A time-line of Hong Kong car registration / licence plates

Submitted by David on Sun, 05/26/2013 - 11:51

Thanks to Victor Brumby for sending this information about when different the different series of car registration numbers were issued. Victor writes a blog with lots more about the subject, Europlate blog: Registration Plates of the World.

Here's the story for Hong Kong:

Cars and other 4- (or more-) wheeled vehicles

It is unknown when the first Hong Kong vehicle registrations took place. Probably before 1910.

HK used numerals (1-9999) only until 1951, with black on white for private vehicles and white on black for commercials inc. taxis, which vehicles were issued from the same series.

In 1951 they switched to the HK 1000-9999 format. (So 9,000 numerals-only took 40 years!)

In 1957 they started XX 1-9999 (the HK 10,000 took 6 years)
[Update: Several of the commenters below know of XX plates in use as far back as 1954.]

In 1958 they started AA1-9999, AB 1-9999 etc. etc., (the XX 10,000 having taken a year!!) This is the system still in issue.

From 1983, reflective background plates were required by law.

For an unknown period, p.s.v. (buses and hire vehicles) employed white letters on a red ground.


Until 1962, two-wheelers used, first, numerals 1-1000, then A 301-999, then B 1-899, then C 1-899 etc. all in black on white. (1-300 were retained for government vehciles (Administration).

No change to the above systems since 1997.

Any early pictures (say pre-1955) showing plates, I'd be delighted to see....

Your street shot of the new-looking Austin A70 Hampshire would have taken in 1951 or 1952, I opine.

Thanks again to Victor for his help,

Regards, David

PS Gwulo has a collection of photos tagged vehicle registration, ie photos that clearly show the plates and their registration numbers.

Interesting post; however the XX prefix was in use before 1957 - in 1954 my father bought a Standard Vanguard 1a saloon (with the rounded back, three-speed column change!) with the registration XX2427. We brought it back to the UK as a perk on an aircraft carrier on some special indulgence system for £5 I think; it was re-reg'd in Portsmouth as SYM 523 and we kept it for a few more years.

Thanks Eric. Looks like we'll need to adjust the timeline.

I searched for licence plate in the newspapers. I didn't find anything about numbers, but there was a mention of colours that might help at some point:

New Licence Plates For Cars

The Traffic Department has introduced different coloured licence plates for private cars, public hire cars and taxis in both Hong Kong and Kowloon.

On both sides of the harbour, private cars carry, as before, white plates with black figures, and public hire cars red plates with white numbers.

Taxis on the island and on the mainland, are being issued wth green licence plates with white figures.

This latest innovation should greatly assist both the public and the police in differentiating between the two types of public hire vehicles.

Pg 2, The China Mail, 1948-09-18

Here are some photos from the 1950s and earlier that clearly show a registration number:


Regards, David

Hi there,

To throw in a bit more confusion :-P  I believe local Transport Department also had a policy to allow car owners to keep and transfer their existing license plates to a new car.  This being the case that I have seen a sort of modern day car with a XX plate very recently.   

Thanks & Best Regards,


I'm not sure if photo is helpful at all, as I do not know exactly when it was taken (mid-50s?), but it certainly shows the HK-nnnn licence plates of cars parked in Statue Square. 

Regards, Andrew

Cars parked in front of the Supreme Court, 1950s


Cars park in Statue Square, Hong Kong, in the 1950s.

Our family car in the early 1950s was a black Vanguard with a rounded back - plate number HK7013.

Our 2nd Vanguard in the late 50s a red & cream colour Vanguard AA79.  It was resprayed Grey after the Taxis turned red & silver, and too many people were clamouring with us to get into the car.

Our next car in the early 60s was a Chevy Nova 6 plate number AD7851.  I don't remember the Holden that replaced it in the late 60s.  

My impression is that the HK XX as well as the ones without prefix co-existed. Plate numbers 1-20 were reserved for VIPs (Exco/Legco members).  

Until the late 60s, plates of Government vehicles were in the 8-series, sometimes with the HK prefix.  Some good numbers were reserved for plates of some top Administrators such as: 8888 was the Secretary for Chinese Affairs; HK8888 was for the Attorney General; although simply No.2 was for the Financial Secretary; No.1 for the Commissioner of Police; No.5 was Dr. P.H. Teng, Director of Medical & Health; No.4 for Ronnie Holmes who left it to his successors as Secretary for Home Affairs.  In the early 70s, the AM series was introduced.

