A short history of the royal cars

‘Bucking the trend for a horse-drawn carriage, Prince Philip showed he had a sense of humour right up until the very end, with his no-nonsense Land Rover hearse’

Endorsements rarely get better than the royal seal of approval – so, what the late queen and current king (and those closely associated with them) choose to travel in is particularly important in the automotive world. In public, the Windsors are most frequently seen in the back of either a custom chauffeured state limousine or an ornate horse-drawn carriage. But, away from the prying eye of the press and general public, they exercise their right to enjoy the open road behind the wheel of a variety of vehicles. Here's the cream of the crop…

Bentley State Limousine (2002)

Image: Getty

Commissioned for Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee, this entirely custom and unique Bentley ferried both Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh on official duties (here, it is pictured with King Charles III). Made with a 'panoramic glasshouse' to offer greater visibility from the outside, the car is more than 80cm longer than the Bentley Arnage, on which it is based. It's also wider, and its roofline was made high enough to enable Queen Elizabeth to walk in and out of the car without the need to stoop. There’s a mount point on the roof to hold an illuminated coat of arms, and it’s further equipped with flashing blue lights inside the radiator grille and front bumper to clear traffic fast, if needed.

Inside, the on-board luggage stowage was created around the dimensions of the queen's favourite bag, and British textile manufacturer Hield Brothers produced the lambswool cloth used for the upholstery of the rear seats. All remaining upholstery is rendered in classic Connolly hide. As expected, the cabin is blast-resistant and can be sealed airtight in the event of a gas attack. With no stone left unturned, even the tyres are reinforced with Kevlar, to ensure that the Bentley can make a hasty getaway in an emergency situation.

Aston Martin DB6 (1966)

Image: Getty

Although Prince William and Kate used it as their wedding car, the Aston Martin DB6 actually belongs to King Charles III. Despite its ordinary appearance, this DB6 has been converted to run on bioethanol produced from supply waste. "I've got electric cars now, but it's been so difficult," he told the BBC in an interview. "My old Aston Martin, which I've had for 51 years, runs on – can you believe this – surplus English white wine, and whey from the cheese process." The conversion was carried out by a Gloucestershire-based company called Green Fuels and Aston Martin heritage specialist RS Williams Ltd.

Audi Cabriolet (1994)

As we know, the Princess of Wales was a trendsetter in almost everything she did – and, her choice of cars were no exception. After she was seen piloting her Audi Cabriolet around London in summer, 1994, with the roof down, Audi later reported that sales of the vehicle had doubled. The princess used the car from March until July, 1994, when she gave it back to Dovercourt Audi, in St John's Wood, with just 4,000 miles on the clock. After that, it was bought by political commentator, broadcaster and author Ian Campbell Dale. The car went up for auction in 2020, with an estimate price tag of £35,000–£40,000.

Ford Escort RS Turbo Series 1 (1985)

This classic was also favoured by the Princess of Wales, and she was seen regularly in it during 1985. Ordered for – and specified by – the princess from new, it was delivered by Ford in black (while all the other Series 1 RS Turbos were white) and is otherwise standard, aside from the radio in the glovebox that linked to her Royal Protection Squad officer. The car sold in 2022 to a UK buyer for a staggering £722,500.

Land Rover Defender (various)

Image: Getty

From outdoor adventures around Balmoral to overseas state visits and military inspections, the beloved Land Rover Defender (or the Series I, II, III as it was known before) has been the backbone of the royal motoring stable since King George VI ordered one in the late 1940s. With the late queen pictured behind the wheel of several Land Rover Series models – and latterly the Defender (more below) – it’s clear the bug-eyed brute was one of her personal favourites.

Land Rover Td5 Defender 130 Hearse (2021)

Bucking the trend for a horse-drawn carriage, Prince Philip showed he had a sense of humour right up until the very end, with his nifty, no-nonsense, military-inspired dark-bronze-green Land Rover hearse. Perhaps the perfect final transport for the swashbuckling former military man, the prince spent 16 years designing the car, in preparation for his last journey. Always prepared for a potential failure, the manufacturer provided three, just in case there were any last-minute breakdowns on the day.

Range Rover (various)

Image: Getty

Considering that the royal relationship with Land Rover spans decades and, now, three monarchs, it would be churlish of them to ignore the manufacturer's flagship off-roader. For years, the Range Rover has been a much-loved method of transport for both the royals and their protection squads, with the burley – but luxurious – car providing the perfect blend of style, comfort and performance.

One particular 2004 model, which belonged to the queen, was sold at auction in 2003 for a whopping £132,750. Far from standard, Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) finished the car in Epsom Green, with a dog guard for the corgis, a modified front grille for improved security, covert lights, and rear side steps and grab handles to help royal relatives jump into the back with ease. Weighing three-tonnes, it's also equipped with a BMW 4.4-litre V8.

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