By Vijay Shah
In the James Bond film Goldfinger, the well-spoken secret agent drives to his missions in an Aston Martin DB5 luxury motor with a distinctive feature – a revolving set of number plates (license plates). At the flick of a button, 007 can choose from one of three plates. The personalised registrations for that car, now in the hands of a private collector, include “JB 007”, “007JB” and “GOLDFINGER”. The plates proved to be a very useful tool for Bond to give his enemies, and the authorities, the slip.
Personalised number plates are a popular, and undeniably lucrative side branch of the motoring accessories industry in many countries around the globe, most notably the United Kingdom and the United States. Registrations sold by the DVLA (Britain’s governmental authority for vehicle registration) can sell for hundred of pounds, and auction prices can pass the £1,000 mark. For many motorists, the opportunity to forego the bog standard pattern of formulaic and impersonal numbers and letters, and try something more tailor-made, is too hard to resist. Over here, people can choose a series of characters that might reflect their name or a humorous phrase – a standard also reflected among purchasers of so-called ‘vanity plates’ in the United States.
Unlike the US, drivers here can even add logos, such as the Ferrari stallion or national flags to the left of their plates. Until recently many high street plate makers offered to use a non-standard font for your personalised set on request, despite it is illegal to use them on the highway. Traffic police quite happily fine any drivers caught using them.
This article-slash-gallery owes its existence to a boring Tuesday evening, where while randomly typing things into Google, I stumbled across two websites. One site, DemonPlates.com, offers UK acrylic number plates and has an inbuilt widget where you can cook up your own personalised plates for local use only. The other site, LicensePlates.tv, proved to be even more exciting, as you can create based on templates from most of the world’s countries, including vintage plates from the States and official registrations for many EU member states.
Although I do not drive and hold only a passing-but-still-curious interest in cars generally, I could not resist the chance to try out the sites’ software and see what I would come up with. I opted to use combinations of my name or initials, or the acronym of this blog for various plates all of which are featured below. Designing your own plates online has its fun points, whether or not you are planning to turn them into physical reality. The software is free to use on both sites sampled for this post, and make great social network pictures to show your mates or as decorative pieces for a personal website or blog.
A set of British plates with the post-2001 slender font, which by law has to carry characters 79 mm high and 50 mm wide. Unlike most countries, UK vehicles’ front plates are always with a white background, while the back plate is yellow. This also used to be the case in France until a few years ago. “VI J4Y” is my first name, Vijay, with a number four substituting the letter A for stylistic effect. This is a common convention for personalised plates in Great Britain.
The left of each plate carries the EU star banner and the ISO code GB for ‘Great Britain’ and a small Union Flag. Though it is not as yet compulsory, European Union member states are encouraged to use the EU flag side design with the individual country’s initials in their main language i.e. E for Spain or B for Belgium.
The “The Half-Eaten Mind – Stratford, LDN” legend at the bottom is an obliging nod to this great blog, but most standard plates would normally have the plate maker’s or car vendor’s name and contact details here.
A slightly different take on the previous set. Here I have opted for a 3-D effect with the lettering and the inscription ‘VSHAH 84′ – my first initial and surname bulked together, and the numerals are for my year of birth. As I am English, my innate patriotism took over the creative ‘steering wheel’ and the Union Jack makes way for the banner of St. George.
With these designs I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and try my hand at creating number plates using international designs, some of which I have never seen before, never mind experimented with. I have listed all the pictures in alphabetical order of format country origin.
ABU DHABI (U.A.E): A design from one of the Arabian peninsula’s premier marque hotspots; the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The 6 in white on the red section is a plate series category. The red colour signifies that the vehicle was registered in Abu Dhabi City itself. The Arabic inscription reads “al-Emiraat Abu Dhabi” (The emirate of Abu Dhabi). The lettering ‘HEM12‘ is the initials of the Half-Eaten Mind blog plus this year’s last two digits.
AUSTRIA: While as far as I am aware Austrian plates do not look like this one jot, this gives you an idea of the typical European style of registration. ‘HEM 2011‘ is the blog’s initials again as above. I was meant to type in 2012, but must have hit the wrong key on my keyboard. A relatively minor mistake compared to the ‘awesomeness’ of this plate of central Europe. As with the UK plates from Demonplates.com, you have the pan-European blue siding but with the Austrian flag and its country code.
AZERBAIJAN: The European long format is widely used outside of the continent. In this non-official plate representing the Caucasus republic of Azerbaijan, the website substitutes its own generic format for Azerbaijan’s own standard, but at least this time I got the year right. Tee-hee. The European shade of blue is a peculiarity here as Azerbaijan is not in the EU. I cannot explain that anomaly.
