By Barb Godwin, HRL publisher
Though Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was a renowned equestrian, she was also an enthusiastic motorist who learned to drive while serving as a trained mechanic in the British Army during the Second World War. Seen driving to a 1956 polo match, the monarch loved the freedom she found behind the wheel of the many types of automobiles that filled her royal garage.
America’s view of kings and queens is often of celebrity status; castles and crowns, power, and an almost forgotten link to our history. Most of the press lends either to fractious activity or pomp and circumstance with family members often scrutinized for headline-creating actions.
Occasionally, consideration is given to what is deemed unusual or out of the ordinary for those who hold positions of royal power.
So what about a queen who is also known for being a mechanic? Really?
An amazing woman and queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was a person of many talents and interests. Her love of horses and a lifetime of horsemanship prompted admiration from many, including myself.
When I recently learned of her accomplishments as a mechanic, I was astonished! After all, the publicity regarding the queen and motor vehicles is usually those in which she was being chauffeured.
HRH Princess Elizabeth was 13 years of age when World War II began. In 1944 at age 19, she enrolled in the British Army, the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Determined to serve the country she would later rule, the Princess became adept at driving monstrous military vehicles and learned their mechanics. She wasn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty.
Sounds like something out of a movie, right?
Later in life, like many of those who live the horse lifestyle, vehicles of choice included a rugged variety, the Land Rover. Queen Elizabeth could be quick to take the wheel, making her way across rough terrain, often putting the vehicle to the test.
Land Rover established in 1885 as the Rover Company, which manufactured bicycles in Warwickshire, England. Inspired by the jeep, the original Land Rover design was created by engineer Maurice Wilks, also the Rover Company Chairman. In 1948 the Land Rover was officially released at the Amsterdam Motor Show. Most Land Rovers at that time were the color of “Army Green” due to a military surplus of auto-paint after World War II.
Designed for farm and industrial use, it featured an aluminum body with a canvas top and was four-wheel drive. Later it became known as Series I. Eventually, the company sold to Leyland Motors (British Leyland) in1967. A new BL subsidiary, with the iconic name Land Rover, was then created. Since then, the company sold once more, with Land Rover now manufactured by Jaguar Land Rover, owned by Tata Motors.
Of course, pomp and circumstance requires a more elegant ride, and Daimlers and the Rolls- Royce would encase the Queen and her family, with the Royal Wave and her majesties beloved smile given to the gathered masses as she rolled past.
Henry Royce built his first motor car in 1904 and created an alliance with Charles Rolls, who owned a company that manufactured cars in London. They agreed that while Royce would manufacture them, Rolls would sell them exclusively. So began the Rolls-Royce company. Established in 1906, the six-cylinder Silver Ghost launched soon afterward, taking the place of previous production models. In 1907 after a 15,000-mile trial run the Royal Automobile Club, who closely observed the Silver Ghosts performance, gave it the highest club ranking.
It was determined to be “the best car in the world” due to its reliability, something considered rare in early automotive production.It went into production in1907 witha price tagof approximately$5000 just forthe chassis;it was indeed a hefty amount of money at the time.Ford’s price for the Model R in 1907 was $600. So Rolls-Royce was alwaysabout the elite. It still is. The Phantom Rolls-Royce demands over $460,000 today.
The Phantom V Rolls Royce produced from 1959 to 1968, was a massive three-ton vehicle, one of which traveled the world with the Queen, having its very own garage upon the Royal Yacht Britannia. Rolls-Royce continues to manufacture as an elite choice in the automotive world, including their first introduction of an SUV, the Cullinan, introduced in 2018.
Since the onset of Rolls, this history-making company has expanded to include aviation, with subsidiaries that have gone skyward.
However, families need a practical vehicle for everyday needs, and a Ford Zephyr Mk1 was used for royal family outings and included shooting parties.
Vauxhall is the UK’s oldest surviving car company with production beginning in 1903 and continuing to manufacture various vehicles. Located in Luton since 1905, Vauxhall states they are the only light vehicle manufacturer in the country. They also have headquarters in Bedfordshire and build compact cars at their Ellesmere Port plant. By the end of 2022, they plan to produce an electric, battery- operated model in both commercial and passenger versions marketing them under “Plug & Go”.
While the vehicles in this article are indeed foreign to many of us, they are part of royal history, which is noteworthy. Also noteworthy is the fact the family automobiles were kept at the royal stable! Horsepower is horsepower!
When she was crowned Queen in 1952 one of her royal prerogatives entitled Her Majesty to drive without a license, the only person in the United Kingdom afforded such a privilege. She is seen in the photo below driving to a polo match in 1956.
Things change, and “go”, and whether for people or automobiles, time rolls by quickly. But memories and legacies remain, and whether Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II or the Rolls-Royce, power, and performance leave a lasting impression; especially when they are determined by many to be the best.