SHE’S 91 years old, has a birthday that’s not a birthday and, like The Empire Strikes Back, is one of those rare instances where the sequel is better than the original.
Here at Wheels we respect the Queen, largely due to the fact that there are no 91-year-old ladies we can think of who clearly enjoy driving so much and have such a fantastic collection of cars.
It started in 1944, when she joined the war effort as an 18-year-old princess. Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor was part of the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service where she donned a set of baggy coveralls and trained in London as a mechanic and military truck driver.
She’s the only living head of state who served in World War II. She’s also the first head of state to ever send an email (in 1976). That’s not really relevant to this in any regard, but we thought it was cool.
Anyway, back to the script. Although Buckingham Palace is her official seat, she spends most of her time at Sandringham House, an elegantly sprawling pile on 8,100 hectares in Norfolk. It’s here that her collection of cars is kept, and it’s quite a fleet.
Pride of place goes to the very first royal car, a Daimler Phaeton from 1900, and there are numerous other Rolls-Royce and Bentley vehicles that have been gifted to her.
The Queen’s State Fleet which comprises three Rolls-Royces, three Daimlers and two Bentleys, is kept at Buck House, alongside a few Volkswagen support cars (keeping the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family values up).
The pair of Bentleys are handbuilt from scratch and at 6.22 metres long, are almost a metre longer than a standard Bentley Mulsanne, so legroom isn’t a problem for someone who stands 1.63m tall. The doors are rear-hinged to allow for elegant entry and egress, the roofline being high enough for the Queen to be able to stand up as she leaves the vehicle.
Power comes courtesy of the doughty 6.75-litre V8 but the cars rarely exceed 15km/h on official duty. The back seats are trimmed in Hield Lambswool Sateen cloth, while the rest of the interior is finished in light grey Connolly leather.
If forced to nominate the car that was the Queen’s favourite, it would probably be her 2002 Land Rover Defender. She put a few miles on her latest one, and it doubles as a shooting brake for when the Glorious Twelfth rolls around and she needs to thin the numbers of grouse on the estate.
She had owned around thirty Defenders over the years, but in 2002 Land Rover built her a custom edition. It was fitted with Range Rover bits such as heated seats and electric windows and also benefited from a suspension lift which made it easier to get to the remoter parts of the estate in order to shoot residual grouse.
The 4.2-litre V8 workhorse was eventually sold at Brooklands for £30,240, complete with a few unused shotgun cartridges in the glovebox.
This Jaguar Daimler V8 Super LWB was delivered to Buckingham Palace in 2001 and was used as the Queen’s personal transport for the next three years.
The plan was for her to perambulate around in the back, enjoying the custom handbag holder and custom air con system, but the lure of a 4.0-litre supercharged V8 donk and the prospect of a 13.6s quarter was clearly too strong, and the Queen actually spent more time driving this one herself. It was fitted with a host of Q-branch gadgets, including secret buttons to activate high-intensity neon lights and a boot-mounted radio to contact the Home Office and Downing Street.
Bentley’s boss Wolfgang Durheimer confirmed in 2015 that the very first production Bentayga to roll off its lines would go to Queen Elizabeth. You’d expect nothing less for the most expensive luxury SUV on the market.
Since Land Rover Defender production has ceased, the Bentayga has some big boots to fill. She was invited to test drive a prototype long before the press got near the 300km/h beast, and uses the production model on her property in Balmoral for stalking deer and hunting grouse.
One of the Queen’s civic duties – and there is no negative connotation here whatsoever – is waving to her subjects. Whereas many heads of state cloister themselves away, rarely seen by their public, part of QEII’s enduring popularity is that she makes herself relatively accessible.
Clearly the number of public engagements a nonagenarian can undertake is tapering off, it helps to do them in style and that’s where this 2015 Range Rover LWB Landaulet comes in.
This turbodiesel hybrid is finished in elegant maroon, with a mount for the Royal Standard on the bonnet. There’s an elevated position for three in the back of this open car, Her Maj being flanked by two bodyguards. JLR’s SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) had a tough job creating a whole new supporting structure for the rear end, but it did a great job. It would’ve been easier to have built a plexiglass bubble like the Popemobile. Here’s something a bit more elegant and it can even travel on pure electric power if required, albeit only for 1.6km. That would be ideal for sneaking up on red deer.
Okay, so it’s not a car that the Queen drives, but she bought it, so we’ve got to credit her with excellent taste. Generosity too. If my mum bought me an Aston Martin DB6 Volante for my 21st birthday, I’d probably make a bit more of an effort when she phones and tells me that she can’t print.
This was Prince Charles’ birthday gift, and it’s one that he grew to see as a bit of an environmental millstone, eventually converting it to run on a bioethanol fuel made from wine. It’s kept at Highgrove House and only clocks up about 300 miles per year, most famously being used for William and Kate’s wedding in 2011.