Most of the world goes to the DMV to get their license plate, but not everyone. We’re used to people spending a lot of money on cars, but what about the license plates that represent them? Well, for these billionaires and millionaires, that is exactly what they love to do. Spending big bucks on license plates is common practice among the 1% where these rich folk believe a beautiful car just isn’t complete without a license plate to match. All over the world, auctions are held and license plates are sold to the elite.
It’s especially common in the United Arab Emirates where some of the richest men in places like Dubai, are obsessed with obtaining single digit license plates. Other countries like the United Kingdom and the United States covet license plates with a single letter followed by a number. Others, have ideas of their own.
But what creates the allure of these license plates? Perhaps it’s the rarity of them. Most of these plates that go for such a pretty penny are extremely rare, with only 1 to 2 of them existing in the world. Or perhaps it’s seen as the perfect high end accessory for a Ferrari or Rolls Royce—the cherry on top of the cake. Finally, it could just be the status symbol that these millionaires and billionaires want to set. It’s the license plate that tells the person driving behind them who they really are. So, without further ado, here are the 15 most expensive license plates in the world.
The M1 plate gets its value for being the first registered plate dating all the way back to 1902. It was the license plate for a very rare Mercedes Benz in the year 1900. It was originally kept in Tatton Park in the early 20th century before being auctioned off to raise money for the grounds. Fast forward a full 100 years to the year 2000, and meet Mike McCoomb. McCoomb made his fortune by selling a mobile phone store to BT Cellnet in Europe. In 2000, he bought the plate for his son’s sixth birthday for a whopping 330,000 Euros or $353,863 American. McCoomb is a bonafide example of an entrepreneur success story after starting by selling cell phones as a side business to his car company. That business was eventually bought out by BT Cellnet for 40 million Euros. Needless to say, McCoomb could afford this gift for his son.
14. VIP 1
Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire and owner of the Chelsea Football Club, purchased a license plate that read ‘VIP 1’ in 2006 for 285,000 Euros or $306,603 US. Abramovich was voted one of Forbes magazine’s richest people in that same year of 2006. The purchase was made for his blue Rolls Royce Corniche IV convertible at an auction in Great Britain.
The allure of the VIP 1 license plate? Well, it comes from the holiest of places. The license plate had previously been used on the Popemobile for Pope John Paul II when he rode around Ireland in 1979. Abramaovich’s love for cars is far from unknown. Just last year, he revealed to the public his multimillion pound collection of top of the line vehicles in Germany when he took some of them out for a day at the races. Some of these cars include Ferrari, Bugatti, and a Pagani Zonda R, the rarest of them all.
S1 was the first ever ‘number plate’ in Scotland. The plate was originally owned by one of Scotland’s first car owners back in 1903, specifically Lord Kingsburg. Also known as John MacDonald although Lords Kingsburg is much flashier, Macdonald was a Scottish Conservative Party politician, and later became a judge. However, he was best known for his love of cars. In fact, Lord Kingsburg was not only known as an enthusiastic car lover, but was a founding member of ‘Automobile Club,’ and the first ever president of the Scottish Automobile Club. The historic plate was auctioned off in 2008 by an anonymous bidder for $434,000. The bidder said that the plate was going on his old red Skoda.
No, this plate wasn’t purchased by Harry, Niall, Liam or Zaine, the heartthrob boy band members of One Direction, but was actually bought by London-based property developer Nail Bishara. ‘1D’, another rare combination plate of one letter and one number, was auctioned off at a DVLA event in Warwick back in 2009. The license plate was sold to Nail (not Niall) for a whopping 352,000 Euros or more than $377,000 American.
Why did Bishara decide to shell out a mortgage payment on the license plate for his car? Well, it’s not for his car. In the most romantic gesture on this list, Nail Bishara actually bought this for his wife’s Rolls Royce. Looks like this license plate is the second nicest thing he bought for his significant other.
