From 1967 to 1997, the first of August brought a flutter of excitement to British car enthusiasts, in a small but seemingly significant way. You see, it was on that day each year that new registration suffix or prefix letters were issued, from ‘F’ suffix in 1967 through to ‘R’ prefix in 1997.
My first awareness of this came in 1968, when suddenly (to me) our Mk1 Ford Cortina was replaced by a shining new, bottle green, Mk2, four door saloon, carrying the registration number OOH486G. I immediately recognised the difference in suffix letter from our old ‘D’ registered example, such feats of letter recognition being high on my agenda at the time but had no idea of its significance until it was explained to me that it represented the new season’s cars.
Once alerted to the delights of the registration system and after something of a reminder when, one glorious weekday, before the end of July 1969, I spotted my first ‘H’ suffix on a Ford Corsair, clearly out and about before the due date, I was hooked.
My first spotting of a ‘J’ registered vehicle came when a batch of new buses was allocated to the garage operating the route past my house. These came in the series VOH 13-27J. however, these came with silver-on-black plates, which to me disguised their modernity, as by then reflective plates were fast becoming the norm. Our next new car heralded ‘K’ suffixes for me, when Ford Cortina Mk3, AOH722K arrived on 1st August 1971, but perhaps the most momentous series to catch my eye came a couple of years later, when a shining new Bristol VRTSL6G/MCW showed up to carry me on my first ever solo bus ride, bearing the mark NOB370M. My nine year old brain was tickled by this series of plates (NOB 303-342/362-424M, which of course became legendary in the world of West Midlands bus enthusiasts.
Little could top that series for me, and the following years of fresh suffixes and prefixes became little more than a minor diversion every summer, until the final ‘traditional’ August 1st release of ‘R’ prefixes. ‘R’ ran from August 1st 1997 until August 31st 1998, after which six monthly changes in prefix became the new system, in readiness for the change to our current UK system of two letter area code, followed by date code and finally three random letters. The romance had waned.
Of course, the real skill in identifying the year of a registration mark’s issue comes with those issued before the advent of letter suffixes, the latter introduced in drips and drabs between early 1963 and early 1965.
Most Axx xxx sequence registrations date from around 1933/4 to 1935, whereas reversed versions (xxx Axx) commenced in the mid to late 1950s. Naturally there are anomalies, such as single and double letter suffixes (for example - 5024E), also appearing from the mid-1950s onwards, with many local vehicle licencing offices bowing out of the pre-suffix era with four numbers followed by two area denoting letters (for example: 2734 DH).
I’m aware that we have wandered deep into nerd territory, but I hope that I’ve tweaked a little something in the old grey matter that may see you struggling through recently ingested knowledge of UK registration marks in an attempt to accurately estimate elderly vehicles’ ages.
Books and websites are available for reference of the subject.
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