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by Nicholas Young

2019 review by John Harrison

This is a book not just for the “vehicle registration anorak” like myself, not even just for the motoring historian, but rather one that could be of interest to general historians too. Nick Young attempts to write, as far as he can, usually about the first eleven numbers issued by the original 1903 English and Welsh registration authorities, plus the Scottish and Irish ones with codes in the ranges A to Y and AA to FP – he is contemplating doing a second book covering the remaining Scottish and Irish authorities. For each mark he gives details of the type of vehicle, owner’s details and a mini biography of the owner, plus if the number is still extant available details of current usage, etc. The book is well illustrated with photos of the original cars and the modern ones bearing the numbers where available. There is a more general section at the end of the book with a history of the British registration system and other miscellaneous information.

In 1903 the motor car was pretty much a rich man’s toy, so these early owners were frequently the “movers and shakers” of society. Thus, these owners were generally important people at least locally and in many cases nationally. Therefore, the lives of many well-known people are told and frequently there are various most interesting scandals, crimes, etc, etc, reported. Most of the biographies make for interesting reading.

The big disadvantage with this book is its weight, 10¼ lbs. In a way that is an advantage as it demonstrates the immensity of its content, but the book is quite difficult to handle and certainly it is not practical to take it to read on the bus or train. Inevitably with a book of this size there are a few errors. The most significant ones are: the report that the Driver and Vehicles Licensing Centre, as it was then called (It is now an Agency, of course), was established in 1967 whereas it in fact dates from 1974; and the sequence of issue of the letter trios in the current system, i.e. post-2001, is given as AAA, BAA, CAA, whereas it is actually AAA, AAB, AAC, etc (though for complicated reasons which I do not wish to explain normal issues actually start with AAE).

The book is quite expensive at £50, but you do get a lot of book for your money. Given its specialist nature and size it is reasonably good value for money. If you are debating whether to treat yourself this volume, my recommendation would be to go for it. It gives a most interesting insight into early motoring history.

Publisher: Pieters and Young Ltd.

Price: £50 plus £8.50 p&p from

Hardback. 1,312 pages.

ISBN: 978 1 5272 3046 0

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