I am absolutely certain HK licence plates preceeded XX and AA came after that. I was told a story connected with the police suggesting the police officer in charge of establishing a licence plate system following the HK.  He wrote on a piece of paper starting with AA and then ............... down to XX.  For some unknown reason, his staff took the XX first

Sadly, either there wasn't any - or their collection isn't complete - I couldn't find any registration & licensing regulations for previous incarnations of the RTO in the HKU old HK laws collection.


So not sure if number-only (and certain number combination) registration marks have always been considered special registration marks, nor if the transfer/abeyance of a registration mark between vehicles has always been possible - but common sense suggests the latter has been around, as otherwise anyone desirous of having the distinction of driving around with a registration mark of seniority (a British "class" thing I presume, from what I've seen in UK) could only get that registration mark back by auction.


Motors simply don't last long here.  They would, I presume, have been a sign of some prestige in the past.  Combine imported "class" distincitions with domestic attention to "face" - to me this would explain recollections surfacing here counter to the HK/XX/alphabetical order prefixes that followed numbers-only.


It is only by auction I believe that a previously issued registration mark has been reissued (at least after registration & licensing was taken away from the [once corrupt] Police).  I would imagine motor dealers would have also dabbled in registration marks then, as they do now.  In short: registration marks on (even new) motors, as is the case today, may not necessarily be an indication of the vintage of anything.


Reflex reflective registration marks came about in 1983, though motors registered before then had until mid-1985 to change from non-reflex reflective ones & by about 1990 had become a rare find on anything in the scrappers out Tuen Mun/Yuen Long way.



When Brian Slevin became the Commissioner of Police in 1974, he adopted AM33 for his flag car instead of No.1.  It did not fair well with the demoralised RHKP in the midst of the anti-corruption drive conducted by the ICAC.  His successor, Roy Henry, readopted the No.1 plate.  Successive CPs became affectionately referred to as "Yat Gor".

Plate No. 11 was a joke in the 50s; people would say they came by "Car No.11", meaning they came walking on their own two legs. Could the plate be for the car of KWOK Chan?

I think Dr. Sir Albert Rodrigues was not adverse to the No.13 plate because he was a fervent Catholic.  

I don't remember any car bearing the unlucky No.14 in the early days though.  However, No.4 was popular for Shanghainese because it sounds like their word 'Alive' instead of Death in Cantonese; therefore it has been on the Rolls of Cecil Chao after the Secy for Home Affairs released it for auction opting for AM4 instead. 

Is No.19 the British Consul General still?  It was for the Brtish High Commissioner in the old days. 

I came across a photo showing a motor bike with registration plate "HK 731" said to be taken near Stanley beach in 1920s.  Judgeing from the clothings of the two gentlemen, I doubt the photo date.  Will anyone give some advice as to the "date of the photo" and the bike "registration mark"?  Thank you.


Motor bike registration plate


KPL.  Thanks for your reply.   The registration plate shows " H 731 K ".  Looks like the "H" and "K" were self-additions to the pure no. 731 to indicate that the plate was issued in Hong Kong.   I presume this was not illegal at that time.


Sorry Edmond, I didn't zoom in all the way & figured those were some sort of fixings!


I don't think the letters are part of the registration mark as the idea is to be able to identify the vehicle - they wouldn't be legible at all distances that the numerals would be.


Perhaps they're something like the BS-AU mark on today's plates that is so bloody important you'll fail a MOT without nowadays (even though the plate is otherwise fine).



I have a photo of my father-in-law 'Jack' Macintyre Brown in Hong Kong on a motorbike and side car dated 1922. The rego number is  HK 505. The HK is above the 505.

We were told Jack had the first motor bike in Hong Kong. He probably had earlier bikes than the motorbike and side car. He was born in 1900 and arrived in Hong Kong during the first world war.

It is unknown when the first Hong Kong vehicle registrations took place. Probably before 1910.