BELGIUM: Belgian plates are unusually smaller compared with their neighbours, and the red-on-white colour scheme is also highly divergent. UK trade plates for cars being exported come in similar colours but are not for permanent use. The inscription ‘VYS-108‘ is my initials teamed with a sacred number in my Hindu faith. A similar thing is used by some Muslim car owners in the UK, who use ‘786’ to represent a verse in their scripture, the Qur’an.
CHINA (People’s Republic): From the world’s most populous nation, comes this simple beauty. The ideogram on the left represents Shanghai, the city of registration, then you have my initials, followed by my full year of birth.
COLOMBIA: The number plates of Colombia have that ‘friendly chicken farmer on a dusty road’ nuance about them and they have a generous size. ‘VIJ 123‘ relates to a nickname and a shortened form of my first name, the numbers were a handy, but random selection. Notice the holes for screwing in the plate to the bumper, which I think just adds to the rugged look.
DUBAI (U.A.E.): Returning to the United Arab Emirates, here is a ‘special edition’ from the desert paradise of glitz and money that is Dubai. Each of the seven emirates that make up the UAE has its own vehicle registration authority which is often under the direct control of the individual emirate’s police force. Therefore each emirate calls the shots when it comes to plate designs/formats. Running from left to right, there are my initials, the emirate’s name in Arabic and Roman scripts followed by a six-digit code which is my birth date. Normally this would be a series of numbers identifying the car itself.
GERMANY: From Europe’s engineering and vehicle-manufacturing giant, home to Mercedes-Benz, here is the Half-Eaten Mind’s re-interpretation of a Teutonic plate for use by motorbikes. European number plates for the back of motorcycles tend to be squat rather than long for practical reasons. This plate carries the standard EU flag motif with code D for ‘Deutschland’. The ‘HEM 1984-V‘ is my blog’s initials, then my year of birth, followed by V for Vijay. The logos next to the ‘HEM’ are in real life the location of two badges, one containing temporal details of the vehicle’s registration, the bottom one for a badge with the shield of the German state where the vehicle was registered.
HOLLAND (NETHERLANDS): Dutch plates are always issued with black letters on a yellow background for both sides of the vehicle and carry EU markings, with country code NL for ‘Nederland’. The inscription ‘VS-VS-84‘ follows the country’s numbering conventions, and
is my initials repeated twice and then last 2 digits of my birth year.
ICELAND: This beautiful sub-Arctic island of geysers and glaciers lies outside the European Union but still uses EU-like plates. This is a modern design incorporating the Icelandic flag and country code IS for Island (not ‘island’ even though Iceland IS an island; this is the country’s self-designation in its own tongue). ‘VS H3M‘ is my and the blog’s initials together on one plate, but I use my country’s convention of replacing a letter with a similar-looking number. In the middle there is a registration decal or sticker which shows that my imaginary vehicle was registered in October of 2010. I can not help but point out that this plate’s colour scheme reminds of me of cold wintry ice. Silly I know.
IRAQ: Iraq has been through many difficult changes and challenges in recent years, so this number plate is my small way of showing a side to a country that is normally only in the news for bombings and sectarian violence. This design is a highly-ornate and expressive affair. The Arabic inscription I think reads “Iraq – Baghdad”, but hopefully a Brainiac fluent in written Arabic can clarify that for me. The four Arabic numerals read ‘1984‘ – my year of birth. Notice the pink-and-grey motif with the palm tree and the word ‘IRAQ’ and the elegant cursive script employed for the wording.
JAPAN: From the Far East, here is a plate from the Gunma prefecture in the centre of Japan’s archipelago. I got to familiarise myself with plates from this nation through my childhood diet of late night anime cartoons. Japan follows a similar size convention to their neighbours across the Pacific Ocean, but the content is entirely different. Japanese plates are issued through a network of government-run Land Transportation Offices. The 108 at the plate’s top is normally a number series (first digit) then the vehicle’s own identifier. The bottom larger numbers which I have replaced with my year of birth are indicators of the vehicle’s dimensions in the real deal. The colour scheme is for a private-owned vehicle. The Kanji characters are the name of the issuing office. The little ‘hiragana’ letter on the left is randomly assigned.
Did you know that Japan has plates with backlit number plates (the numbers themselves glow like neon lighting) since 1970 – available in blue or green. As far as I know, it is the only country to have such a futuristic take on such a workaday object, but then this is Japan.
LEBANON: An interesting specimen; this plate is a metallic meeting of East and West. A bilingual plate with 2 different alphabets with the Lebanese cedar all on a Euro format. The cedar serves as the coat-of-arms on a EU blue canton. The five number combo is repeatedly twice on the plate in both Western and Arab numeric (my birth date) with the country name in French (Liban) and Arabic (Lubnan). Both these languages are in official use for Lebanon.