11. No. 14
In 2016, a couple by the name of Donna and Ray White were the winners of an auction for the No. 14 license plate in Delaware with a winning bid of $325,000. Delaware is a hub for license plate auctions as multiple are held throughout the year with different types of license plates being sold. This No. 14 plate pulled in one of the biggest profits of any plate ever sold in Delaware.
The coveted plate came from a prominent New Castle County family who went unnamed in the auction. Delaware is a strong believer in the importance of a valuable license plates. Delaware has specific vehicle registration laws that allow license plates to be transferred from one party to another, one of the last states to participate in this practice. The process is now seen as a smart and intellectual way to pass down valuable assets from generation to generation.
We all know Texas loves them some football, and that is certainly reflected in their license plate purchases. The most expensive license plate ever purchased in Texas state history goes to one that reads ‘12THMAN,’ and was purchased in September 2013 for $115,000. The ‘12THMAN’ idea comes from Texas A&M University’s football team who refers to its student body as the “12th man.” With 11 players on the field, the crowd rooting for the team becomes the extra player that helps the team win. The Seattle Seahawks now refer to their fans in the same way, and fanbases take great pride in wearing this title. The previous most expensive license plate in Texas history read ‘HOUSTON’ which had sold for a mere $25,000, a few months prior. Many believe that although single digit plates remain the most coveted, a ‘TEXAS’ plate could soon overtake the top spot due to the nature of Texan pride.
9. Delaware 11
Delaware’s obsession with license plates continued with the death of Charles Murphy in 2008. After Murphy passed away, he left a lot behind to his family including his house, his Chrysler, and yes, his license plate that read No. 11. In fact, when the assets were released, most people in the cult following of license plate collectibles believed the plate was the most valuable thing Mr. Charles Murphy left behind.
Auctioneer Butch Emmert (who was also the auctioneer for number 11 on our list), said that ‘there is no better investment in the United States.’ Whether the rest of the country agrees or not, Delaware is still spending the big bucks on acquiring these license plates. In fact he also says ‘having a lower numbered license plate is more prestigious than driving a Rolls Royce.’ The number ‘1’ is reserved for the governor, the ‘2’ is reserved for the lieutenant governor, and ‘3’ is reserved for the Secretary of State. In the end, it was a family of real-estate brokers, the Fuscos, who purchased the No. 11 plate from the Murphy family for an astounding $675,000.
8. 1912 Mississippi
One of the many allures of the license plate collecting community is the rarity of the plate they covet. They aren’t as interested in how fashionable a plate may be, or even how it matches the car they’ll be putting the plate on—it’s all about the scarcity of the license plate. The fewer of that plate that exists, the better and more valuable they become. Such is the case with the 1912 Mississippi license plate. In fact, for many years, collectors did not even know the plate existed. However, in 1985, Dr. Roy Klotz, Jr. from Pennsylvania discovered that in fact did after he responded to an ad in the classified section of his local newspaper in Mississippi. It was soon realized that a mere two of these plates existed in the entire world, which led to Dr. Klotz purchasing the plate for $50,000.
The APY888 license plate sold for $6,750 which may seem rather cheap compared to the other items on this list, but not with a little perspective. This plate was purchased at an auction by a businessman that goes by Mr. Ding. With Mr. Ding’s purchase, he could have nearly afforded to buy two Chinese made cars that are popular within the Chinese market. His purchase of the license plate was also 20 times more expensive than what a Chinese farmer earns per year, and 7 times the country’s per capita income.
There are more than 100,000 people killed in China per year due to automobile accidents, so license plates carry a level of superstition among drivers. A license plate that ends in ‘4’ is considered bad luck and leads to death, while one that ends in an ‘8’ means good fortune and luck. The most expensive plate purchased at this same auction was license plate AC6688 which went for $10,000.
