Biggles Invests in Plates – by Roger Harris

I am very keen on “personal” number plates.  I bought my first one for my 30th birthday back in 1995.  It was my initials J30 RJH.  It was on my “J” reg Astra.  When I bought an “R” reg Astra, I bought R30 RJH to match.

I have owned a few good number plates over the years.  I used to own F7YNN at one stage (I’m a big fan of Errol Flynn!) and I also used to own DR03 WHO (big fan of the third Doctor Who actor Jon Pertwee).  I still own ER06 GER, (E-Roger, geddit?) and I bought a fantastic one for my daughter’s 18th birthday.   YM60 AMY.   It says Amy when you look at it in front of you AND when you look at it behind you in the mirror!  (Yes, it does… try it!).

Well, back in 2002, I thought wouldn’t it be good if I could get hold of B166 LES as a number plate.  The ultimate number plate for a Biggles fan.  Firstly, I had to do a bit of research.  Had it been issued and if so, who owned it?  How on Earth could I find out?  Well, I found a web site that told you if a number plate had ever been issued – and it hadn’t!  So now all I had to do was to persuade DVLA to issue it and sell it to me ……..

I wrote to DVLA, pointing out that the number plate B166 LES had never been issued, and I asked if I could buy it.  They replied to say that they would put it up for sale at one of their forthcoming auctions.  It was in March 2003 that they put B166 LES up for auction and they notified me accordingly.  I went along to bid.

Now, the thing about bidding for number plates is that you end up paying far more than you bid.  There is VAT on the bid price, currently 20% (but 17.5% back then).  There is also a buyer’s premium of around 8% of the hammer price.  And there is VAT on the buyer’s premium!  Oh, and to top all that off, there is an £80 transfer fee, which you have to pay when you buy the number plate, so that any later transfer to a car is already paid for.  Basically, this means that a £2300 bid, will mean you actually pay a few pounds short of £3000!  I had a budget and a maximum I could bid up to.  One of the difficulties of buying a good number plate at auction is that you are up against the dealers.  They buy up any good number plates that they believe they can sell on for a profit.  When it came to the auction for B166 LES, I found myself bidding against a dealer and realised I couldn’t outbid him.  Rather than push the price up and up an up, it made more sense to stop bidding – and then try and buy it off the dealer afterwards.  I stopped bidding and the hammer fell at £3000, so the buyer ended up paying closer to £4000 with all the additional fees I have explained.

I then waited a week or so and searched online to find B166 LES for sale – which I did, but no price was indicated.  I rang the relevant dealer to see if he would sell it to me and he would – but he wanted £5000 for it!  And if that wasn’t bad enough, he then told me there was a further 17.5% VAT on told of that …….. so another £875.00 on top.  Well, that way outside of my means, so I had to let it go.  Bye Bye B166 LES, you were only issued because of me and I never got to own you!

Just as a postscript, the DVLA took it upon themselves to issue B199 LES, a couple of years later, which I didn’t think was as good.  That said, I would have tried to buy it had I known about the auction, but DVLA didn’t tell me and I never knew. That sold in October 2005 for a hammer price of £1700 (plus all the extra expenses).  A few years later, the person who bought it, contacted me by e-mail via my website and offered to sell it to me, but we couldn’t agree a price.  I passed.

Having lost Biggles, I then tried to think up what other good number plates you could get.  It then occurred to me in 2010 that WE 10HNS was the best W. E. Johns number plate you could possibly get at that time.  It never went to auction; it was just sold via the DVLA’s usual sales and I bought it.  The problem with that, was I didn’t have a new car.  You can put an OLD number plate on a new car but you can’t put a NEW number plate on an old car.  By that, I mean you can never make a car look newer than it really is.  My wife and I had two cars, but both five to ten years old.  So, although I owned WE 10HNS, I couldn’t actually put it on my car registered in 2006.  I needed a car registered in 2010.  But I can never afford a new car, so, as I knew that I wouldn’t get a 2010 car until many years later, I kept the Johns number plate on retention year after year.  In 2017, my father died, I was given his Vauxhall Agila.  This was a 2010 car, registered in the second half of 2010, so the plate was a “60” plate.  But at last I had a car “new” enough to put my W. E. Johns plate on – because a “10” plate is older than “60” and doesn’t make the car look newer.  So, at last I could have my number plates on my car!

Here is a picture.

Now, even in 2010, I had already thought that the best possible W. E. Johns number plate was in fact the number plate  WE 70HNS.  But that would not be issued for another ten years, until the second half of 2020.      I resolved to buy it when it came out.

I kept my eye on DVLA notifications, and after waiting ten long years, on Tuesday 5th May 2020 at 10.00 am, DVLA allowed the public to start buying “70” plates, with any good ones, (like OC70PUS), going to auction.

I was online at the required time and the DVLA website was swamped with new buyers so it was very slow.  It took over an hour to eventually buy WE 70HNS, but at last I had done it!  I have had the plates made up

But of course, I don’t have a brand-new car to put it on and I am not likely to get one.  So, I will have to wait for another five to ten years to get a second hand car that is new enough to put my plates on.  Patience is a virtue!  I will just finish by saying that I currently have on my car, the number plate “2 ULU”.  Would you believe me if I said that the number plate 2ULU (which looks like “Zulu”) was once on Michael Caine’s Mercedes?  Well, it was ……… but how I got to own that is a whole other story and I won’t bore you with it here!