SA Historic Plate History

Historic Plate SA"3470" Pictured on early Ferrari 212/225 serial no 0112/E at Collingrove hillclimb track, c.1955.

Historic Plate History

Legislation and The First Plates

Registration plates were first issued in SA in 1906. Earlier in 1904 ,with the advent of the first “mechanically propelled vehicles” on the streets of Adelaide, the Motor Traffic Regulation Act was legislated and was administered by the Treasury.


Further regulations were legislated in July of 1906, importantly with these new rules requiring all owners of vehicles to register them and for drivers to obtain a driving licence.

Different Vehicle Classes

Interestingly in the early days of historic plates the legislation identified three different classes of vehicles and issued plates accordingly- for motorcycles and motor vehicles and later non motorised trailers. This somewhat confusing scenario led to the issuing of historic plates, that is the same number, on each of these three classes of vehicle. Therefore, historic plate number 1 (and then so on), was issued to a motor car, a motorcycle and finally a trailer, all at the same time.

Hence even today we find scenario’s where, for example, a car and trailer are registered in the same number.

Transferral of Plates between cars

Unlike the United Kingdom, issued historic plates could be transferred by registered owners from vehicle to new vehicle.  Therefore, owners had the option to retain “their” historic number and transfer it to a new car off an old one, or they could transfer the historic number to a new owner when a car was sold.

It’s my view that this pioneered the historic plate phenomena we enjoy today, as the original owners of the historic plate developed a real attachment to their numbers and transferred them from car to car, year after year, decade after decade.

This early ability to transfer plates has led to many examples of generations of family members retaining their historic plates, as virtual family historic numbers.  All this changed with the advent of the new rules around the introduction of the Alpha Numeric plates in 1966, as the ability to transfer a plate off a car and be retained was relinquished and new cars were issued with new plates.

With the advent of the 1985 Historic Plate Auction the rules changed again, with plate owners needing to acquire the “Proprietary Rights” to a specific number in order to transfer it from car to car or indeed from owner to owner.


SA Becomes mandatory on historic plates

Our research reveals that "SA" became mandatory on SA plates on 1st January 1931. Prior to this the vehicle owners supplied their own plates, and indeed there was no set design or type required. Some were painted onto radiators, some numerals were affixed to wood blocks, and some cars featured quite elaborate cut and polished plates.

With numeral only plates having been issued in other states too, the need to differentiate who came from where led to the mandatory requirement to include "SA" on all plates.



The original Historic Plate owners

Almost from the time of the first historic plate registration, periodicals in SA published a list of the registered owners of all historic plates.

Within the first year of registration plates in 1907, “The Tourists Road Guide” published a list of historic plate owners, listing the owners name and location, and the vehicle make and horsepower.

The 1907 edition recorded the current historic plates issued- plates 1 to 429, with following editions recording subsequent plate numbers and the owners of the vehicles they were registered to.

SA1 - September 1906

1000 - August 1910

5000 - September 1914

01 - January 1918 (actually 10001st plate issued, see Leading Zero Historics section)

10000 - May 1921

20000 - April 1923

30000 - April 1924

40000 -  January 1925

50000 -  October 1925

60000 -  June 1926

70000 - February 1927

78498 - August 1927

108780 - December 1929

131998 - September 1934


Interestingly these publications only recorded and published the list of historic plates and owners of motor cars; not the historic plates on motorcycles and trailers as mentioned earlier.



Alpha numeric plates


The end of an era came in 1966, when the first non-historic general use plates were issued- the black figures on white background Alpha Numeric plates, starting with the first alpha-numeric plate RAA-000.


This “letter XXX -numeral 000” sequence style of plate has remained in use right up until November of 2008, when a new series of general issue plates starting with “S XXX 000” was issued and thus became the default general plate issued.


What's The History of South Australian Number Plates?

1906   The first South Australian number plate was issued in South Australia.  The first number plates issued ranged from 1 to 599-999 and are now classed as Numeric.  These number plates are also referred to as 'Historic'.  These were issued and transferred between cars until 1966.

1967   Alpha Numeric number plates were introduced.

1979   Personalised number plates were introduced.

1981   Slogan number plates were introduced.

1985   Grand Prix number plates were introduced.

1985   The '1985 Great Plate Auction' is held in October auctioning a series of historic plates including Single and two digit historic plates.

1985   Jubilee Commemorative number plates were introduced.

1985   Classic Name number plates were introduced and offered only at the '1985 Great Plate Auction'

1985   Historic number plates between 600-000 to 999-999 were released for purchase on request.

1988   Custom number plates were introduced.

1995   Premium number plates were introduced.

2000   Centenary of Federation number plates were introduced.

2008   Sixty numeric number plates were released for public auction.

2008   Seven character general issue plates were introduced.

2008   Euro number plates were introduced.

2009   Forty historic number plates are released for public auction.

2010   Forty historic number plates are released for public auction.

2011   The "Great Plate Auction 2011" with rare historic number plates for public auction is held.