieds have an F or a G on the plate. Yet despite my AX wearing a G plate, I’m going for the F.
Of the 90s, it has to be the K. As much as I admire the fight put up by the S and T, when I think of the letter K I think of the Saab 900 Ruby, the Alfa Romeo 164 and the Volkswagen Corrado. When I think of S and T I think of something far less pleasant. So it’s goodbye to them.
So it’s come to this – a straight fight between the F, K and X. It’s a tense moment and I’m spending far too much time pondering the outcome. F, K or X? X, F or K? K, X or F…
*pathetic drum roll*
And the winner is – the letter F. Ultimately it has to be something from the 1980s, the greatest era of motoring. So F it is.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you the F plate (August 1988 to September 1989). A worthy winner.
I’m now off to get those 15 minutes of my life back. If you want to spend half a second thinking about your favourite plate, let me know. Alternatively, send in the men in white coats.