Is there any acceptable reason to have a personalised numberplate?

I pondered the above question as I walked to the (excellent) Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court last weekend and an assortment of exotic cars drove up the road and into the car park with their look-at-me registrations.

I’ll admit that I wrestled a little with my conscience as I looked on disdainfully - they’ve bought the car, after all, so why can’t they do what they want with it? And if I’m happy to defend a McLaren-buying billionaire for painting his new car fuchsia for exactly that reason, why should I curl a lip at a personalised numberplate?

Yet, almost without exception, I find them an irritating addendum, an exercise in willy-waving while also taking attention from the car itself, which at the rarefied end of the market at least, should always be the centre of attention.

Sometimes they are unfathomable, meaningless to all but their owner, which prompts me to wonder why they bothered buying it in the first place. At other times they are so obvious in their intentions that, to my mind, they offer nothing more than an unendearingly cartoonish air to proceedings, or end up looking like a mobile advert for the car maker.

After more thought, though, I do reckon there are some combinations that can be forgiven. A crassly obvious ‘V12 BULL’ on a Lamborghini Aventador, for instance, just adds another dimension to a car that was designed to appeal to teenage boys anyway. Why not go the whole hog (so long as you’ve ticked the yellow paint and loud exhaust option boxes)? 

And, chosen carefully, something subtle on a modern-day Aston Martin works, too. I’m thinking something not too short, not spelling anything out, just a few letters and numbers that don’t give the car’s age away. The firm’s design lead, Marek Reichman, has long been criticised for creating cars that all look the same, but to my mind they are all enduringly beautiful (albeit some are more beautiful than others); sticking a conventional numberplate on one could dampen that enthusiasm a fraction, by ageing the car. Mona Lisa doesn’t age - and nor should an Aston Martin have to.

After a day walking around the Hampton Court gardens, I also concluded that my prejudices only apply to cars that carry modern numberplates, too. Go beyond today’s black on white or yellow plates, and the same rules don’t apply: these are cars that have earned their spurs, and owners who have poured their finances and (I’d hope) soul into cherishing them.