In many countries, personalized license plates are not offered the way they are in the United States, so interesting number plates are big business. In the U.K., there’s a veritable cottage industry based on the trade and auction of license plate numbers, and one family recently sold a simple three-digit plate reading “O 10” for the low, low price of £128,800 ($170,000).
As Motor1 discovered, the plate sold at Silverstone Auctions has quite an interesting backstory. It stayed in the same family for 118 years, a result of the seller’s grandfather, Charles Thompson, being the 10th person in line when the Birmingham vehicle registration office first opened its doors in 1902.
Since the plates stay with the owner (and not the car, as in some U.S. states) the number subsequently adorned Thompson family cars for two generations, including Austin A35s, Minis, Vauxhall Cavaliers, Ford Cortinas, Peugeots and Jaguars. After Charles Thompson’s son Barry passed away, the family used the plates, which they say have always been a great conversation piece, for two years before consigning them to the auction house.
As a show of how insane the bidding for exclusive number plates can get, this sale doesn’t even crack the top 10 of all-time highest prices paid in the U.K. The most expensive plate is “25 O”, sold in 2014 for £518,480 (about $684,000 at today’s exchange rates) to the owner of a Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta. Today, it’s estimated to be worth £750,000 ($990,000 USD).
As always, when there’s money to be made, people will try anything to make it. The system has inadvertently created a network of speculators, investors and marketers. Ads regularly run in enthusiast magazines and even the classifieds section of The Sunday Times. According to Car, as of 2018 the sale of desirable plates has raised more than £2 billion ($2.64 billion USD) for the U.K. Treasury. That’s more than the GDP of at least a dozen nations.
The all-time most expensive plate is expected to be “F1”, which sold in 2008 for £440,625, is expected to be worth £1,000,000, but is currently asking £10,000,000 ($13 million USD). As a reminder, for that money you can also buy an actual McLaren F1.