Automotive history

Happy And Glorious: Cars of the Queen’s reign

by Robert Sherston
21 April 2016 3 min read
Happy And Glorious: Cars of the Queen’s reign
Lagonda 3 Litre Drophead H&H Auctions

Editor’s note: This story was first published to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday, in 2016.

Hurrah! On 21st April 2016, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is ninety years old – happy birthday Your Majesty! We celebrate the life and work of Britain’s longest-serving monarch with a look back at some of the best British cars from each decade of her life. Here are our favourites.

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1920s: The Bentley 3 Litre

1920s: The Bentley 3 Litre

Back in 1926 when the Queen was born, Le Mans 24 Hours was still an endurance trial. Nevertheless, Bentley had already made an impact with John Duff and Frank Clement ‘winning’ the event in 1924 in their Bentley 3 Litre Sport. The Bentley Works team were to triumph again in 1927 in another 3 Litre, this time the Super Sport of Dudley Benjafield and Sammy Davis. We love the immense torque, the fantastic noise and the unmistakeably British look of this racing machine: it has to be our 1920s star. Read more here about the early days of the Le Mans 24.

1930s: Austin Seven Ulster

1930s: Austin Seven Ulster

The Austin Seven was famously the first mass- produced car fitted with a conventional pedal layout. OK, so we know it was first produced in 1922, but our particular favourite is the Ulster. We love its utter simplicity combined with ruggedness – some of the Hagerty team successfully completed the 1,000 Mile Trial ‘London to Lisbon’ in a 1930 Ulster called ‘Little George’. Read about their adventure here.

1940s: The Alvis Fourteen

1940s: The Alvis Fourteen

British civilian car production almost ground to a halt during World War Two, and Alvis’s car plant in Coventry was severely damaged by bombing. But Alvis quickly shifted back to the business of money-making once the War ended, announcing the new Alvis Fourteen (also known as the TA14) in 1946. For us, it typifies the sober austerity of the post-war era: solid, dependable, reliable – just as the monarchy was in those difficult days. More about these cars is here at the Alvis Owners Club.

1950s: Lagonda 3-Litre Drophead

1950s: Lagonda 3-litre Drophead

In 1954, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh ordered a Lagonda 3-Litre. This car was a bit special, as it was fitted with double vanity mirrors for the Queen to check her hat(!) and a radio telephone. We love the fact that in 1956 and ’57, when touring the Commonwealth, The Duke took the car as part of the Royal entourage. Read more about the story of this car here.

1960s: Rolls-Royce Phantom V State Limousine

1960s: Rolls-Royce Phantom V State Limousine

We had to include a Rolls-Royce somewhere in this list, and decided that the Phantom V was the best representative of this marque. This state limousine was built in 1961 and was used for state occasions until 2002; it now resides in the Royal Motor Museum at Sandringham. It exudes elegance and regal bearing.

1970s: Rover SD1 Police ‘Jam Sandwich’

Rover SD1 police car

The 1970s: economic turmoil, the IRA and Showaddywaddy. To protect our Monarch from these terrible threats, the Royal party was often accompanied by Police vehicles sporting the famous ‘Jam Sandwich’ colour scheme. In the late 1970s, only one car would do: the Rover SD1.

1980s: Land Rover Defender

Prince Philip the driver and rider, pilot and mischief maker
Photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

Ask the public to name one of the Queen’s cars, and after a Rolls-Royce, they would probably mention the Land Rover. Although Her Majesty was known to have used Land Rovers as early as the late 1940s, it was the Defender that the Queen has been most photographed driving herself. For that reason, the Land Rover Defender has to be included.

1990s: McLaren F1

1995 McLaren F1

Conceived by Gordon Murray, built by Ron Dennis, this set the record as the world’s fastest production car, hitting the rev limited at 231mph. Everything about the F1 is legendary – from Rowan Atkinson crashing his twice to the price raised by a limited edition McLaren F1 at last year’s Monterey auctions- then the highest price ever paid for a British car at public auction: $13.75m. And it’s made in Woking.

2000s: Aston Martin DB9

Aston Martin DB9

OK, so the DB7 may have been the saviour of the brand, but we all knew it had an XJ-S chassis clothed in an expensive suit. The DB9 was different. This was a proper British sports car: refined, elegant, using the VH chassis and with a 5.9-litre V12 engine that went like stink. Plus, it did pretty well on the track: the racing-derived DBR9 won the GT class for Britain at Le Mans 24 Hours in both 2007 and 2008.

2010s: Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover Evoque

The last British car of Her Majesty’s reign was a difficult choice. We’ve gone for the Range Rover Evoque– the car that sold 220,000 units in its first 24 months of production with a design that dominated the SUV market. But more importantly, this is the car that helped power the huge resurgence in the Jaguar Land Rover brand – and many owners of classic models are now reaping the rewards. We feel it is a fitting model to be included.

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