Some people collect stamps, others collect butterflies, then there’s a bunch of Canberrans who call themselves ‘crazy platies’ and collect rare ACT number plates.
Second and third-generation builders Peter and Darrell are among them, and earlier this month set a new record for the most expensive ACT number plate sold in the 400s, when they purchased ‘ACT 418’ for $37,125.
It completes a run of four consecutive plates for them and they say, while it was an expensive purchase, it all averages out given Darrell has been collecting number plates since he was little more than a kid.
“I was a third-year apprentice,” he says. “I bought a three-digit plate from an old bloke in a retirement home who didn’t have any family in the ACT to give it to and I told him I’d never sell it. When I bought the plate, it didn’t leave enough in the ATM to take out $20.”
Darrell’s fascination with old ACT number plates began as a child after his dad bought one before he was born.
“He just walked up to the rego office and bought it back in the day,” he says.
No longer available from the ACT Road Transport Authority (RTA), one-to-three digit plates have become incredibly sought after.
According to Access Canberra’s Check Registration portal, every conceivable variation of single, double and triple-digit Canberra number plates exist, and are privately owned.
The ACT registered ‘1’ plate is currently owned for a private vehicle, and was reportedly purchased many years ago for more than $65,000.
Darrell and his family now have a collection of between 30 and 40 two and three digit number plates between them.
“Dad has six kids and he gives them to us when we get married, graduate or on some other occasion,” he says. “When we get together, you rock up and everyone has a two or three-digit plate.
“I have as many cars as number plates. If I don’t have a car, I buy one for the plate to go on.”
While the plates appreciate as an asset, Darrell has no intention of selling them.
“My kids might one day,” he says. “You wouldn’t blame them if it means a deposit on a house or something.”
Darrell says people become involved in number plate collecting for many reasons. Some like certain numbers, and some for investment growth, while others want to personalise their car, but most simply for passion.
If Darrell’s motivation is passion, Pablo Serazio’s must be verging on obsession.
The 61-year-old Queanbeyan man has spent 35 years acquiring number plates and he has literally thousands of them in his collection.
“I am slowing down these days,” he says with a laugh. “But I’m always interested in what people might have in their shed.”
Pablo’s plate addiction began innocently enough.
“I moved into a rental and was exploring under the house and found a couple of old number plates,” he says. “Then I started collecting more.
“There are so many themes you can run with. You might start with one for each state, then you spot something different and you just keep accumulating.
“Initially, I just took anything I could get my hands on but now my real passion is for plates from the ACT. I have ones going back to 1927.”
Through a series of ‘horse-trades’, Pablo worked his way down from plate ‘2304’ to plate number ‘3’.
“My friend owns ‘1’ and ‘2’ so I thought ‘3’ would be the best I could get,” he says.
Pablo also owns plates that date back to when the Australian Capital Territory was the Federal Capital Territory.
“Prior to 1938, the plates had ‘FCT’ instead of ‘ACT’,” he says. “They are as rare as rocking-horse poo.“John Butters, the Federal Capital’s first commissioner, had the number plate ‘FCT 1’. When it became ‘ACT 1’, the FCT plate was grandfathered.
“The old ones have no value on a vehicle; they are purely heritage value.”
The history of a number plate is a large part of the attraction for Pablo.
“The average Joe or Jane might just see another number plate, but there have been lots of changes,” he says. “They have been manufactured differently.
“If a car gets scrapped, the plate might potentially turn up with a collector, but a lot get crushed.”
Pablo is justifiably proud of his collection of Canberra plates and says that’s where his focus remains.
“I’ve let other things go and I just concentrate on the ACT plates now,” he says.