Up till now the number of the beast, 666, never appeared on registratio n plates for fear of its occult associations
The book of Revelation's number of the Beast - 666 - has at last been released for sale on vehicle registration plates. Hitherto, the Government's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea has suppressed 666, fearing objections to its sinister occult associations. It is still prohibited from inclusion on plates routinely assigned to new cars. But since 15 January, among the handful of beasts bought by auto-numerologists - or demonologists - is the witty N666 DEV, which cost pounds 399 from the DVLA's tele-sales department. N, this year's registration letter, indicates a beast abreast of the times.

Registration plates worth pounds 1,000 or more are put into auction by the DVLA: the next one, by Brooks at the Conference Forum at the Sedgwick Centre, Colchester Street, London on Friday (11am) offers 80 plates, including POR 911T and F50 RED, both estimated at at least pounds 8,000. Nothing sinister about these. The first will appeal to drivers of the Porsche 911 Turbo, the second to drivers of the Ferrari F50, which costs about pounds 300,000 new.

The most valuable plates are almost certainly worth more than the cars that bear them. The fabled first plate, A1, for which the percipient Earl Russell queued all night in 1903, changed hands in a private deal last year at a rumoured pounds 400,000. The highest price at auction is pounds 235,000, paid for K1 NGS in a saleroom duel at Christie's in 1993. The buyer is thought to be a member of the Saudi royal family. The plate was estimated at a mere pounds 12,000.

The plate 1A, the reverse of A1, fetched pounds 201,000 at auction in 1989 - illustrating a rule of thumb of the time that numbers before letters were worth half the reverse. Nowadays, the margin is only 10-15 per cent.

These days, the bulk of the 400,000 personalised plates sold by the DVLA since it began unloading its stock in 1989, have cost as little as pounds 250 for a desirable year-letter coupled with the buyer's initials. Generally, the fewer letters and numbers, the more valuable the plate. And pre-1964 plates, which have numbers uncluttered by year-letters and are therefore more versatile at making names or cute words, generally fetch more than later ones. Initials of common first names fetch more than uncommon ones, so 1 JT sold recently for pounds 30,000 but 1KT, in Friday's sale, is estimated at a minimum pounds 15,000.

Prices, having dipped 15 per cent since 1989, are back to nearly the same level. The vanity market for personalised license plates has so far earned the taxpayer more than pounds 196m.

John Windsor