John Swift Portrait Photo

Find out how Motoring Journalist John Swift got on at his first auction…


 

A wise person will observe two rules at an auction.

Don’t go with an itch you need to scratch because the eagle-eyed auctioneer will soon have you among the bidders, and if you are going to buy always set and stick to a budget.

Alas, wisdom has never been my strong point and I ignored both last week at the first DVLA Personalised Registrations sale I have ever attended.

I never planned to bid or buy and only went because the excellent PR officer for the government agency told me the sale was being held just up the road from where I live, at the Wychwood Park golf club near Crewe. I’d only popped over for a quick chat and a look around but when you’re among the adrenalin and seeing something live you begin to understand why it is so popular.

In the room a long desk was manned by people taking phone bids, there were bids coming in online, there were punters like me in the room and there was a table for professional traders who make a good living dealing in plates. A very good living in some cases and I assume their cars carry the registration PR02 FIT or something similar because there is big money to be made here.

The auctioneers could have been commentating on the 2.30 at Newmarket for all I knew.

Theirs is a strange job, taking in a deep breath and then launching into the rapid fire patter `Lot 239, 46 DRW, start with £1,200 £1,500 in the room, £1,500, £1,500 £1,750 on the phones, £2,000 with me, who’ll give me £2,500’ and so on, all without drawing breath until the `going once, going twice, gone’ and the hammer comes down. (At £3,900 for this plate as it happens).

That was loose change though compared to some of the sales during the three day event. One plate, DUL 44Y, had a reserve price of just £300 but went for an astonishing £26,000 and several sold for high teens. Adding on the various costs and charges, the `fixtures and fittings’ as they say in the trade, would comfortably push that through £30,000.

Still, that’s loose change compared to the UK auction record of £518,000 once paid for a Ferrari dealer to stick on one of his Maranello classics. Given that the car is conservatively estimated as being worth north of £10 to £15 million, the buyer probably won’t quibble at another half million or so.

Anyway, back to Wychwood Park and my turn. I still don’t know why I did it but while flicking through the catalogue of 1,250 registrations my eye fell on SUE 6S which I thought would look good on my wife, Sue’s, car.

Auction for personalised car registration plate SUE 6S

Being the romantic sort and tempted by the affordable looking £350 reserve I registered to bid and so joined my first auction as a doer and not just a watcher.

It’s surprising how nervous and exciting it is to be in a bidding war but I thought I was in luck when the trader sitting just in front of me bailed out early doors, there were no phone or internet bids and it was just me and one bloke in the room.

The amount jumped up at astonishing speed and I was soon way past my budget ceiling but despite thinking that surely I could find a cheaper Christmas present and ducking out, on two occasions I came back in again at the last moment – `going once, going twice’ – and went to more than twice my limit.

Eventually it was getting too silly for words and I put down my bidding card, feeling deflated and disappointed. Driving home I thought `I’ve got to get her one now’ so as soon as I got back I went onto a website and ordered one for her and, in case you’re wondering, for more than I had bid as it happens.

I should have stuck to my guns but as I say, wisdom has never been a strong point of mine…I just hope she likes it!

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