I have promised myself that, this summer of 2013, I will uncover my small plate collection from the depths of my garage and make sure that it is photographed for posterity. I started collecting by accident in 1957 and continued in a casual way until the 1970s, when, with a few hundred, I had enough for a double-garage display to amuse and confound visitors.
Downsizing garages upon retirement, the collection was wrapped up and stored in suitcases. Perhaps I though that when The Revolution came, I could make a quick dash for the airport and be gone with my half-ton of metal without coming to the attention of the rampaging proletariat. As it happened, peace has reigned and the world at large has shown an indolent disinterest in my secret hoard, a few African items from which are below:
A Fiat 600 appeared in Kensington circa 1963, carrying Katanga plates and a properly-manufactured KAT oval. It re-registered in GB before long, and the kindly owner gave me one plate, 650 C, which of course, I still have. Sadly I lost the photo of the whole car, which showed that unique KAT oval. Brumby archive.
Circa 1964, a green 380 Mercedes overtook me one evening on my way home from work, carrying this, the first and only Rwanda plate I ever saw in Europe. A was the code for the capital, Kigali. It also carried a RWA plastic adhesive international oval. I followed it home and the charming Indian owner invited me in for tea and told me of its provenance. He had been the importer in Kigali for The Distillers Company and for Imperial Tobacco. (Booze and Baccy!) This made him an important, popular, and, I suppose, wealthy, man; his Mercedes was apparently the best car in the village. The then-president of newly-independent Rwanda had only a black Peugeot 504 saloon, which he felt was not the best set of wheels for impressing the village girls, and so he would send his men round to our Indian friend late at night, to ‘borrow’ the Merc. Import permits and favourable duty estimates for his expensive products were authorised in those times, and there was no reason to discourage the Top Lad enjoying a night out from time to time – though the Benz was never returned. The following morning, our owner would have to send his own staff round the village to find where rr A.7247 had been dumped at close of play – either at a bar or somewhere near Gubmint House….and frequently damaged. However, an empathetic accommodation had been established between all and sufficient funds for repair and replacement seemed ever there.. He didn’t say what happened to disturb the equilibrium, but suddenly, there was our entrepreneur , living smartly in London and the former president was probably ‘helping police with their enquiries’. Things can change quite quickly in Central Africa, and seldom for the better – but nothing which a thousand years cannot correct….. Brumby archive
A visit to Mali in 1973 (don’t ask) involving another flight from Paris Le Bourget – a pretty basic aerodrome then – allowed a visit to Timbuctoo and to Bamako, where I found a dumped Citroen DS with this IT-RM-0795 rear plate still attached – but not for long. To my astonishment my Malian guide had it off in a split second, moments after I had shown a keen xeno-autonumerological interest in it, yet the subject was one of which he could have had only limited knowledge. Originally I took it to be a Malian diplomatic, but the absence of CD on the plate shows that that it was a temporary duty-free importation as used by non-dip. embassy staff, technical aid personnel and N.G.O.’s. (which had not been so invented and named in 1973! They were Aid Organisations.). Even then the country was full of foreign aid people, with shiny new 4wd cars and special plates, while the indigenous Touareg went quietly about their never-changing lives, resistant to the cultural changes being proposed by countries which mistakenly felt sorry for them. I was surprised to see an ageing Humber Super Snipe in Bamako, the capital, one day, and wondered how on earth such an inappropriate, luxury car could have made its way to a deep desert zone…… Perhaps an ex-CD car – or a stolen one from Cote d’Ivoire? Brumby archive
A 1970s picture of some of the collection at the time. Gazing upon them now, I recognise that some have been lost in the intervening years. I have never been careful with my things……Brumby archive
A Mk1 Ford Zephyr visited a pleasure park in our home town in 1960 carrying these colonial-era Belgian Congo plates. The owner offered to send the plates to Nip Thornley and the writer when he changed to new English plates imminently. – and so he did, bless him! They were simply paint-stencilled on to mild steel sheet and for the first few years of ownership, we didn’t take note that they were rusting away! Eventually, to my horror, Nip took a paintbrush to his plate and refurbished it, with none of the skills of the Italian or Dutch Masters.
My plate was left in it’s original state, but deteriorating steadily. One day after about 40 years, I realised that there remained not one single speck of paint on my rusty tin sheet. So much for retaining originality! Now only I know that I once had a Belgian Congo plate! This photo was taken about 1970, and one can almost see the registration C 23938 (C was for Léopoldville, named for the eccentric King Léopold to whom the vast country had once personally belonged). It is now Kinshasa and no-one knows to whom DRC belongs. Brumby archive.
A Nigerian pre-1976 plate from Sapele, which look s as if it might have some history… Brumby archive