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Behind the scenes at the DVLA's £5.1m number plate auction

Behind the scenes at the DVLA’s £5.1m number plate auction

Behind the scenes at the DVLA's £5.1m number plate auction

I’m stood next to the DVLA’s expert auctioneer, Gary Earle, watching a determined bidder sat at the front of the room and bidding on a personalised plate: ‘111 OM’. It looked like he was going to get it for a couple of grand, but now phone bidders are pushing the price up. His mannerisms are those of someone who’s nervous. As bidding comfortably exceeds £5,000, he looks like he’s already over-budget, but doesn’t want to go home empty-handed.

The bidder holds his nerve, however, and the hammer falls in his favour at £8,800. That’s nearly £11,500 by the time you add auction fees and VAT on top.

As soon as the auction’s over, he’s out of the room with a grin on his face. I chase him out to ask why on earth he’s just spent more than £10,000 on a piece of paper (you have to buy the plastic plates separately).

“I already own another one very similar to this,” Oliver Morgan tells me. I clock a North-Eastern accent – we’re in Hertfordshire – and ask him how far he’s travelled to buy ‘111 OM’.

“I drove down from Durham,” he says. “I could have bid online or over the phone, but I missed the deadline to apply for registration and I didn’t want to miss the plate.”

Has he got an equally flashy car to put the plate on? “I’ve only got a work van, but that’s got my other plate on it. This will probably go on my girlfriend’s car for now.”

With that, he hits the road.

Tell me about a number plate auction

Behind the scenes at the DVLA's £5.1m number plate auction

The DVLA held five live auctions in 2016, with the final auction at The Hanbury Manor Hotel near Ware in Hertfordshire. An impressive £5.1 million was raised over the three-day sale, taking the total made from number plate auctions in 2016 to £25.6 million.

By the time costs for venue hire, staff and the like are taken out, that money goes to the treasury. There’s a lot to be made from vanity, it seems.

The auctions move around the country, usually located at upmarket hotels where bidders can turn buying a number plate into a few days away.

How does the DVLA choose the number plates?

How does the DVLA come up with the number plates?

“Coming up with 1,500 registrations can be a big job,” DVLA Personalised Registrations manager Adam Griffiths says. “All registrations we auction have never been on a car before. We basically think of them out of thin air and check records to see if we’ve ever sold them, or if they’ve ever been assigned to a vehicle.

“If there’s no record, we can sell them.”

Number plates have to follow certain approved formats, however, mainly to prevent them getting confused with similar-looking plates. So, ‘1 AAA’ is plate, but ‘1 A1A’ isn’t. Registrations beginning with ‘O’ weren’t issued for a long time as it looks identical to ‘0’, but the DVLA has been introducing them to auctions in recent years.

The team will also look at requests from members of the public. If someone wants a plate, and it’s never been sold or assigned to a vehicle, the DVLA can put it up for auction.

Buyers have to be careful, though. While it’s tempting to re-arrange a plate by moving or adding a space, doing so is classed as misrepresentation and can cost you a fine of up to £1,000. You may also have your plate confiscated by the DVLA. If you’ve spent thousands on a registration and tweaked it to look like your name, this could hit you hard in the wallet.

Top 5 registrations sold at Hanbury Manor

Top 5 registrations sold at Hanbury Manor

These are the most expensive plates sold at the Hanbury Manor sale. The hammer prices don’t include VAT (20%), buyer’s premium (8% + VAT) and an assignment fee (£8), so can cost thousands more than initially appears.

1: 911 O – £33,500
2: 110 A – £31,000
3: 400 B – £29,400
4: 993 TT – £28,000
5: 120 C- £27,600

Other highlights include ‘LAM 805V’ (£26,100), ‘488 M’ (£15,500) and ‘GG66 GGG’ (£11,200).

Behind the scenes at the DVLA's £5.1m number plate auction

Behind the scenes at the DVLA's £5.1m number plate auction

Behind the scenes at the DVLA's £5.1m number plate auction

I’m stood next to the DVLA’s expert auctioneer, Gary Earle, watching a determined bidder sat at the front of the room and bidding on a personalised plate: ‘111 OM’. It looked like he was going to get it for a couple of grand, but now phone bidders are pushing the price up. His mannerisms are those of someone who’s nervous. As bidding comfortably exceeds £5,000, he looks like he’s already over-budget, but doesn’t want to go home empty-handed.

The bidder holds his nerve, however, and the hammer falls in his favour at £8,800. That’s nearly £11,500 by the time you add auction fees and VAT on top.