Yes - Ordinance 6 of 1863 addressed the pressing issue of too many vehicles on the road, and required all vehicles with wiheels to be licensed, together with chairs.   The drivers/ chair bearers also had to be licensed, so that when the Ordinance of 7.4.1916 brought cars and motor bicycles (and motor tricycles) into line with the licensing of rickshas, trucks and carts (not motor drawn), chairs etc, drivers were required to get licenses too.  
In 1912, by the way, there were 21 cars in HK.  7 were privately owned, 14 were 'livery' cars of garages.  The latter 14 had caused 28 accidents in the previous 16 months, including 4 deaths and 4 serious injuries.  The maximum speed was 10mph. 

Hi Patricia,

Thank you for the info.  In the documents you read, is there any reference to the first car owner in Hong Kong?  From various sources, the first owner is said to be Dr. Noble (dentist) or Mr. Chu (businessman, see here for a comment from one of his descendents).

Hi Arnhem,
It is very interesting to hear about your relative's 1922 photo on the motorcycle ... I organise the "Classic Bike Club of HK" and the annual "Motorcycle Show." I am researching for a Book on the "First 100 years of Motoring in Hong Kong" and this would be very interesting to include, especially if you had any details about Jack Brown.
Best,                 IAN
Ian Foster (ian@netvigator.com)


Hi Edmond,

The guy riding the Bike looks 'British' in his attire (it must have been November to February wearing a woolen jumper!!), but his passenger looks American with those fancy white shorts!!

I could well believe the photos is from the 1920s. The Bike definitely fits that vintage, though I cannot make out the Brand-name on the tank. I see those Ratan Beach Huts in old 1920/1930s photos from Repulse Bay and Stanley.

Another great photo that would fit well into my Book ("First 100 years of Motoring in Hng Kong") if you have a good scan of it!?

Best,               IAN
Ian Foster (ian@netvigator.com)


My dad bought a new Austin Cambridge in 1962. The registration was HK 867. Unfortunately I don’t have a pic but the reg is certainly correct.


According to a Police Announcement in July 1950 the full list of registration numbers issued at that point would appear to be as follows.

Private Cars:
(Were 4000-4999 issued to taxis?)

1 - 3999
7001 - 9999
HK1 - HK3200

(early numbers were duplicated cars/motorcycles - there is still a m/c and a car with "6" on the road today) No reference to the Axxx & Bxxx plates at this point. Supports the C&W fleet photo bearing HK101 - HK105 

1 - 1000
HK1 - HK100

Commercial Vehicles:

5001 - 7000
HK5001 - HK5600
That would support the assumption that the issue of HK prefixes preceding the XX plates.

My father kept the invoice he had for the Ford Anglia he bought in 1949 and there it shows that the licence plate that was allotted to his car was HK 640.

Invoice for Anglia.jpg
Invoice for Anglia.jpg, by Nona


1938 Taipo Road
1938 Taipo Road, by Nona

The above photo of my father on Tai Po Road in 1938 shows his motorbike's licence plate :)


Hi Nona,

Those are very interesting photos, and the Invoice is amazing ... your Family has a very good Filing System to have that document survive for 70 years! I am researching for a Book to record Hong Kong's Motoring heritage and would love to hear any stories you may recall. Was your father in the 'HK Regiment' by any chance as that looks like a BSA 500cc, used by the Regiment pre-War (usually owned by the individuals, but used for Military Service). 

Best,            IAN 
Ian Foster

Hi Ian

Thanks for your comment but I'm afraid I haven't got any stories to share with you!

Both my parents were White Russian Emigres from China who came to HK in November 1937 from Shanghai. I must say I was pretty amazed to see those photos of my father on that motorbike as I would never have imagined him riding one! LOL!  laugh

I thought that perhaps my father had rented one for the day to get around the New Territories but I haven't got any proof of that! He had his own orchestra which had gigs at the Peninsula, HK Hotel and Repulse Bay Hotel and I often wondered how he got to Repulse Bay and back!

