My own very unscientific survey, spanning many years and workplaces, reveals plenty of people do, even if they have trouble remembering what’s on the car they own now.
Granted, remembering personalised plates (or “vanity plates”) that you choose yourself won’t get you very far with my argument here — although according to Netflix’s The Good Place, they will get you into The Bad Place.
After decades of driving, I can still remember the number plate on my first car in the late 80s: a 1977 Toyota Corolla sedan. The Toyota was bright yellow, and Queensland number plates for much of the 70s were black and white. So there was a bit of a bumblebee vibe going on with my ride.
As a car-mad teenager, at 3pm I would walk out of high school to my yellow freedom machine, parked on the street, and see that black-and-white plate beckoning me.
The rego was OZL-766. Yep, I couldn’t make a word out of it either. Still, it was better than an old Falcon a friend owned, which had the unfortunate number plate letter grouping: POO. “Here’s the poo!” we would say on his arrival. To make matters worse, that Falcon ‘might’ have been brown.
By the mid-70s, plates changed to the “Queensland — Sunshine State” slogan, and started with numbers instead of letters. And perhaps a transport bureaucrat decided to skip POO on the plates, this time around.
These days, plenty of plate combinations are skipped because they might be rude. Buying a personalised plate can sometimes be tricky if you own a 1969 model, or you were born in ’69. However, I can personally report that just a few years ago they were handing out regular number plates with the lettering “SAD”.
In an automotive tragedy, my first plate would end up lasting a lot longer than the Corolla. Within months of buying the car, much of the yellow paint bubbled up with “bog” filler and fresh rust spots. So it turned out, a rusty Corolla had been bodgied up to sell (for a little too much) to an unsuspecting first-time buyer.
I tried to repair the rust holes myself on my days off from uni, but after wrestling with one panel and not making a very good job of it, the Corolla was taken down to the local car yard to be traded in. My dad took pity on me, and helped pay for a slightly newer Mazda on the lot.
And I still remember the rego number of that one too.
These days I do my best to remember the plates on our cars, by making words out of them — whether they like it or not. So sometimes I drive BIB-ZIFFER, or even T-BITS-EYO.
If I really wanted to, today I could buy a black-and-white OZL-766 personalised number plate for hundreds of dollars.
But as they say: nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.