Afzal Kahn, the owner of Project Kahn, purchased the ‘F1’ plate for a staggering $870,000. This purchase was a record-setter for the UK, becoming the most expensive license plate purchase in the country’s history. Kahn is one of the titans of the motor industry known for his special packages for Range Rovers, Paybacks, SLRs and numerous other brands. For a long time, bidders came to Kahn in an effort to persuade him to sell them the ‘F1’ license plate but Kahn would not budge. At one point, Kahn turned down an offer of 6 million Euros to buy the plate. It has since been reported that he has now put it up for sale with an asking price of over 10 million Euros! However, that report has been refuted by Mr. Kahn himself. It looks like it’s going to take a lot more to get the F1 plates out of Afzal Kahn’s hands.
5. 1921 Alaska
Here we have one of the most expensive license plates ever purchased in United States history. The 1921 Alaska plate, one of only four to exist in the world holds meaning for its historic relevance. These four plates are known to be the only ones still around from the time before Alaska was officially deemed a state. Old 20th century Alaska plates are the most valuable, and hard to find, due to the previous inability to get cars to Alaska prior to the advancement of transportation and technology. With the weather being so harsh, Alaska could not support a large amount of cars on their roads. This particular plate, one of the last four, was sold in the year 2000 for a lofty amount of $60,000. To make the exchange even more notable, it was done in the back of a Wendy’s parking lot, probably the shadiest of license plate deals we have come across on this list.
As we discussed earlier in the list, the Asian culture really values the number 8. They value it so much, this license plate purchase cracks the top 4 of our list. In 2016, in Hong Kong, the highest bidder for a license plate that reads the number ’28,’ went to a Cantonese man for a stupefying $2.3 million in US money. One of the biggest license plate bids ever, the reason this man wanted the ’28’ plate was very specific. In Cantonese, 28 loosely translates to the words ‘easy’ and ‘to prosper.’ Many in the culture believe having a license plate that ends in 8 will lead to good luck and fortune. The ’28’ plate was originally being tagged at $413,000 but with the $2.3 million purchase, it sold for almost six times that initial price. The purchase was the highest price ever paid for a license plate in Hong Kong history, an exercise that has been practiced in the city for over 40 years.
There is no where else in the world where high-end license plates are more coveted than the United Arab Emirates. In fact, among the rich and elite in this country, no luxury car is complete without an extravagant license plate to boot. Dubai property owner Balwinder Sahni certainly showed this sentiment when he spent 33 million dirhams (or $9 million) on a license plate that bares the number ‘5.’
The plates will go on his Rolls Royce (he owns six) and have served as the topic of much conversation in his city. Sahni says that he is stopped everywhere he goes to take a picture and answer questions about the purchase. Some find it to be a code of honor, while others think it’s a giant waste of money. With the $9 million price tag, the purchase becomes the second largest in the history of the practice.
2. 25 O
A man by the name of John Collins who drove a Ferrari 250 SWB, decided it was time to take his car to the next level. The owner of a company called Talacrest, Collins shelled out 518,000 Euros or $813,622 US for the license plate ’25 O.’ The license plate was special, but the car it was going on may be even more valuable.
The Ferrari 250 SWB Mr. Collins owned previously belonged to Eric Clapton. The combination makes his 1964 ‘rari one of the most expensive cars in the world. The license plate purchase also set a record for Britain’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Collins walked away from this particular auction with not one, but two plates. He also purchased a plate that reads ‘250 L.’ He spent over $200,000 on this one for his second Ferrari.
We had to save the best for last. Number 1 is literally that, the number 1. In 2008, Saeed Abdul Ghafour Khouri set the world record by paying 52.2 dirham ($14.3 million) for the license plate ‘1.’
Khouri, who lives in an oil rich, Persian Gulf city, is part of car-centric culture, all of whom depend on cars as their only means of transportation. There are very few other options to get around, and almost no forms of public transportation. The car you drive means everything—and so does having a great vanity plate to go with it. A strong license plate represents pride, indulgence, and confidence.
And no one can question that of Saeed Khouri. His record setting purchase makes him the owner of the most expensive license plate in the world.