Have a look at these pictures, scanned from a 1970s UK Fiat brochure for the 124 Saloon, Estate, Special and Special T models.
The 124 was a European Car Of The Year award winner, spawned beautiful coupe and gorgeous spyder derivatives, and lived on in four different countries after its death (as the Zsiguli/Lada in Russia, Premier 118E in India, SEAT 124 in Spain, and the Murat 124 in Bulgaria).
But what really intrigued me about those photos when I first saw the brochure was the number plate on each of the cars.
U - Reg?
If you're outside of the UK, or not familiar with our plate system, that probably doesn't mean anything. Between 1963 and 1983 we used the letter at the end to denote the year of the car (from August to July, the letter changing on August 1st from 1967 onward). So, a plate ending in "G" denoted a car sold between August 1968 and July 1969, for example.
However, some of the letters weren't used for various reasons. "Q" plates are used where the age of the vehicle cannot be determined and "O" wasn't used because it's easily confused with zero, for example. Similarly, "U" plates were never issued either.
So why are those cars driving around on "U" plates? They appear to be UK specification cars, and they are definitely driving around the streets of London. I initially wondered if it was some kind of error by whoever made the plates. The cars may have been photographed in the July, say, (when the cars should have been on "T" plates perhaps) but the brochure published after the changeover so the following year letters used to keep the photos contemporary, but the plate maker not knowing that it should have been "V" not "U". Illegal, but understandable.
The thing is though, the Fiat 124 was sold in the UK between 1966 and 1974, meaning that the last ones sold would have worn either "M" or "N" plates, considerably earlier than the 1978-1980 "T" to "V" plates.
Weird, eh? Maybe it's just me that notices and wonders about these things.
I sent a few e-mails to the FIAT UK press office about the mystery of the "U" plates, but unsurprisingly nobody seemed to either know or care much about the photos in a brochure published thirty years ago.
Anybody any ideas or theories? Let me know!