The UK’s Most Infamous Number Plate Collector?

Sir Gerald Nabarro
Sir Gerald Nabarro

Today the “personalised plate” business is booming as more and more drivers choose to add a little of their own personality to their chariot of choice, but it was not always this way. In the not too distant past, the acquisition of a private number plate was strictly reserved for the rich and famous and few ordinary people could have ever imagined that one day they too could join this motoring elite. The process of obtaining and transferring a personalised registration was complex and expensive but this did not deter some ardent autonumerologists from going to great lengths to acquire a suitable plate (or plates!)

One of the UK’s best known collectors of cherished numbers was the successful businessman and politician Sir Gerald Nabarro. Serving as a Conservative MP between 1950 and 1973, Sir Gerald was a well-known figure noted for his outspoken views, booming voice and handlebar moustache. He vehemently opposed the UK’s entry to the Common Market (the precursor of the EU) and was undeniably racist. The public of course either loved him or loathed him. His cars invariably wore his personalised plates, the most famous of which was “NAB 1”. Of course one good plate does not constitute a collection so further “NAB” plates were added until he eventually owned the whole sequence running from “NAB 1” to “NAB 10”.

It is now largely forgotten that during Nabarro’s time, the UK Government decided to make it illegal to transfer registration numbers from one vehicle to another, a move which would have effectively killed off the practice in this country. Naturally the private plate enthusiasts of the day were furious. They tended to be rich and influential people and of course included Sir Gerald Nabarro. He had no intention of taking this lying down and campaigned enthusiastically to get public support behind him in opposing this move. The Government did go on to make a complete U-turn on this policy and, although no reason was ever given for this change of mind, many people believe that it was due in no small part to the actions of the larger-than-life Sir Gerald Nabarro.

A personalised registration number may be seen as a status symbol or a bit of one upmanship but having an instantly recognisable number can also have its downsides. Ironically, perhaps the greatest British car number collector of all times discovered this when his Daimler Sovereign bearing his “NAB 1” plate was allegedly spotted going the wrong way round a roundabout. In court Nabarro insisted that his company secretary had been driving at the time, an account which she also verified, but Nabarro was found guilty receiving a fine and driving ban. On appeal, he produced witnesses to say that they had observed that the woman was driving at the time and the conviction was overturned. Interestingly, standing behind him on the court steps, was his parliamentary secretary, Christine Holman who subsequently married another MP, Neil Hamilton. In a strange twist of fate, Christine Hamilton was also later to narrowly avoid a motoring conviction by arguing that, at the time of the offence, it was not known whether she or her husband were driving the car. This legal loophole was later sometimes referred to as the Hamilton effect.

So Sir Gerald Nabarro may have been a controversial figure but without his intervention private number plates would now probably be little more than a distant memory. Today’s DVLA registration plate enthusiasts really have things much easier with most of the best online dealers able to offer a simple search tool to find and buy the perfect number plate. Another interesting idea, again going back to Sir Gerald, is to collect and retain numbers for future use. The plate retention process has been simplified and made much less expensive so holding onto a good plate could even represent a good financial investment. Many people may regard the very idea of collecting cherished registrations as completely nonsensical but is it really any more foolish than stamp collecting?