1947 - 1960
A six digit registration number system was introduced in 1947 which operated until mid 1960. The first digit represented the class of vehicles as follows:
In theory (at least) all jeeps (MB, GPW, ITM, Delahaye VLR and Hotchkiss M201)should have been registered with the first digit 0 which appears to have been the case with the army and gendarmerie but unused blocks of numbers from higher series appear to have been allocated to the air force and the marines.
The tri-colour appeared
to the left of the number on most most army jeeps except Infanterie de Marine and Gendarmerie, which, although strictly
not an army corps, is controlled by the Defence Ministry.
At the Hotchkiss factory and at the ERGM la Maltournée works, the digits were hand painted with silver digits on black in the typical thin French style condensed font. When jeeps were repainted at regional workshops a classic French sign writing style was often used (as in the Marines example), a dash sometimes included between the two groups of digits, leading zero missed out, or even presenting the registration as a single six digit number and always with white rather than silver digits.
The main exception to the above system of numbering was for jeeps operating in Indochina which were registered using a different system consisting of a five digit serial number preceded by a flag, anchor or roundel and the letters IC e.g. IC - 24356 As ever, the size and style of the letters and numbers tended to vary according to the workshop that had applied them. A notable exception to this system was General Leclerc's armoured jeep 'Tailly' which had the registration number L - 401266 (privilege of rank!).
The first Hotchkiss M201 jeeps produced in 1956 were allocated registration numbers from the blocks of numbers which were also used to register totally rebuilt ITM jeeps produced at la Maltournée during the same year. These were 054-000 to 054-999, 087-000 to 087-999, and 088-000 to 088-999. The mix of jeeps in these series makes it impossible to predict the registration number of very early Hotchkiss jeeps from the database.
From 1957 complete blocks of numbers were allocated pretty much exclusively to army and gendarmerie M201s and on the whole individual registration numbers were given to each vehicle in step with the army serial number allocated to it. It is difficult to tell if air force jeeps were included in the list below or not.
1960 - 1980
In mid 1960 a new seven digit registration system was introduced that included the year of issue coded within it. You would expect such a system to have been introduced from January the first but it was not implemented until after the introduction of the new 24 volt M201 in June and until the last of the 035 - xxx series had been used up in late August / early September. Why the new system was not introduced from the start of the year is not clear but burocracy seems to be the most likely reason in that the decision to change was not finally taken until mid 1960. Jeeps already in service with the old style registrations retained their number until they were subsequently sold or rebuilt at la Maltournée.
The new system of numbering incorporated a coding system that included year, service and type of jeep. How the code worked is explained in the section 'Principe d'immatriculation des vehicules' in the document 'Mémento sur les déplacements par voie routière'.
So the rear number plate below is from the 2899th new M201 jeep to be registered in 1962. The plate also shows clearly the style of the hand painted rear number plate fitted at the factory. The digits are silver on black and it is just possible to see the pencil guidelines through the silver paint.
Factory registrations were hand painted silver on black in the standard condensed font and on the front bumper this was moved to left of centre (as you face the jeep) probably to avoid the problem of the hole for the starting handle. Subsequent repaint jobs carried out at regional workshops resulted in a range of styles either hand painted or stencilled and often placed in the centre of the bumper. Sometimes the first three digits were separated from the last four by a space or dash, sometimes the first three digits were smaller than the rest particularly where the traditional sign writing style was used, and I have even seen photos in which the numbers are grouped into four followed by three or a leading zero omitted from the last four digits!
The use of the tri-colour continued in the form of a vinyl sticker until replaced by the new armée de Terre insignia that is still in use today. Only the last few jeeps remaining in service ever had this marking. (photo below left) Unusually the digits of this registration number are grouped 4 digits then 3 digits. On the rear number plate, there was only just room to include the tri-colour but often it was omitted and placed on the rear cross-member between the bumperette and towing hitch instead. The other two examples illustrate Gendarmeries and Armée de l'Air registration plates which incorporates stylised wings in yellow.
The registration of Armée de l'Air jeeps would have begun at 321 0001 in 1962 and formed a separate series i.e. the next jeep that would have been 221 2900 did not become 321 2900 if it was allocated to the air force.
A few final notes
The original first registration number of most but not all new M201s was stamped on the chassis so even if you have no original documentation about your M201 it may still be possible to find its registration number for a perfect restoration. Rebuild registrations were not stamped anywhere on the jeep. I may be able to help with finding some of these from the database.
Odd registration numbers from the 1960s ?
With such a precise registration system from the 1960s onwards there should be little confusion about the age of an M201 as long as you know the registration it had when sold at auction. In fact the registration number is a better guide than the army serial number!
M201s issued to the air force were not given an army serial number. However, from time to time batches of jeeps were transferred from the air force to the army at which point they were given an army serial number which can only be used as a guide to when they were transferred and not as to their true age. They were also given an army registration number for the front and rear plates but this was an 'age related' plate. M201 no. 25746 is a typical example. Its army serial number would suggest that it is a 1965 jeep but it was originally issued to the air force in 1964. On transfer the army it was registered as 241 2369 indicating it was a 1964 jeep (source: Domaines).
I don't know exactly why these transfers took place but they occurred in both directions. The example below was sent to me by Louis de Waal (M201 no. 03367). His jeep was obviously registered to the air force when it was sold at auction but look carefully and you will see that it originally belonged to the army.
From 1980 onwards - a new eight-digit registration system was introduced. In this the first group of digits was extended to four so that the year of manufacture could be clearly expressed. The system became: 1st digit - Military Arm (as before), 2nd & 3rd digit - year of manufacture expressed in decade form (i.e. 85 = 1985), 4th digit - classification (basically as before but with revised definitions of some classes). Bearing in mind that M201 manufacture ended in 1967 and that rebuilding at La Maltournée ended in 1978 no M201 jeeps would ever have been registered using this system.
Thanks to Jean-Louis Martin (M201 Nº 19990) for sending me 'Principe d'immatriculation des vehicules' from 'Mémento sur les déplacements par voie routière' and Ben van Wely (M201 Nº 2892) in the Netherlands for the document relating to his ex-Gendarmerie jeep. This page is dedicated to Ben who passed away on the 30th October 2000 and with whom I exchanged many e-mails concerning our common interest - the M201.
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