Queen Elizabeth II was a longtime automotive enthusiast

·7-min read



Since driver's licenses, license plate, and passports were issued in her own name, Queen Elizabeth II didn't need them to drive and travel. She started combining the two just before she turned 19, joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) transport division in 1945 for vehicle mechanic training. She wanted to help the British effort during World War II and would drive an ambulance — one that, theoretically, she could also fix if it broke down. The war ended before she graduated as an Honorary Junior Commander, the other ATS members dubbing her Princess Auto Mechanic.

We don’t know if she got under the hoods of the many official state vehicles and far more numerous unofficial fleet in the royal garages, but she was still driving herself around England as late as this year. Here is a tiny selection of royal conveyances used during her 70-year reign.

Gold State Coach (1762)

True, she never drove this one, but a tour of every royal garage should start with the coach. King George III commissioned Samuel Butler to build it in 1760. Butler spent two years on the gilded carriage 24 feet long and more than 12 feet high. The quarters are suspended from the frame by leather straps, so occupants get tossed about even during a slow stroll, which is as fast as the eight Windsor Gray horses can pull it. It wasn’t until the 1900s that King George VI rubberized the wooden wheels. Word is the queen didn’t like it.

 

1953 Land Rover Series 1

Land Rover gave Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, the 100th example of the 80 Series off the line in 1948. She picked up the Landie habit for herself five years later, when a 1953 Series 1 with a custom 86-inch wheelbase was part of the fleet used for her six-month tour of the Commonwealth in 1953 and 1954. That Land Rover became Ceremonial Vehicle State IV. The models above were built in Australia in 1958 as near copies of the Commonwealth tour vehicle, when Australia decided it wanted six identical versions for royal service.

It’s thought the royal family went through around 30 Land Rover Series cars and Defenders since then, and many of the most common photos of her have her posing in or near one, especially the 2002 Defender built just for her. The royal family isn’t finished with them, either: A current Defender 110 served as a luggage hauler for family members headed to Balmoral Castle during the queen’s final days.

 

1954 Rolls-Royce Phantom IV State Landaulette

No one should be surprised that the English royal family enjoyed wares supplied by Rolls-Royce, and word is the queen did like her Spirit of Ecstasy cars. Rolls-Royce made less than 20 examples of the Rolls-Royce Phantom IV — Rolls-Royce built them exclusively for clients deemed worthy — and the queen owned two. A closed-roof limousine delivered on July 6, 1950 when she was still yet the Duchess of Edinburgh. Rolls-Royce built this open-backed Landaulet during its Jubilee Year in 1954, loaned to the royal family during the 1950s, the queen finally buying it in 1959 to serve as a state vehicle.

Other Rolls-Royces in the employ of the royal family included a 1960 Rolls-Royce Phantom V ‘High Roof’ State Limousine, a 1962 Rolls-Royce Phantom V used by the Queen Mother, a 1977 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI Limousine built for the queen’s Silver Jubilee, a 1985 Rolls-Royce ‘Centenary’ Silver Spur Saloon Princess Diana would use, a 1987 Phantom VI state limousine, and another Phantom IV that carried Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to their wedding.

Bonhams sold the 1954 Landaulette at auction in 2018 for £800,000 ($927,672 U.S.).

 

Bentley Arnage State Limousines

The last four decades of the 1900s were about Rolls-Royce, the 2000s have been all about Bentley. The Crewe firm built two Arnage State Limousines for the queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. They hide armor plating under their claret and black paintwork, they ride on puncture-resistant tires, and carry blue flashing lights as if the 20.5-foot length, SUV height, flags, and support vehicles weren’t enough to alert everyone where the queen is.

Although packing the same 6.75-liter V8 that was a Bentley staple for decades, the Arnage State Limousines stayed below 10 miles per hour when on official business.

Said to cost $11 million apiece, part of that money was spent on coachwork like the Perspex roof window with the retractable cover, Hield Lambswool Sateen cloth rear seats, and light gray Connolly leather elsewhere.

On the off chance the queen ever got bored of them, the state limousine fleet at Royal Mews also counted three Rolls-Royces and three Daimlers. Those Daimlers, by the way, refer to the English brand that was a favorite of the Royal Family before Elizabeth switched to Rolls-Royces in the 1950s, not the German brand we’re more familiar with now.

The queen also received the first Bentley Bentayga produced, handed over by then-CEO Wolfgang Durheimer.

 

Jaguar Daimler V8 Super LWB

Along with the Land Rovers, this one the queen drove herself for three years after Jaguar delivered it to Buckingham Palace in 2001. Colored British Racing Green, custom features included an arm rest with a sliding tray designed to the queen's preferred handbag, rearranged HVAC vents and switches to lower any window from any position because the queen didn't like fresh air blowing in her face, an ashtray converted to a switch panel for the blue security lighting, blue lights in various locations identifying this as the queen's car, headlights and taillights that could strobe, and connections in the trunk for the device that could contact Home Office and Downing Street directly.

 

2009 Jaguar X-Type Sportwagon V6 Sovereign

The queen showed her support of the home team with the most surprising car on this list: a 2009 Jaguar X-Type Sportwagon, the first series production wagon from the Coventry brand. Another one she drove herself, she held onto it for seven years and was still driving it to and from church in 2017 at 91 years old. It was fitted with a dog grille behind the rear seats for the canine fleet of Corgis the queen was known to adore.

 

1961 Vauxhall Cresta PA Friary Estate

That wasn’t the first everyday ride fitted with a dog grille, either. Elizabeth relinquished a 1956 Ford Zephyr Estate in 1961 for another local entry, a Vauxhall Cresta PA sedan. Although an English product with a 2.2-liter six-cylinder and 82.5 horsepower, it hewed to American design trends like wraparound windows, slight tail fins, and whitewall tires.

There wasn’t enough room in the sedan for the family, the dogs, and the leisure gear like shotguns and fishing rods, so Elizabeth procured one of the examples from Friary Coachbuilding, which turned the sedan into a wagon. The engine was also bored out to 2.65 liters, taking top speed to 95 miles per hour.

 

Range Rover

A Royal Warrant of Appointment is “granted as a mark of recognition to people or companies who have regularly supplied goods or services” to the monarch’s households, and the more than 800 companies that hold Royal Warrants are allowed to display the Royal Arms as proof of their service until the warrants expire.

Land Rover is one of four British companies to have held all four Royal Warrants covering the Royal Family: One each for the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, The Duke of Edinburgh, and Prince Charles.

So, since we began with Land Rovers — after the coach — we’ll end with Range Rover, another personal car and clear favorite of the queen. HMTQ could be seen next to Range Rovers as far back as 1979. She took delivery of a third-gen Range Rover Autobiography in 2002, joined by a fourth-gen Range Rover LWB Landaulet in 2015. The latter Rangie was one of the State Review cars with a platform in back that, along with the landaulet roof, allowed Elizabeth to stand on a platform and wave to crowds during events.

But the 2002 has been a photographer favorite because of the special hood ornament. Elizabeth liked pheasant hunting, so she adored Labradors almost as much as corgis. Sat in the middle of the hood on her third-gen Range Rover was a Labrador with a bird in its mouth, as you can see at the very top of this article. It got a lot of press during the Queen’s trips to the annual Royal Windsor Horse Show or her drives around the Royal Family’s estate at Sandringham.

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