The Straits Settlements

January 12, 2013

Will sharp-eyed viewers note the  apparent error in this picture of N 3138?

The Straits Settlements were originally named for the coastal enclaves ceded to Britain by the sultans of the independent states of Malaya – lands facing the Straits of Malacca, in the Bay of Bengal.      N was the code for Negeri Sembilan state from 1948, (from 1932 it had been NS), when all the states of Malaya combined to form the Federation of Malaya (international oval FM.)      Thanks to EU83 John Henderson for this historic picture/puzzle.

Q.  Is this a German-built Ford Taunus 12M (built from 1952)?

A.  (No”), responds David Wilson  “It’s an 1949 (American) Ford, with the right-hand part of the trunk- (boot-) lid piece broken off.    With RHD, this was likely made in Australia by Ford Australia”.      (That would tie in with its presence in ‘nearby’  British Malaya and the lower duties applied to Commonwealth-built vehicles.)

Negri Sembilan N 3138, in Harwich (GB) during the early 1950s.

Negri Sembilan N 3138, in Harwich (GB) during the early 1950s.

The rare SS oval is shown twice in the Pemberton album, this second one being from Penang island, and seen in London, probably 1949.    An MG YA is parked alongside, built from 1947.

Ford Eight from Penang, Straits Settlements, London 1940s.

1939 Ford E04A Anglia from Penang, Straits Settlements, in London, 1940s.

Colony of North Borneo ((CNB) until 1963)

November 17, 2012

Member John Pemberton EU83, a venerable nonagenarian from Suffolk, has reminded me that he has a plate, J 3500, from one of the the little-seen British colonial enclaves of  Borneo island, now known as Sabah state in Eastern Malaysia.     Independent  in 1957,  Malaya later combined with the former British territories in Borneo island, Sarawak and (then) the Colony of North Borneo to form Malaysia in 1963.    To see a plate from British Borneo (or from Labuan Island – a onetime Straits Settlement)  in those times was a rare sight indeed.

I have written to him thus:

Mr. P. – You write of having a ‘CNB’ numberplate, J 3500 – the CNB only identifying the Colony of North Borneo as it was designated between 1955  and 1963*, when it assumed (PTM) – six years after Malaya’s 1957 independence from Britain.   After another ten years, in 1967, the Malaysian  (PTM) international oval changed to (MAL) and vehicles from (by now, Sabah) would show the (MAL) oval IF they ever travelled outside Borneo or mainland Malaya – most unlikely.

British North Borneo 1950s-60s.     J=Jesselton (now Kota Kinabulu).

You sent me a photo of J 3500, and I have it my Sabah archive as above: Glorious!     You say that the late Roger Anderson passed it to you in 1976.   Did he ever say what vehicle it came from?   Did he see it in Britain?     John P replied verbally that a very old friend and an early spotter obtained it ‘out East’ in the 1950s, but was unsure of its origin.

The writer DID see Sabah once in London on a Mini, in 1963*, and fortunately, photographed it for posterity:

J 6186    1963 sighting in London of Jesselton (J) Morris Mini-Minor.    Showing the new Perseketuan Tanah Melayu (PTM) oval, which, since 1958, had replaced  (FM) (Federation of Malaya).   Until 1963 the oval  for this region would have been (CNB)          Brumby archive

I have now visited Sabah twice and collared quite a few of these earliest plates on photo – it’s a jurisdiction where old cars are kept running,  and, happily, the authorities don’t force owners to shed their original plates whenever a system change occurs.

Although, when Mainland Malaysia recognised that it’s newly-acquired Bornean territories, Sabah and Sarawak were already using regional codes identical to their own, Sabah hurried to add a suffix ‘S’ to their existing registered vehicles, (and Sarawak added a ‘Q’ suffix) to distinguish them, should vehicles move between Peninsular Malaya and north Borneo (now East Malaysia).   The Mini above would have adopted J 6186 S.

