Number Plates

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Extract from October's Octagon Car Club Bulletin

Number Plates!

Do They Tell The Truth?

Everybody knows that, depending upon their age, MG motor cars come from either Oxford, Abingdon, or Cowley, but for some unclear reason owners like to know the 'history' of their car, and ignore this fact. They are far more interested in where the car was registered! This very-very transient period of the car existence, where it is delivered to a MG Franchise garage, sold, given a registration number, then delivered to the new owner, seems of great importance, even though the sales 'county' may not be that in which the 'owner' lived.
For instance, University Motors managed to corner a great number of registrations with MG in them, the best known are the UMG/UML series. Many MG cars that were purchased from this Middlesex based company of the 1930's to the 1950's carry such 'valued' registrations. However, the purchaser of that car may live many miles away in another county. The attraction of the initials MG drawing them to the company, even though the MG part of the registration simply means Middlesex!
However, it is still possible to find out the source of your car's registration, but you do need to understand that, (a), it is the last two letters that are relevant, ie, in BPG994 it would be PG, which indicates the number is from Surrey County Council, prior to 1961, and (b) the registration may not be your car's original one.
To explain (a) above; when the Motor Car Act of 1903 was passed, cars had to be registered at their local County Offices. The actual issuing of the numbers was from a local large town, or borough, and it was the same office you went to to pay your road tax in those days. Since the Dept. of Vehicle Licencing Centre, (now an Agency, so called DVLA,) most numbers are in fact allocated to an area today, and the garages issue them. How did I know the registration of BPG994 was pre 1961? Many count ies were running out of number/letter combinations by the early 1960's, so some had reverted to using the numbers in front of the letters, ie if Surrey CC ran out, they could re-use this as 994BPG. Most 'old' cars with the numbers leading the letters, are after the late 1950's, early 1960's, this even goes for registrations like 1882ED, which initially looks to be a very old one, pre 1930's. But, if it WAS an old one, it would have been ED1882. It was on a 1961 Austin I once owned, and the letters are Warrington/ Liverpool. If your MG has numbers in front of its letters, and it is pre-1958, that number is not its original one. A post-1949 car with MG then four numbers is most certainly not wearing its original plate. Such registrations ran out in most areas by the mid 1930's, except for EX where Great Yarmouth used it up to 1956, and EY was used on Anglesey until 1951. Mg on its own was used by Middlesex from 1930 to 1949.
By 1963 the position was getting very serious, and a whole new system had to be used, where the registration was given a suffix, such as 'A' registration, and this enabled the whole system to be re-used, and the suffix letter more or less related to a year. Not all counties and boroughs used the suffix letter system immediately, some had plenty of ordinary registrations left.
Now to (b); when the counties and boroughs issued the car registrations, it was quite easy to buy your new car, but KEEP your old number, putting the 'new' number onto your old car, and this happened an awful lot of times. It all depended upon the area, and the clerk's attitude, and that your car was 'taxed' in that area on its buff log book. This will put the cat amongst the pigeons a little I know, but a lot of cars are NOT wearing their original registration numbers if pre-1972, and its almost impossible to check now that so many counties have scrapped their records since the DVLC (DVLA now) . Some have archived them, some sent them to DVLC. In this way people often kept registration numbers for many cars in the family, an early form of personalised plates. The inception of DVLC brought in much stricter control, and it ceased for a while, until today we can 'buy' almost any registration we want, throwing the idea of tracing a car by its number into utter confusion. In 1983 the DVLC really got to grips with registering cars, and carried out a country-wide check on all current in-use cars, to clear out the scrapped ones that no one had told them about. You can see the result of this on your registration form, as it will not give owners pre-1983, but says numbers of owners from then.
Anyway, by 01.08.83 the suffix lettering had run out, so a prefix was begun.
Not all the area used the earlier suffix letter, some low populated areas carried on using the old number/letter system up into 1965, so you can get a 1965 MG with NO suffix. These towns/counties began at 'C'. To further confuse the issue, people began to sell old registrations for cash, from their old car, and found themselves lumbered with an 'A' suffix, that actually only lasted from 01.02.63 to 31.12.63 and was not used by everyone. This single letter policy for cars with non-original plates reduced the value of the cars. Complaints eventually won a hearing at DVLA when DVLA themselves began to sell registration we can get an age related plate, but one that cannot be transferred.
This is where the last two letters that indicate the area does become a problem, as those used for age related plates are from areas where there were lots of the old type numbers still left. You can spot these cars still, even though they have lost the 'A' suffix. They carry 'SV, SU, SK, VS, and YJ', which must be a pain to those people who really do have cars registered in Kinross, Kincardine Glasgow; Caithness Wick & Inverness; Greenock & Luton; Dundee & Brighton. Normally they are from parts of Scotland, but some were used by the big towns when they ran out of their own numbers in 1963, hence 'Greenock & Luton' etc. If you have a genuine 1963 car, the use of the 'A' suffix must have been annoying, until the Age Related Plate era..
And that's not all, it gets worse.....since 1990, you can have ANY alphabetical combination, as long as it is not rude, from DVLA, and you want to pay for it. So numbering systems that the Isle of Man had, any plate with 'MN' or 'MAN', is now almost meaningless, for instance, as is the Northern Ireland plates system of using an 'I' or a 'Z' in the letters. The prefix 'J' is still used by Jersey for its cars, perhaps DVLA have not yet got a foothold in, to sell their numbers as well. Q plates are for a vehicle of unknown/undated origin.
Back to trying to trace your car. With all the above in mind, the two letters that relate to your registrations area on your MG should be fairly accurate, if it is a post 1963 model, as local authorities were loathed to start swapping suffixed plates about. The pre-suffix era is more of a problem and you can only write to that town/borough to see if they did keep any records, BUT do not be surprised if you get no reply, these people are really busy and cash strapped. The actual numbers of the combinations of the 24 single letter plates, and those using the two letter registrations, runs to over 500, so I am not about to type out the list. Old 'AA' books are the answer, they list all the registration offices and letter combinations.
Do be aware of the limitations of the exercise, and that your registration document often helps, and that DVLC will supply a list of the previous owners they are aware of....for a fee. Remember as well, a lot of post WW2 MG cars are carrying pre-war registrations that have been purchased, because they have those initials MG in. Also servicemen who served in places like RAF Germany, Army of the Rhine, etc., will have 'imported' RHD cars they purchased overseas, and MANY were given registrations of the year of import, and NOT year of build.
I see from a copy of the MGOC magazine, Enjoying MG, the registration YMG356 is for sale, no price mentioned. (BPG994 was chosen at random from the June issue of 'BULLETIN'.)

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