LITHUANIA: Where I live in east London, Lithuanian registered vehicles with these kinds of registration plates are quite common, owing to the large Lithuanian community that has built up here in the past 15 years or so. This is not an entirely accurate or even up-to-date representation of the typical Lithuanian plate. The round hologram that sits between the letters is absent here and Lithuanian now uses the EU-style motif after its accession to the union in May 2004. In this mockup, there is the Lithuanian flag and ISO code LT – Lietuva. The inscription of ‘JAY 777‘ is my sisters’ nickname for me, plus the lucky number 7 repeated thrice for extra good luck.
MAURITIUS: In honour of my maternal homeland, I have included here a stylised Mauritian plate. The real plates on the island look nothing like this. Private vehicles have silver or white lettering and taxis have black lettering on white. There is no flag or blue motif. But the flag is a beauty in itself and here I have put in ‘VIJ 1984‘ my nickname plus year of birth.
MONACO: This tiny principality on the Mediterranean is an extension of the French Riviera, only it is not French. Occupying only a few square kilometres, the city-state is famed as a tax haven with liberal gambling laws and has been drawing in a jet-set clientele for decades. As there are few car owners in Monaco, a long line of characters is not needed. The shield of alternating red-and-white diamonds is a symbol of the Grimaldi clan who are suppliers of Monaco’s influential royal family. These colours also are to be found in the Monegasque flag. Underneath is a French inscription which translates as ‘Principality of Monaco’. ‘HEM12‘ is the blog’s initials followed by 12 for this year of 2012. This number plate would look great on a Ferrari or a top-end BMW but realistically my budget does not yet extend to such luxurious modes of transportation.
MONGOLIA: From Genghis Khan’s birthplace we bring you this ornate, yet minimalist. Mongolian plates are inscribed with Cyrillic lettering instead of Roman, although the Cyrillic alphabet is a legacy of communist rule and the native script – written downwards rather than lengthways – is fast reclaiming its rightful place. The red symmetrical device is the national symbol, the Soyonbo. An ancient symbol associated with the local variant of Buddhism, its yellow cousin is to be found on the country’s flag. The inscription ‘1984 BC’ has the Cyrillic way of writing my initials. BC=VS.
PHILIPPINES: The Asian continent’s only Roman Catholic country was ruled for nearly half a century by the Americans and retains US conventions for its plates. I have once again graced this picture with our hallowed blog’s acronym followed by those lucky Number Sevens. ‘Pilipinas’ is Tagalog for Philippines.
SAN MARINO: The inhabitants of this small and ancient European republic completely surrounded by Italy can, like the people of Monaco, not have to worry about memorising a long line of characters should they ever have to report a hit-and-run driver. San Marino makes full use of glorious Technicolor in its coat-of-arms reproduced on every one of its plates, and this virtual San Marino plate reflects those two circumstances faithfully.
SWEDEN: Coming back to the European Union (and Scandinavia), here is the Half-Eaten Mind’s take on a plate from Sweden. We have the usual Euro flag and country identifier, and the 108 of Hinduism also makes a return. The sticker in the middle should be in colour, but the site did not offer that option, possibly for copyright reasons.
SWITZERLAND: Swiss plates are a work of art in themselves. All plates carry two shields. One is a white cross on a red facade. This represents the Swiss Confederation. The other shield is for the canton (sub-division) where the plate was created. The example above is for the canton of Aargau. Inscription is my initials followed by 5-digit birth date.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The plates of the States are a collector’s treasure trove in themselves worthy of their own branch of study. Each state has responsibility for its own plate designs, and the flexibility is at such a level that modern US plates carry all kinds of fancy slogans and imagery. These plates featured above are all vintage designs mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, and make a great wall decoration in American-themed bars and restaurants. Modern plates carry registration stickers in the top corners which have to be changed when the licence expires, and can have backgrounds that reflect the issuing state’s heritage or culture.
VENEZUELA: To round off this article and to celebrate the glory of the Half-Eaten Mind’s licence plate creativity, here is a regulation-standard plate of Venezuela. While it is never my intention to be narcissistic, I do hope that the Mind will one day be number 1 in the blogosphere…this could well be my motivation!.
“List of James Bond Vehicles” – Wikipedia LINK
“Plates Rules and Legal Requirements” – New Reg LINK
“License Plate Colours” – Abu Dhabi Woman LINK
“Vehicle registration plates of Japan” – Wikipedia LINK
“Aston Martin DB5 driven by James Bond among the classic cars at the Automobiles of London auction” – Oli Scarff – Getty Images/Telegraph.co.uk Motoring LINK