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Iwas having an interesting chat with my WOF tester the other day, as he was commenting on my personalized Hawaiianstyle number plate on the Mustang. In his workshop, there was a late-1920s American Dodge sedan with its original old plate, which, if I can remember correctly, was green with white numbers, separated by a comma. It had been personalized. If you know anything at all about old New Zealand number plates, they were all numbers, usually white on a coloured background, and the numbers were separated by some sort of mark, such as an upturned triangle, a square, a dash, a dot, or something similar. Government vehicles and some others were identified with abbreviations, in the form of letters preceding the numerals. In the workshop, there was also an interesting assortment of recent American imports, including an Edsel, a Skyliner, a couple of Cadillacs, and a Corvette, which still had their American number plates affixed to them. They had yet to acquire a VIN and be certified, and some were undergoing the remedial work required.
Unfortunately, once these cars get their VIN, they will be fitted with New Zealand number plates, which will have the alphanumeric combination that will not fit properly into the original-equipment space on the bumpers, unless you happen to get one that is only five characters! (Seemingly, ‘FAQ2’ was never issued, for some reason.)
Having put numerous old motorcycles back on the road, and only recently being able to reuse the original black and silver plates for originality purposes, I am only too acutely aware of the current nonsense surrounding the types of number plates allowed.
Once foreign importing got into full swing, the importers lobbied the authorities to allow European-style plates to be manufactured here and fitted. Such plates were much longer than our normal ones, and often had a New Zealand logo/flag on one end and the type of model/ dealer at the other end. In all honesty, they do look good, and well done the dealers who lobbied for this. Other unsuccessful lobbying tried to get adhesive number plates approved for E-type Jaguars, Mazda MX-5S, Porsche, and all those other cars that have pointy noses.
According to the NZTA, it is “investigating the possibility of making these available in the future”. Well, don’t hold your breath, as there aren’t enough E-type owners out there to make a strong enough case for them.
So, what are the rules around licence plates? You can look them up online, but here are the basics for you. Ordinary plates must have a white retroreflective background with black embossed characters. Personalized plates must also have the white retroreflective background, but the letters can be black, red, or blue. Only plates issued by the NZTA and its agents are legal; plates purchased anywhere else are unacceptable. The most recent New Zealand plates have a security feature containing a silver fern in the sheeting — so, while you are lying on the road having just been run over, if your eyes are still open, you will catch a glimpse of that silver fern on the number plate, and can be satisfied that at least the licence plate was lawful, even if the driver’s actions were not.
OK, them’s the rules, and here are the problems with them. American classics were made to accommodate the Us-style plates, but there are 19 states that do not require a front plate to be displayed. New Zealand’s primitive style of ordinary plate looks stupid on an American car, especially when one must bend the edges to fit it to the narrow aperture. So, why not allow six-digit American plates to be personalized and be used — legally, I mean? I know that there are a number of American cars sporting personalized American licence plates on our roads at present. The purpose of a number plate is to enable the owner/driver to be identified easily. So, if an American plate with (say) ‘OVA2U2’ is personalized by owner Joe Bloggs, as long as his details come up on the database, what’s the problem? Plate not made in New Zealand? So what? As long as the plate is easily readable, I fail to see the problem.
And let us not forget our cousins in the UK. How many of you have older Morris Oxfords, Austin Cambridges, Jaguars, and the like that used to have large, square, yellow reflectorized plates on the rear, and those long reflectorized plates on the front, or the black and silver/white predecessors? (You will notice that I did not mention the Morris Isis for what should be very obvious reasons — I don’t want my computer being the target of a drone strike!)
On the subject of licence plates, with regard to motorcycles, we don’t want to entertain the daft Australian idea of retrofitting licence plates to the fronts of motorcycles, thank you very much! There are enough sharp things on motorcycles to cause mayhem to both rider and anyone said motorcyclist might hit in a crash without having a rigid metal plate to add to the carnage.
Seemingly, Aussie motorcyclists can dodge speed cameras when racing past at naughty paces, as the camera takes a nice action photo of the front, which, of course, is minus any identification. I understand there is a similar problem here (but not me, officer!), and, if stickon plates are eventually approved for E-types or similar, it’s a no-brainer that some desk-bound noddy will decide that such sticky plates can be affixed to motorcycle fairings. That’s assuming, of course, that all motorcycles have fairings. No doubt the same noddy will decide that all motorcycles will need to retrofit fairings.
Before going too far down that road, do you remember, in the early 1980s, that poor unfortunate Ministry of Transport (MOT) officer who canned off his Honda CB650P just north of the Sunset Road overbridge on Auckland’s Northern Motorway, while pursuing an errant motorcyclist? Apparently, the officer got the speed wobbles and lost control. Subsequent investigations revealed that it was the fairing that had caused the problem. Honda Motors in Japan had warned the MOT against fitting any type of fairing to the CB650P, but, as you will know by now, our New Zealand–noddy experts decided that the manufacturer didn’t know diddly-squat, and fitted them anyway. Not surprising then that in 1983/’84 the MOT officers flatly refused to ride them any more, and they were sold off. (Guess who has one, complete right down to the breathalyser and ticket books?!) They were mostly replaced with Yamaha XJ750S. I’m not suggesting that an E-type or Mazda MX-5 might lose control because of wind resistance caused by a rigid number plate, but, surely, if the manufacturers of these cars thought that a rigid number plate was going to be useful, they would have incorporated one into the design?
I think it’s time for an overhaul of our number-plate rules, and, if nothing else, the NZTA should apply the European-style rule across the board, and allow cars to have number plates of a size and shape similar to those in the country of vehicle manufacture — for aesthetic reasons, if nothing else. In any event, when we require seven digits on our plates, that is only going to exacerbate the situation. Best to act now, I reckon. Perhaps the Federation of Motoring Clubs or some of the American classic car clubs could take this up?