Timeframe: Abu Dhabi number 1 plate sets Dh52.2m world record at charity auction in 2008

After the plate was sold to a young Emirati, the record stood until 2023

Saeed Al Khouri with the most expensive car number plate – at the time – which he bought in an auction in Abu Dhabi in 2008. Photo: AFP
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For members of the global elite, owning an exotic and expensive car is a simple way to display one's standing to the world. But for some in our region, there are even greater status symbols to be had. And in recent years, one of the most visible, not to mention expensive, is the ultra-rare licence plate.

If you're not familiar, why don't we start with the number 1?

On February 16, 2008, Saeed Al Khouri bought the prestigious number 1 Abu Dhabi plate for Dh52.2 million ($14.21 million) at a charity auction.

After claiming the plate with his winning bid, Al Khouri said he was determined to buy the plate at any cost.

The event, organised by Emirates Auction, took place at the Emirates Palace Hotel to raise money for a hospital specialising in road accident victims in the capital.

While heavy demand was expected, event organisers were nonetheless stunned by the sums committed after the auction.

Abdullah Matar Al Mannaei, managing director of Emirates Auction, said: “The final value of the number plate auction exceeded our wildest hopes and dreams.”

The record had already been broken earlier that evening when Talal Ali Mohammad Khouri bought the number 5 plate for Dh25.2 million.

By the end of the evening, 90 number plates had sold for a total of Dh89 million at the glitzy auction.

The record for the most expensive number plate sold at auction has since been broken. That happened in 2023, when the Dubai P 7 plate was sold for Dh55 million.

That event was organised by Emirates Auction, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, Etisalat and Du to raise money for a Ramadan food appeal. The auction raised almost Dh100 million from the sale of number plates and phone numbers.

While expensive number plates can be viewed as investments by their buyers, others call them vanity plates. In 2016, the late Peter Hellyer wrote: “Is a desirable number really worth anything much beyond the satisfaction it provides to the self-esteem of the purchaser?

“Were I to be so fortunate as to have huge sums of surplus cash waiting around to be spent, though, I like to think I would seek satisfaction in a different way.”

Updated: February 16, 2024, 6:02 PM