Jeremy Clarkson's H982 FKL Falklands car plate fiasco: How likely is it the registration number was an accident?

Billy Ehrenberg
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Not his fault "for once" (Source: Getty)

Jeremy Clarkson is in the news for the wrong reasons; driven from Argentina by crowds of angry war veterans for an offensive number plate, which read: H982 FKL.

1982, as you will recall, is the year of the (FKL) Falklands conflict.

He has previous too: allegedly recited racist nursery rhymes (which he has denied) and used a slur to describe a Burmese man crossing a bridge.

Clarkson has claimed vociferously that this was an accident and that "for once" he had done nothing wrong.

But how likely is it that such a number plate occurred by mistake?

This is a long article, so here are the bullet points. Remember, a few assumptions had to be made in the calculating of our figure.

This is just a bit of fun.

  • New cars registered that year in the UK (est, 193,000)
  • Chances of 982 coming up on a number plate = 1/1000. So 193 cars that year.
  • Roughly 359 Porsche 928s sold that year. So chance of that car having H982 = 1/537,000
  • Car had to be registered in Dudley to get FK. 34 Porsche showrooms today, one nearby. Half that for fairness due to brand's expansion = 1/9,129,000.
  • Needs a L or D at the end to be offensive (no i on registration plates). 9,129,000 times 12.5 (25 letters, two would have sunk Clarkson) = 1/114,112,500.

First we have to look at the registration. It's an older format: we now use two letters, two numbers and then three letters.two letters, two numbers and then three letters.

Clarkson's plate dates back to 1990/91 which makes our calculations a little difficult. The oldest figures readily available for Porsche sales and UK new car sales was 2005, so we will have to start there.

First of all, we need to see how a UK number plate from 1990 works. The first letter (H) is the year. Then three numbers (0-9). So what are the odds of

So what are the odds of a 1990/91 car getting attributed 982? Well a one in 10 chance for the first, multiplied by 10 for the second with the same for the result of those two. Result - 1/1000.

That's unlikely of course, but not that unlikely. And of course with only 1,000 different combinations (000 included) it will definitely happen.

In 2005 a total of 385,969 commercial vehicles were registered in the UK. Even if we halved that figure for 1990 and assumed car sales were equal (they are usually far greater), that combination would have come up over 193 times.

Ok, so on to Porches. The company sold 96,794 cars in 2005, of which 10 per cent went to the UK. In 1995 (closer to our target year) it sold 32,383. If 10 per cent of those went to England that would be 3,238. Sounds reasonable enough.

The 928 type which Clarkson was driving sold 61,056 models during its lifetime. If we assume that they sold equally over the 17 years they were on sale (from 1978 - 1995) then that's 3,591 a year. If 10 per cent of those went to the UK, that would be 359 cars.

If 10 per cent of those went to the UK, that would be 359 cars.

Now going with our almost-arbitrary halving of the 385,969 total for cars sold in 2005 to get a workable 1990 figure we can say that one in every 537 cars sold was a Porsche.

With 1/1000 cars having the number plate, the sum is 1000 times 537: the chances of buying a Porsche in 1990 and its number plate starting with 982 (ignore the H remember that's the year) is 1 in 537,000. Getting big.

But what about the chances of that the FKL ending =? Well for a plate to read FK, it needs to have been registered in Dudley, Worcester. There are 675 different two-letter codes a car can have, but 28 of them are from Ireland and 29 are unused. That leaves 618. So the odds of that car being sold with those letters? If all cars were sold evenly, it would be astronomical. One in 331,866,000 to be precise.

There are 675 different two-letter codes a car could have before 2001, but 28 of them are from Ireland and 29 are unused.

Luckily for Clarkson, the new Porsche was probably sold in a Porsche showroom, of which there are currently 34.

There is a Porsche dealer near Dudley, Worcester, and so that could well give us the registration number we're after. Multiply our figure of 537,000 by 34 and we get one in 18,258,000.

We probably should be fair to Clarkson though and estimate (Porsche were unavailable for comment) that there were fewer dealers in 1990. Let's half it again (like we did with the car sales) to 17. 537,000 multiplied by 17 gives us a number of one in 9,129,000.

We have one final letter though: the L. The letter I isn't used in the alphabet so that's one in 25, but D would have been just as damaging (FKD) , so one in 12.5.

This is getting silly: the odds are now 114,112,500 to one for that number plate ending up on a given Porsche 928 from 1990/91.

It's important to remember that these probabilities sound huge, but to assume that makes them impossible is to underestimate just home much stuff goes on in the world. For example, a miracle birth of quintuplets rated a 60m to one. To name that a miracle is to miss that there have been 105,000,000 births so far this year.

So yes Clarkson has history, but funny number plates happen all the time. He could just be very very very unlucky.

NB. There have been claims that the plate was added to the car in 2001. If this is true then there is no way to even bungle through the probabilities.

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