Deciphering Number Plates: Italy

Deciphering Number Plates: Italy

Did you know that, in the early days, car owners in Italy would make their number plates themselves? Or that there was once an Italian city where the number plate would also feature the name of the car’s owner? Read on for more details and to learn what the popemobile’s registration number is!

11. 7. 2019 MODELS

It’s common knowledge that all roads lead to Rome, so our tour of countries in the Deciphering Number Plates series was bound to make its way to Italy – a country of great food, elegant clothes and, of course, fast cars – sooner or later.

Italy’s first number plates appeared in 1897, when a law was passed that required number plates to be affixed to all velocipedes. A year later, the city of Milan adopted a decree proclaiming that every Milanese car had to have a number plate inscribed with the name of the owner and a licence number assigned by the city. This plate had to be positioned on the left side of the car, which may have had something to do with the fact that they drove on the left in Milan (as in other Italian cities) at the time. Initially, it was only in the countryside that they drove on the right. Cities did not follow suit until the 1920s.


In 1901, a royal decree entered into force in Italy stating that all Italian cars must be fitted with a rear number plate. These number plates bore the full name of the owner’s region of origin and a numerical combination, and had to be made by the owners themselves. With no strict rules on the appearance of the plates, the only conditions were that they needed to be made of metal and the inscription on them had to be clearly legible. As a result, each number plate was essentially original. It was not that unusual for owners to go through several plates – when they got bored of one, they simply made another. Just two number plates have survived from that time and are exhibited in museums – GENOVA 83 (from Genoa) and PADOVA 2 (from Padua).

Another milestone in the development of the Italian number plate system was the year 1905, when uniform plating was adopted – 8 cm high lettering and a white background. However, vehicle owners continued to make the plates themselves. The requirement to affix a front number plate was also introduced. As there were no binding rules on what these front plates were to look like, people were again free to be creative. Word has it that some simply drew or even engraved the registration number directly on the car (cars at that time were the preserve of the very rich, so the impact that this would have on the residual value of the vehicle was hardly a thorny issue).

From 1927 to 1985, Italian number plates featured white lettering on a black background. Incidentally, you may be under the impression from older Italian films that front plates were quite small back then. And you would be right, as they were just shy of 6 cm tall (for comparison, today they are almost 11 cm).


The current system, in place since 1994, consists of a mere seven characters in the format LL DDD LL (with D and L standing for digit and letter, respectively). The first pair of digits is followed by a small black-and-white Italian national emblem. When this system was adopted, it was the first time that Italian registration numbers had completely ignored the province in which the vehicle was registered. However, this proved extremely unpopular, so when the system was updated in 1999, the provincial code was reintroduced, albeit on a voluntary basis. The update was carried out to add two blue bands to the number plate – one on the right and the other on the left. The left band is always the same, depicting the EU stars above Italy’s country code (I), but the band on the right may take several forms. The only compulsory element of the right band is a yellow circle, which is on the same plane as the EU stars and forms a visual counterpart to them. The vehicle’s year of registration may optionally be displayed in this circle. The provincial code may (again optionally) be included underneath the circle.

It is entirely up to the vehicle owner whether to include the province on the plate. For the most part, the provincial codes are a set of two capitalised letters, Rome being the single exception as it is written out in full (Roma). Trentino, South Tyrol and the Aosta Valley are also a little different in that the second letter of the code is in small caps, making room for the addition of their coat of arms. Number plates are usually rectangular in shape, but may also be square, in which case they begin with the letter Z.

What is in a number plate?

There are several special formats in the Italian number plate system. These are usually characterised by specific red lettering at the beginning of the plate to represent the abbreviated name of the relevant authority or organisation. Consequently, military plates are recognised by the prefix EI (Esercito Italiano), while firefighters use VF (Vigili del Fuoco) and the Italian Red Cross CRI (Croce Rossa Italiana). Police vehicles depart from this system because they have POLIZIA written in red on their number plates. Diplomatic plates stand out because, while also in two colours, the four black digits in the middle are complemented by blue letters either side. The first two letters indicate whether the vehicle is used by a consular service (CC) or an embassy (CD), and the last two letters are the country code.

In Rome in particular, you will also come across yet another format: the plates used by the Vatican City State. These almost always take the form of black lettering on a white background and may start with either CV (private cars) or SCV (government and other state vehicles). Here, again, there is an exception: the most important state vehicle of the entire Vatican, the popemobile, always has the red inscription SCV 1.

The OCTAVIA G-TEC is a hit in Italy


Questions answered by: Giorgio Magnanini,
PR Manager, ŠKODA AUTO Italia

How would you sum up ŠKODA’s historical presence on the Italian market?

ŠKODA has traditionally played a rather marginal role in our market, which has always been dominated by the domestic brands – FIAT, Lancia and Alfa Romeo. These days, ŠKODA Italia is part of the Volkswagen Italia S.p.A group, a Volkswagen Group subsidiary headquartered in Verona, which distributes Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and ŠKODA cars and Volkswagen commercial vehicles. ŠKODA AUTO Italia has been part of the Volkswagen Italia Group since 1994.

What is ŠKODA’s current status on the Italian market?

ŠKODA has hit a purple patch. The OCTAVIA, FABIA and, of course, the SUV model range have led the way in more than doubling brand sales over the past five years (approximately 26,000 ŠKODAs were sold in Italy in 2018).


Which models sell best on the Italian market and how do they fare against competitors in their class?

The OCTAVIA is one of the best-selling cars in its class in Italy and is very popular among private customers (where it is top of the class) and companies alike. The FABIA, for its part, has been racking up great sales in the C-segment, spearheaded by the ColourConcept special editions.

What trends have you observed on the Italian market?

Italy has one of the highest shares of natural-gas cars. One of the most sought-after vehicles in this particular segment is the ŠKODA OCTAVIA G-TEC, which last year accounted for more than 30% of total OCTAVIA sales.