Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

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If there's one thing the Royal Family excels at, it's sticking with tradition

The coronation ceremony might have remained virtually unchanged for over a thousand years, but the favoured manufacturer of the monarchy has never been set in stone, with Daimler, Rolls Royce and Bentley all taking their moment in the spotlight. 

With King Charles now formally crowned, it's His Majesty's turn to shape the royal and state fleet. We've had a look back at some of the most iconic cars chosen by his predecessors during their reigns. 

Which one is your favourite? 

What is a state car? 

These are the vehicles that are most likely to appear in the public eye on ceremonial occasions!

State cars will be used by the monarch, or the members of the royal family representing them, for public engagements. Typically, they are numbered, with state cars one and two being reserved for the use of the monarch alone. In the past they have even been taken abroad for the monarch to use on commonwealth tours!

State and official cars are always driven by royal chauffeurs, with the seniority of the chauffeur decided by the seniority of the passenger – with the monarch always being driven by the head, deputy head or assistant head chauffeur.

The livery - in this context, the uniform colour paint – of state cars will always be what’s known as ‘Royal Claret’.

There are currently five state cars in use by the royal family: two Bentley’s and three Rolls-Royces. All five of these cars made an appearance at the late Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral in 2022.

Foot guards at parade rest

1901 Columbia Victoria Phaeton 

Technically, this was before the split between state and personal cars among the Royal Family – but the look is so iconic it had to be included in the list.

With a ‘victoriette’ style of body, this early EV more closely resembles a horseless carriage than a car. However, it had (for the time) an impressive maximum speed of up to 22 mph. It could also run for 40 miles on a single charge.

With electric vehicles taking off recently it would be logical to think this technology is new, but in fact it’s been around since the early days of the motor car. Owned by King Edward’s wife, Queen Alexandra, this was technically the first ever electric vehicle in royal hands – and it was more than 100 years ago!

We love to think of Queen Alexandra behind the wheel and zooming around the Sandringham estate, no doubt shocking all her ladies in waiting.

1910 Daimler 57hp Straight Sixes

King George V had two of these – a pair of pre-war limousines which featured a long wheelbase and space for up to six passengers. The King and his Queen generally occupied the middle pair of bucket seats on official occasions to increase their visibility to onlookers.

Whether the use was personal or official, this pair of cars were invariably chauffeur-driven; King George had publicly stated in 1913 that while he drove on his private estates, he never did so in public.

While this might be down to outdated sensibilities of the time, this writer can personally understand not wanting to be behind the wheel with the eyes of hundreds – or even thousands – of people watching.

This early limousine is truly a classic from a bygone era. They don’t make them like this anymore!

1935 Daimler Double-Six Limousine

No fewer than five of these specific models were ordered for the Royal family during the Great Depression, in an attempt to stimulate British industry in difficult times. Two were intended to replace the first and second state cars, one was for the use of the queen and a further two were for the use of the King.

All five cars were fitted with a new cutting-edge fluid flywheel transmission system. They were so impressive that not only were two 1924 Shooting Brakes retrofitted with the same assemblies, but one of the Double-Six limousines were used to convey the king to the State Opening of Parliament when fog prevented use of the Gold State Coach.

Queen Mary’s limousine is now on display in the Coventry Transport Museum.

1950 Rolls-Royce Phantom IV

Though at the time Daimler held the royal warrant to provide motor cars, that didn’t stop Prince Phillip from placing an order with Rolls-Royce after test driving an experimental vehicle. It was the first Rolls-Royce in the stables.

The Phantom IV was originally intended to be a one of a kind piece and was designed to have very good performance while meeting the official needs of the couple. When delivered it was privately owned and painted valentine green, but it became a state limousine following Princess Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne and was repainted in the sovereign colour scheme – claret and black.

A classic make and one of only eighteen ever produced, this car remains in the Royal Mews even today – and was recently used to transport King Charles and the Queen Camilla from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall.

We’ll be hoping to see it stay as a state car for many years to come.

Rolls Royce hood ornament

1960 Rolls-Royce Phantom V 

Another Phantom, another timeless classic. The monarchy took delivery of two of these beauties in 1960 and 1961 respectively, but this model has had other famous owners such as John Lennon, Elton John and Elvis Presley to name a few!

A novel feature of this new design was the removable rear covering, with a Perspex roof beneath to allow greater visibility of the occupants than ever before. The Phantom V’s also came with power steering and full air conditioning – no doubt why at least one of them accompanied Queen Elizabeth to Italy in 1961 and then to Australia and Fiji in 1963.

Both cars remained in regular use for over forty years as state cars until they were retired from service in 2022. They are now on public display at Sandringham and aboard the HMY Britannia in Edinburgh.

2002 Bentley State Limousines 

The late Queen Elizabeth II was gifted one of these beautiful cars in 2002, on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee – and she liked them so much that the second one was purchased. Both cars remained in service as state cars until her death last year.

Longer, taller and wider than a standard Bentley Arnage, the state limousines are equipped with broad coach doors opening to the rear and both the bodywork and glass are armoured for the protection of the occupants. And reminiscent of a Bond-car, the blast-resistant cabin can be sealed air-tight in the case of a gas attack!

While not as dramatic in design as previous state cars, the Bentley limousines are ultimately timeless – looking as elegant today as they did in 2002. They are the only two ever made – making them even rarer than the Rolls-Royce Phantom IV.

Corgi on a white sheet

And Queen Elizabeth II’s iconic favourite...

The late Queen Elizabeth was famously fond of Corgi’s, horses and Land Rovers.

Although the various generations of Land and Range Rovers she owned privately were not state cars, after such a long and stable reign we would be remiss if we didn’t give her preference a mention.

After all, how many times have you seen photos of Queen Elizabeth behind the wheel of one? Too many to count is probably the answer.

We’ll be watching to see which make and model of car her heir, King Charles, favours throughout his reign.