Newly-registered cars in Sabah first adopted an ’E’ (for East Malaysia) preceding their town code (E J-Jesselton, E S-Sandakan etc.)    In Sarawak, they added a ‘Q’ suffix to existing plates and a ‘Q’ prefix to new registrations.    The ‘J’ for example, which could have come from Johore (Peninsular Malaya) or from Jesselton (Colony of North Borneo/Sabah).

Until these changes had been implemented,  at that confused time, a PTM-ovalled car seen abroad after 1963, registered  ‘K’ nnnn could have been registered in Kedah (Peninsular Malaya), Kudat (Sabah) or Kuching (Sarawak)!       ‘T’ could come from Trengganu  (PM) or Tawau, and ‘S’  from Sandakan (Sabah), Singapore (old) or Sibo (Sarawak).

Little wonder the licensing authorities had to act!

The post -1963 Sabah plates had an ‘S’ suffixed to their original registration. K=Kudat, S=Sabah.   Most plates were re-made from scratch, for appearance.    Brumby archive

NEW vehicles were issued with the usual codes and a new ‘E’ prefix:

The Sabah system from 1963.   Later, having issued to 9999, a serial suffix A and B would be needed, in three of the Sabah registration districts – EJ-A, EJ-B, ES-A, ET-A.    Brumby archive


Eastern Malaysia – Sandakan – with serial suffix A 3024.    Brumby archive

There are still, dumped in kampongs, a few of the single-letter plates to be seen.   And photographed.     Some plate collectors would buy them off the village headman and take them away, but I like to leave them in their context, in case another member should chance by in years to come!


Mr. P – It is so evocative to read that in your early spotting day, you saw Danzig Free City plates – and India, including Jammu & Kashmir!     Did you take photos of any of them in those times?

LATER  (John Pemberton passed his album in January 2013 to the Club, as a result of this enquiry,  and the 80 or so pictures will be progressively released on the Blog.

Any other unseen material out there, readers????


The remarkable sight on two Jesselston-registered VW 1500s in London in 1969.   Note their numbers.

The remarkable sight of two Jesselton-registered VW 1500s in London in 1969. Note their numbers.     Brumby archive

p.s.   Does anyone have a picture of a Colony of North Borneo oval (CNB) or a State of North Borneo oval (SNB)????      We assume a few were made.

Malaysian special issue.

December 1, 2011

'Malaysia First' special issue

Since 2010, some wealthy folk are circulating in Malaysia carrying a new type of special plate, using a G 1 M prefix.    My first was seen in Penang in Feb. 2011, on a brand new Jaguar sports, which I followed and photographed but lost the image in an irrecoverable external memory crash.

Then another this week on a new Ferrari and yesterday this one on a new Bentley (which, with local duties etc., would cost about US$800,000 here, as would the Ferrari.)

The prefix G 1 M is said to reflect an new imaginative concept of the Prime Minister, to encourage his citizens to think of Malaysia First (1 m) and  the ‘G’  abbreviates ‘Glory’ or ‘Glorious’.        The PM has allocated stg.£8-10m.  to support the scheme in its many facets, possibly to companies with which he is friendly and who are co-operative in his ventures.

Some oversight may be seen here:

(and a fulsome comment from Alexander in KL to read below – which identifies the ‘G’ in another way.)


Personally, I don’t like many forms of vanity plate, whatever it  ‘celebrates’.      It is ostentatious – and plays into the hands of cynical registrations authorities, who delight in grabbing money for nothing, from a naive motoring public.     I am impressed by such as the Germans, who have held back, surely against great pressure to turn their excellent system into a plaything.


During a 2013 visit, I am astonished to see this rare plate on a moped!   Wonders will never cease.

Glorious One Malaysia seen, unusually, on a moped in Penang Feb. 2013.   Usually borne by Porsches and Bentleys!    Maybe a tender to a Malaysian yacht.....

G 1 M 7101:  Glorious One Malaysia seen, unusually, on a moped in Penang Feb. 2013.    This vanity format is usually borne by Porsches and Bentleys!      Maybe a tender to a Malaysian yacht…..?