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The first registration numbers were  introduced in 1903.  These are known as 'dateless number plates'. Their format consisted of one or two letters followed by 1 to 4 numbers. The letters indicated the local authority where the number plate was issued.

In 1932 an extended scheme was introduced as combinations were running out.  This placed another letter at the beginning of the number plate.  The number of numbers on these plates was limited to 3.  The maximum characters on each number plate was 6.  The first letter was just a serial letter.

'Reverse dateless number plates' were introduced in 1953 as available registration combinations were running out again.  As can be seen there a variety of combinations with the maximum number of characters being 6.

In 1962 registrations were again running out so a new national scheme was introduced.  These were made up of 3 letters (the 2nd and 3rd being the issuing local authority codes), 1,2 or 3 numbers and a letter suffix at the end. These started appearing in 1963 starting with an 'A' suffix, followed by 'B' suffix in 1964 and so on.  For the first 4 years (1963 to 1966) the registrations were issued from the start of the year until the end of the year.

In 1967, due to a motor industry lobby, the new suffixes were changed to commence from 1st August.  The first registrations to start on 1st August 1967 were the 'F' suffix.

From 1983, due to the fact that combinations were running out, the sequence was reversed again.  These registrations were made up of a letter prefix followed by 2 or 3 numbers followed by 3 letters (the 2nd and 3rd being the issuing local authority codes).  The numbers started at 21, as the government held back numbers 1 to 20 for the future proposed DVLA select registrations.

In 2001, the current registration format was introduced.  Number plates are made up of 2 letters, followed by 2 numbers, followed by a space and then 3 letters.  The first 2 letters identify the location of the registration, the 2 numbers following relate to the year of registration, and the 3 letters are random letters.

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