From Diana's Ford Escort to Kate's VW Golf: the Royals and their surprisingly mundane cars

·4-min read
princess diana ford escort prince william - Tim Graham Photo Library 
princess diana ford escort prince william - Tim Graham Photo Library

A rather special Ford Escort Ghia Mk3 is to be auctioned by Reeman Dansie on 29 June. Of course, any such car is now a rare sight, and this example has only 83,000 miles on the clock. Most importantly, its first owner was the Princess of Wales, who was given the Ford as an engagement present by the Prince of Wales in May of 1981.

The silver Escort is a further reminder that the Royal Family has a long tradition of favouring mass-produced cars. Diana’s first new car was an Austin Metro L, while in 1988 the future Countess of Wessex drove a 1968 Morris Minor 1000.

Princess Diana Ford Escort - Getty Images / Rex Features
Princess Diana Ford Escort - Getty Images / Rex Features

Thirteen years later, a St Andrews undergraduate named Kate Middleton took delivery of a new Volkswagen Golf. On occasion, a Royal owner has altered a car’s image; the Minis used by Princess Margaret in the 1960s established them with “The Smart Set”.

Perhaps the best-known association between a car manufacturer and a Royal Family member is Princess Anne with Reliant. She ordered her first of many Scimitar GTEs in November of 1970, and this 1975 footage shows Her Highness touring the Tamworth factory. While an undeniably desirable machine, the GTE was also the sort of car driven by many a prosperous estate agent. At one point, Princess Anne’s fleet even included a three-wheeled Robin produced by the same company, although it was probably for use by the staff.

princess anne duchess of cambridge prince william car - Getty Images / Shutterstock
princess anne duchess of cambridge prince william car - Getty Images / Shutterstock

Of the senior members of the Royal Family, the Duke of Edinburgh’s first post-war new car was an MG TC. In 1947 the then Princess Elizabeth wrote to the author Betty Shew: “Philip enjoys driving and does it fast! He has his own tiny MG, which he is very proud of - he has taken me about in it, once up to London, which was great fun, only it was like sitting on the road, and the wheels are almost as high as one’s head. On one and only one occasion we were chased by a photographer which was disappointing.”

Countless 1950s and 1960s newsreels feature Prince Philip’s Lagonda 3-Litre and Alvis TD21 Drophead, but he delighted in testing virtually every type of car from the Hillman Imp to the FD-series Vauxhall VX 4/90. In 1999 he took delivery of a gas-powered Metrocab London taxi, which was employed for his engagements in the capital.

Cresta PC Estate queen royal family - Getty Images
Cresta PC Estate queen royal family - Getty Images

As for the automotive tastes of Her Majesty, one of the most intriguing members of the Sandringham Museum is a Cresta PA “Friary” Estate. In 1961, socially ambitious bookmakers often drove such cars, although they were unlikely to have specified roof-mounted fishing rod holders and a gun rack. The Vauxhall tradition continued with a Cresta PC Estate and, in the 1990s, an Omega.

1961 was also the year that the Queen took delivery of a Rover 3-Litre saloon, the transport of many a well-to-do solicitor. A later Mk2 succeeded that original P5, followed by two 3.5-litre P5Bs, the last registered in 1974. The Rover connection lasted for several decades, and in 1993 Thomas Day Motors of Fleet in Hampshire supplied Buckingham Palace with an 827 Sterling. Its current custodian Alex Sebbinger-Sparks notes: “It was reputedly used by Her Majesty at Sandringham as her ‘incognito car’.”

Renault Dauphine royal cars - Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Renault Dauphine royal cars - Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

And possibly the most offbeat vehicle to grace the Royal Household is the Renault Dauphine, a car familiar to many Britons as inexpensive transport and as a pioneer minicab. Renault’s management presented it to the Queen in 1957, following her tour of the Billancourt factory in Paris. A Somerset dealer bought the ex-royal car in 1963 and five years later Garry Dickens acquired the Dauphine for only £5.

He remarks: “ I sold the Renault for £15, a RAC badge and two pre-war copies of Autocar – and it was written off in a crash in 1971.” Sadly, we are unlikely to learn whether Her Majesty enjoyed the fuel costs of “a penny-farthing a mile” as promised by the ITV commercials.

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