As soon as the auction’s over, he’s out of the room with a grin on his face. I chase him out to ask why on earth he’s just spent more than £10,000 on a piece of paper (you have to buy the plastic plates separately).

“I already own another one very similar to this,” Oliver Morgan tells me. I clock a North-Eastern accent – we’re in Hertfordshire – and ask him how far he’s travelled to buy ‘111 OM’.

“I drove down from Durham,” he says. “I could have bid online or over the phone, but I missed the deadline to apply for registration and I didn’t want to miss the plate.”

Has he got an equally flashy car to put the plate on? “I’ve only got a work van, but that’s got my other plate on it. This will probably go on my girlfriend’s car for now.”

With that, he hits the road.

Tell me about a number plate auction

Behind the scenes at the DVLA's £5.1m number plate auction

The DVLA held five live auctions in 2016, with the final auction at The Hanbury Manor Hotel near Ware in Hertfordshire. An impressive £5.1 million was raised over the three-day sale, taking the total made from number plate auctions in 2016 to £25.6 million.

By the time costs for venue hire, staff and the like are taken out, that money goes to the treasury. There’s a lot to be made from vanity, it seems.

The auctions move around the country, usually located at upmarket hotels where bidders can turn buying a number plate into a few days away.

How does the DVLA choose the number plates?

How does the DVLA come up with the number plates?

“Coming up with 1,500 registrations can be a big job,” DVLA Personalised Registrations manager Adam Griffiths says. “All registrations we auction have never been on a car before. We basically think of them out of thin air and check records to see if we’ve ever sold them, or if they’ve ever been assigned to a vehicle.

“If there’s no record, we can sell them.”

Number plates have to follow certain approved formats, however, mainly to prevent them getting confused with similar-looking plates. So, ‘1 AAA’ is plate, but ‘1 A1A’ isn’t. Registrations beginning with ‘O’ weren’t issued for a long time as it looks identical to ‘0’, but the DVLA has been introducing them to auctions in recent years.

The team will also look at requests from members of the public. If someone wants a plate, and it’s never been sold or assigned to a vehicle, the DVLA can put it up for auction.

Buyers have to be careful, though. While it’s tempting to re-arrange a plate by moving or adding a space, doing so is classed as misrepresentation and can cost you a fine of up to £1,000. You may also have your plate confiscated by the DVLA. If you’ve spent thousands on a registration and tweaked it to look like your name, this could hit you hard in the wallet.

Top 5 registrations sold at Hanbury Manor

Top 5 registrations sold at Hanbury Manor

These are the most expensive plates sold at the Hanbury Manor sale. The hammer prices don’t include VAT (20%), buyer’s premium (8% + VAT) and an assignment fee (£8), so can cost thousands more than initially appears.

1: 911 O – £33,500
2: 110 A – £31,000
3: 400 B – £29,400
4: 993 TT – £28,000
5: 120 C- £27,600

Other highlights include ‘LAM 805V’ (£26,100), ‘488 M’ (£15,500) and ‘GG66 GGG’ (£11,200).

Revealed: the UK’s most expensive car number plates

Revealed: the UK’s most expensive car number plates

Revealed: the UK’s most expensive car number plates

A Dubai property developer has splashed out £7.3 million on a prestigious number plate to adorn his Rolls-Royce. Balwinder Sahani invested 33 million dirhams for the Dubai number plate ‘D5’ – adding it to his collection alongside ‘O9’, which he paid 25 million dirhams for last year.

While these values are far above those ever paid for number plates in the UK, Brit millionaires aren’t shy about splashing the cash on cherished numbers either…

10: 1 O – £170,000

The tenth most expensive number plate thought to have ever been sold in the UK was ‘1 O’. Perhaps bought for its similarity to the number 10, 1 O was sold for £170,000 in 2009.

9: K1 NGS – £231,000

Generally, the longer the plate the less it’s worth, but that doesn’t appear to apply to ‘K1 NGS’. An Arab Sultan is said to have paid £231,000 for the plate in 1993 – imagine what it could fetch at auction more than 20 years later.

8: 1 RH – £247,000

When number plates are sold at auction, it’s anyone’s guess what the final hammer price could be. When millionaire Rob Harverson entered a bidding war against businessman Richard Harris for ‘1 RH’, no one expected it to sell for more than 30 times its £8,000 guide price.

7: 51 NGH – £254,000

7: 51 NGH - £254,000

When ‘51 NGH’ was auctioned in 2006, it broke the record for the most expensive number plate ever sold at a DVLA auction. Its buyer paid more than a quarter of a million for the plate, which has a likeness to the popular Sikh surname, Singh.

