The world of very expensive number plates remains a mystery to those not involved. The fact is, there are plenty of people driving around with number plates worth more than their cars. To be specific, the value lies in the "right to display", not the actual rectangles of tin.
Whereas auction prices of historic cars have generally shrunk in the past five years, number-plate values have remained relatively stable since 2007.
This trend has not escaped the attention of the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), which will be selling 20 special NSW plates through Shannons auctions on February 4.
This is the first time the RMS has staged a number plate auction since its amalgamation in November 2010. Similar sales happen occasionally in most states and always generate interest, even from interstate collectors who see these plates as potential investments. Speculators have always been a feature of this market, which peaked around 2000.
The general rule is that the lower the number the more valuable it is.
Among the 20 plates going under the hammer in February are some medium-rare, three-digit NSW Heritage plates.
Top bidding will be for numbers 206 (pictured, right), 207 and 210, all expected to sell in the $70,000 to $100,000 range. Number 343 is also in this category. Numbers 558, 748, 884 and 799 have guiding ranges of $60,000 to $80,000.
The 206 plate is expected to be most in demand because of its significance to Ferrari enthusiasts. This is the type number of the original V6 Dino 206 GT Coupe introduced in 1968.
There's also the rare opportunity for someone to acquire the consecutive numbers 206 and 207. His and hers, perhaps.
Among a selection of four-digit plates, 1987 is rated most desirable and priced accordingly ($40,000 to $50,000), probably to be bought by some rich 35-year-old.
Numbers 1110 ($35,000 to $45,000) and 132132 ($15,000 to $20,000) are expected to be sought after by fans of numerical symmetry.
Two-digit numbers, rare and much more expensive, will not be for sale in February. The most recent example to appear at auction was the Victorian plate 97, sold for $180,000 at the 2010 Motoclassica Auction in Melbourne.
The record for any Australian plate at a public sale is the $680,000 paid for NSW 2 in 2003.
It's rumoured that other single-digit numbers traded privately for close to the million-dollar mark during the pre-GFC boom period.
And yes, NSW 1 and Victoria 1 both exist. Vic 1 sold at public auction in 1984 for a mere $165,000 but has allegedly changed hands since for a much larger, undisclosed amount. Either plate would be expected to fetch a million or two, even in the current economic climate.
The final feature of the Roads and Maritime Services sale are two charity plates, the blue 45678 and the pink 56789 (pictured above), both re-issued by the RMS especially for the auction. All proceeds from these sales will go to prostate and breast cancer research respectively.
The authority is waiving the usual transfer fee on all plates sold.
There are some collectors who are more interested in the historical value of number plates. Less valuable but equally desirable are special plates issued for special events. The most famous are the 250 pairs produced for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. The few that survive are now worth about $1500 a pair.
Also in the mythical category would be the ABE 111 plates once owned by Sydney personality Abe Saffron. These were allegedly the first personalised plates to be issued to a private individual. According to Abe's son they had magical powers. Abe never received a parking fine in his life.
The sale of NSW Roads and Maritime Services special heritage number plates is part of Shannons's Classic Summer Auction on February 4 in Sydney. See the online catalogue for details.