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'Holy Grail' Australian number plate to fetch millions

The 'unicorn' number plate hasn't been seen in decades and now car lovers are faced with the 'rare' and exciting opportunity to snap it up.

One of the most sought-after Australian number plates is up for grabs for the first time in over a century with the "unicorn" plate set to sell for an eye-watering sum at auction.

Last month, Yahoo News Australia detailed the lucrative and growing trade of heritage plates in Australia which sees some plates sell for millions — and now car lovers are faced with a "rare" and exciting opportunity to snap one up.

New South Wales number plate 'NSW 1' has been "tightly held for decades" by the current owners, according to auction house Lloyds, with online bidding currently sitting at a whopping $10 million — but that price will continue to grow.

NSW 1 heritage number plate
NSW 1 heritage number plate is for sale at auction and is expected to sell for up to $18 million. Source: Lloyd's

Sale of 'rare' plate will 'break all existing records'

There's a booming market for heritage plates, sometimes referred to as numerical plates, and it's increased in popularity in recent years. The lower the number, the higher the value of the plate Ramy Attia of Heritage Only, a premium marketplace for heritage plates, previously explained to Yahoo — and so NSW 1 is the "holy grail".

"Single digits rarely become available – once this plate sells, it is more than likely we will not see NSW 1 ever become available again for sale in our lifetime, as it will be handed down to the next generation within the family," he told Yahoo.

"This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wouldn’t be surprised if it surpassed $18 million. Already this plate will break all existing records for the most expensive plate ever sold in Australia, and rightly so".

NSW heritage plates 1 2 and 3 on old cars.
NSW 1 plate belonged to the state's first police commissioner before his widow took ownership of it when he died in 1961. Source: Numberplates.com.au

Its Victorian counterpart, VIC 1 — reportedly owned by former Coles and beer brand Fosters CEO Peter Bartels — is also a rare gem, although unlike NSW 1, which hasn't been seen in decades, it's regularly spotted driving around Melbourne streets. It too could be worth upwards of $15 million if ever it went to auction.

NSW 1 is an 'amazing piece of history'

Like all heritage plates, the NSW 1 plates are an "amazing piece of history" according to Lloyd's, the auction house that's listed the item. Quoting an article from The Sydney Morning Herald, Lloyds said the premier plates were originally issued to the vehicle of the state’s first-ever police commissioner.

Then in the 1930s, they were bought by Sir Frederick Stewart, a successful Newcastle railway, bus and airline entrepreneur and federal politician, who affixed the plates to his Oldsmobile until he died in 1961 when his widow, Lady (Majorie) Stewart, took them over. In 1988 she's believed to have declined an offer of $200,000 for the plates when they were on her 1981 Ford Fairmont LTD.

When Lady Stewart passed away in the year 2000, there was great anticipation they'd enter the market. But unfortunately, they never did — until now.

VIC 1 Heritage number plates
VIC 1 number plate is considered one of the most valuable plates in Australia and dates back to the 1930s. Source: Numberplates.com.au

Plate to sell to highest bidder

Plate enthusiast and collector Lachlan Quayle said "it's very exciting to see" and agrees it'll sell for over $15 million. Until now, Australia's record for the most expensive plate was set in 2017 when NSW 4 was sold at auction to a Chinese billionaire for $2.45 million.

"Bidding is open for another 43 days, the in-person auction in Sydney is scheduled for the Australia Day weekend, and it presents a unique opportunity as the property will be sold unreserved to the highest bidder, ultimately determining its fate," he told Yahoo.

Victoria’s record was set in May 2022, with the number plate ‘14’ selling for a hammer price of $2,270,500, according to Drive. While in Queensland, the most expensive plate to sell was 'Q65' in 2019 with the buy splashing $780,000 including auction fees.

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