6: VIP 1 – £285,000

Not one to shy away from publicity, Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich shelled out £285,000 for ‘VIP 1’ in 2006. It had previously been used on the official Popemobile during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland.

5: M 1 – £331,000

In 2006, loaded businessman Mike McComb from Cheshire treated his six-year-old son to the number plate ‘M 1’. Ten years later, he may now soon be getting ready to use it on his own car. Will he get a BMW M1 for his 17th birthday?

4: 1 D – £352,000

Nope, this plate hasn’t been bought by a rich One Direction superfan – nor by any of the band members themselves. Lebanese property developer Nabil Bishara bought it as a birthday present for his wife in 2009. It could be a solid investment if it takes the fancy of petrolhead Harry Styles.

3: S 1 – £404,000

3: S 1 - £404,000

When this plate smashed its £200,000 auction estimate in 2008, reports suggested the buyer was going place it on his red Skoda. Predictably, it’s now registered on a Range Rover.

2: F 1 – £440,000

You might expect ‘F 1’ to be at home on a McLaren F1, but it is in fact currently used on a Bugatti Veyron. Bought by Afzal Kahn in 2008, the businessman says he has since been offered an incredible £6 million for the plate.

1: 25 O – £518,000

As the classic car market booms, the Ferrari 250 regularly smashes estimates and breaks records at auctions around the world. It’s no surprise, then, that the plate ‘25 O’ is the most expensive number plate ever to be sold. It was snapped up in 2014 by Ferrari dealer John Collins, along with ‘250 L’.

BR15 TOL – £20,168

That’s the top 10 most expensive number plates out of the way – but what other gems have been sold in recent years? We’ll start with this, BR15 TOL, sold to a man from Bristol in 2015 for £20,168.

1 SUV – £46,000

1 SUV

A good number plate can be a brilliant promotional tool – one of that upmarket SUV specialist Saxton 4×4 has discovered with the purchase of ‘1 SUV’. The firm paid £46,000 for the prestigious plate earlier this year, and it currently sits on a Bentley Bentaya.

650 S – £40,250

Want the ultimate plate for your McLaren 650S? The DVLA flogged ‘650 S’ at auction in 2014 for £40,250. It currently sits on a Land Rover Freelander…

MCL 650S – £16,000

While MCL 650S, sold at the same auction, is currently held on retention. That means it’s not displayed on any vehicle. Maybe its owner is saving up for their dream McLaren, having splashed out £16,000 on the registration.

MO12 GAN – £8,892

When the plate MO12 GAN was auctioned in 2012, it was expected to be sold to a Morgan car enthusiast or even the company itself. In fact, it was bought by a Birmingham accountant to promote his company.

SU11 TAN – £14,300

SU11 TAN - £14,300

Are you a wealthy Sultan looking to make a statement? A DVLA auction at Mercedes-Benz World in September 2013 saw the hammer fall on ‘SU11 TAN’ at £14,300.

SMII THY – £37,016

James Corden’s Gavin and Stacey character Smithy was seemingly at an auction in Warwickshire in 2012, when ‘SM11 THY’ sold for more than £37,000 – a whopping £35,000 more than its reserve price.

SL63 AMG – £2,000+

Model-related registrations are always popular, but it’s rare to find one as perfect as this. The DVLA actually released SL63 AMG a year early to build up hype around one of its sales at Mercedes-Benz World. It had a reserve price of just £2,000.

AL11 SON – £19,000

If you’re called Allison, this could be the perfect plate for you. If you’re not, you should probably keep clicking. The plate sold for £19,000 at auction in 2011.

1 MUT – £12,195

1 MUT - £12,195

Dog fan? A businessman paid more than £12,000 for ‘1 MUT’ in 2009 and described it as ‘a bit of fun’. It’s currently used on a Porsche 911.

1 HRH – £113,815

A plate fit for a Queen – a private plate enthusiast paid nearly £115,000 for ‘1 HRH’ at a DVLA auction in 2009.

WEL 5H – £34,400

Welsh and proud? A Welsh businessman splashed out more than £34,000 for ‘WEL 5H’ at auction in 2008 – when other plates including ‘DRA 90N’ and ‘CY51 MRU’ went under the hammer.

WE57 HAM – £57,000

Football-related number plates always make strong money at auction – with ‘AR53 NAL’, ‘HU11 CTY’ and ‘V1 LLA’ all flogged in recent years. ‘WE57 HAM’ made £57,000 in October 2007.

EN61 AND – £15,600

Huge England fan? 66-year-old Brian Brodie ‘couldn’t resist’ treating himself to ‘EN61 AND’. Is it the ultimate English number plate?