vanity plates

vanity fayre

vanity plates

Andy Enright takes a sideways look at the whole personal plate marke

Sitting at a T-junction in a bright yellow sports coupes waiting to be let out into traffic is a disheartening experience. You make eye contact, they look at your car and shut the door. That's par for the course. It's when they spot that your number plate has been jigged about to read LUST and start laughing that you really want the world to swallow you up.

As a motoring journalist you have to drive the car the manufacturers supply, plate and all. You know that when you drive a Porsche 911 home with the press office 911 HUL registration on it, people are going to think you're a bit of a spiv. I can see it, you can see it but why, oh why, can't the hundreds of people who routinely go out and try to put the names or their make of car on their number plates, spending a fortune in the process. It's lost on me.

Let's get one thing straight. No matter what gimpy fonts, liberal use of rivets and crank spacing you apply P447TEL doesn't read 'Patel'. M1VCE on a Ferrari Daytona Spyder replica suggest that for its owner the Eighties never really went away and if you really want to pay £24,995 for BOU6H then I have to wonder what's happened to the world that you're willing to spend all that money to let people know you possibly share a surname with an ex-Nationwide presenter best known for taking cocaine and wearing lingerie at colourful parties. Maybe that's the point after all.

Why spend thousands of pounds on a plate telling people you drive a BMW when they can probably tell that said piece of plastic isn't attached to a Kia all by themselves? £80,000 to advertise to the world that your parents couldn't think of a better name for you than Nigel? Crazy. All it really advertises is a chronic lack of imagination on how to fritter disposable income.

The bizarre part of the vanity plate market is that although a few speculators do make a tidy profit, not least of all the Exchequer through the DVLA, many customers see the plates as a risk-free investment, reckoning it's the only part of their car that isn't depreciating. Like any market, the personalised registration sector is subject to the laws of supply and demand and the vagaries of fashion. As a car mad kid, I remember getting very excited about the registration plate change each year. That no longer happens. Number plates on cars have become ever so slightly naff and personalised plates especially so.

The only plate I really liked featured the most nerdy of inside jokes. A friend from California registered 6765656b and nobody thought much of it. I didn't until he was given the thumbs up in the street by a pasty-looking guy with bad hair. What was all that about? I asked. It's the plate, he grinned. It reads GEEK in hexadecimal.