Vanity or insanity: Market for multimillion-dollar plates is booming
For 20 years, an old Holden Statesman would be seen driving around Sydney sporting number plates worth $2-3 million. Today, that “7” serial is tagged onto a Subaru Forester.
A large number of heritage plates are still found on some quite modest cars, according to Steven Hantos, owner of the Numberplates.com.au. “These are million-dollar plates on the back of $30,000 cars. They have been passed down from generation to generation,” he said.
Heritage plate buyers typically come in three different tribes. Aside from the heirloom owners, there’s the flamboyant Eastern Europeans, Arabs and Chinese, flush with cash and covetous of two- and three-digit tags for their exotic cars.
And there’s the investors who have been seeing good growth in the plates market. “A lot of self-managed superannuation funds are starting to purchase heritage plates. There’s zero holding costs and what seems to be a never-ending demand from people wanting them,” said Hantos.
The market for heritage plates—the first numerical plates that were issued in each state— has been booming over the last two decades. The plate itself may not be worth more than a few notes, the value comes from the right to use that number on the roads.
“In Victoria, “1” was issued in 1910. It hasn’t come on the market since 1984—back then it was worth thousands and today it’s in the millions to own the right to display it,” said Maurice Mangiagli, a Melbourne photographer and tag enthusiast who has written a book on the history of Victorian plates.
White-on-black plates have averaged 17 percent growth over the last decade. In the last two years alone, prices for three-digit plates have doubled and many are now are tipping $200,000, Hantos said.
When Christophe Boribon, national auctions manager at Shannon’s, started out in the business, three-digit heritage number plates for $15,000. Today those same number plates are worth $150,000-200,000 dollars.
“I sold some two-digit numbers plates in 1998 for $75,000 apiece, and today they are worth $1 million each. You’d have to say that’s a very good investment,” he said.
“The way the values work—there are only nine single digits and a few more two digits—so those plates will always be at a premium.”
One of the reasons why the value of plates has shot up is the buying group has grown steadily. Beyond the investors and the vain, many more families are investing in his and hers plates and also finding matching numbers for the kids.
New South Wales and Victoria have the highest value plates, mainly because of their longer histories and many buyers value them as pieces of art, said Boribon.
A lot of these were once belonged to very prominent Australian families. The Holden carmaking family, for instance, owned several original single-digit plates in the Twenties. “People like owning that history,” he added.
Queensland tags lag far behind, however, because all numbers were once sold off at the same time. This flooded the market and prices have never really risen.
Still, Hantos asserts there is still a market for them as they are cheap and buyers see a lot of value in them.
This might be poised to change, though, as some high-profile investors set out to capture the entire market for Q-plates, and “once they own the whole lot they’ll start trickling them back out,” he added.
Despite their surge in value over recent years, Australian plates are still a drop in the ocean compared to their value in other countries.
Gulf auctions are well known for their regular multimillion-dollar plate sales. And last year British car designer Afzal Kahn reportedly put his “F1” tag up for sale with a £12.3 million price tag. With government charges, a buyer will have to fork out the equivalent of AUD$27.2 million for the privilege of owning it.
Kahn had bought the plate for less than £500,000 a decade before. It is not known yet if it has been sold or continues to be tagged onto his Bugatti Veyron SuperSport—itself worth a fraction of the plate’s value at around £3 million.