Why Steve Jobs Never Had License Plates on His Car

Friend says Apple chief used loophole in California auto regulations.

ByABC News
October 28, 2011, 11:10 AM

Oct. 28, 2011 — -- "Think Different" was an Apple slogan of which Steve Jobs was fond. It made him, of course, very rich.

"Let me tell you about the very rich," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. "They are different from you and me."

Now comes a story, in the aftermath of Jobs' death, about one of his differences: the legend of how he tooled around Silicon Valley in a Mercedes with no license plates. The stories are legion -- that he parked in a handicapped-only spot at Apple headquarters; that he was just daring California police to nail him.

But David Heath of iTWire says he has heard the definitive version of the story from Jon Callas, now chief technology officer at a digital security firm called Entrust, who used to work with Jobs at Apple.

It turns out there's a provision in California regulations that give one six months to get license plates for a new car, and Jobs took advantage of it. Yes, he leased a silver Mercedes SL55 AMG, said Callas -- and every six months he traded it in for a new one.

"At no time would he ever be in a car as old as six months; and thus there was no legal requirement to have the number plates fitted," writes Heath.

"One might also assume that the leasing company was happy -- they had an endless supply of luxury cars to on-sell with the previous driver being none other than Steve Jobs."

Callas was on a plane home from Australia today, said his company, but a spokeswoman said she had often heard him tell the story of how Jobs changed cars to avoid having to put license plates on them. No word on whether he was concerned for his security; he was a very visible multimillionaire starting in his mid-twenties.

Jaime Garza of California's Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that one can drive a new car for up to six months with only a temporary permit on a corner of the windshield in front. He pointed out regulation CVC 4456:

"A vehicle displaying a copy of the report of sale may be operated without license plates or registration card until ... [a] six-month period, commencing with the date of sale of the vehicle, has expired."

But if the state sends you your permanent metal license plates, said Garza, then you're obliged to put them on your car.

As for parking in a handicapped spot ... well, Jobs was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003 (the photo with this story, shot at Apple headquarters, was posted on Flickr in September 2008). But his biographer, Walter Isaacson, paints a picture of a complicated man who could be both inventive and insensitive.

"Why was he not nicer at times? That's the big question," said Isaacson in an interview with ABC News. "Part of it is, it was just who he was."

"I do think that sometimes his prickliness, his temper, whatever it was, probably wasn't necessary, may have even been counterproductive," said Isaacson, talking about how demanding Jobs could be at Apple, "but it's hard to argue with the results, which is the type of team he built, and the loyalty he was able to engender."