He wasn't with the HK Regiment but again, I was surprised to see that after HK was liberated, he handed in a Waffenfabrik Mauser Oberndorf A Neckar pistol  surprise

No idea why he would have had one in the house but in 1945 my mother received two letters - one from the senior officers in Shamshuipo PoW camp and then one from Cecil Harcourt when he was Commander-in-Chief of the Colony.  I only found those letters after both parents died and I went through my father's leather suitcase where he had all these incredible mementos and photos!  They never spoke about their experiences during the war but an internet friend who was researching about his own family in HK thought that my parents could have been involved with BAAG!

Sorry it's such a long-winded reply smiley




Hi Nona,

Your message is interesting, it is amazing how much detail and family history gets lost in the mists of time. 

Could I possibly use the photos in a Book I am researching on the "First 100 years of Motoring in Hong Kong." I can be contacted at ian@netvigator.com.

Best Regards,                   IAN 

All HK Government vehicles have a registration number begin with AM.... This is because at that time the police officer who was assigned to allocate the registration numbers was called Alaistair Morrison.  This has been fact checked as my colleague was told the same by the son of this gentleman.

The connection between Alec Morrison and the use of AM at the beginning of HK Government number plates is a widely circulated story, but unfortunately it is just a coincidence rather than a fact.  Alec Morrison may have been in charge of the Traffic Branch when AM number plates were first introduced, but "AM" was adopted as an abbreviation for Administration.  In a similar fashion, "A" was used for ambulances and "F" was used for fire department vehicles.


So where do the single licence plate numbers for official cars come in? They definitely had more than 2 wheels! Why did the CP have "1", the Colonial Secretary have "2", etc...? (1-9999??)

The Commisoner of Police was allocated 1 for his vehicle when the police were administering vehicle licensing. Following the establishment of a Transport Department in (1968) a long lasting kerfuffle between government departments ensued over who should have this number. I remember The Colonial Secretay having CS,  th Chief Justice CJ, Financial Secretary FS. I think the dispute over Reg nos. 1, 2 3 etc was solved by auctioning the numbers off, which then became a regularly feature for supposed "lucky numbers"

I beg to differ. The numeral "1" was never put up for auction as I recall as the CP argued against it saying the Plate 1 might conceivably fall into the hands of a nefarious gang leader which would be bad for police morale. And LI Kwan-ha won the argument.

But I do recall No.8 was very popular with the local rich and powerful and it may have gone to Sir Run Run Shaw, correct me if I'm wrong. Or did he get No. 6 instead? In any case the Transport Dept was raking it in at the public auctions held at the City Hall.

Based on some limited research, I understand that the current 'owners' of licence plates 1 to 10 are as follows:

1  : Commissioner of Police
2  : Wong Ming Wai (王明維)
3  : Cheng Kung Sze (鄭公時)
4  : Cecil Chao (趙世曾)
5  : Joseph Lau (劉鑾雄)
6  : The Hong Kong head of Amway
7  : Heung Chik Kau (香植球)
8  : Law Ting Pong (羅定邦)
9  : Albert Yeung (楊受成)
10 : Yung Wing Doi (容永道)

According to a 1993 article in the SCMP (see https://www.scmp.com/article/20195/u-2-can-own-1-4-only-95-million ), the owners of number plates 1 to 10 were:

  • 1 : Commissioner of Police
  • 2 : Wong Ming-hung
  • 3 : Cheng Kung-sze  (鄭公時)
  • 4 : Cecil Chao  (趙世曾)
  • 5 : Unknown person
  • 6 : Run Run Shaw (邵仁楞)
  • 7 : Heung Chit-kau (香植球), chairman of Tai Shing Development
  • 8 : Law Ting-pong (羅定邦), chairman of garment manufacturer Laws International Holdings
  • 9 : the late Tang Shiu-kin (鄧肇堅)
  • 10 : Sanford Yung Yung-tao (容永道), chairman and senior managing partner of Coopers and Lybrand.

A few of the owners have changed since 1993: 5 is now owned by Joseph Lau (劉鑾雄), 6 by the Head of Amway and 9  by Albert Yeung (楊受成).


Here's a car with registration number 4. The photo is from April 1928.

1928 Driving with Style in the 20s.
1928 Driving with Style in the 20s., by eternal1966c1

Many thanks Mr Brumby for this early photo. While licence plate "4" meant nothing negative to Caucasians it was/is anathema to the superstitious Chinese population and something to be scorned, correct me if I'm wrong.