Inevitably, his insatiable zest for life, plus his sense of duty to Her Majesty the Queen, plus the Nation and Commonwealth, as her devoted husband and consort, along with his great sporting interests and pursuits, have attracted the baulk of the media’s coverage and column inches, including his great love of sailing, polo, carriage driving and cricket. What hasn’t really garnered much mention so far in the copious press coverage written though is the Duke of Edinburgh’s great love of cars and motoring in general, with a real passion for speed as a self-delared ‘petrolhead’. As a keen car enthusiast and a patron of engineering, the Prince acted as an ambassador and champion for the British automotive industry post-war, promoting the UK’s motoring prowess and products to a receptive global export audience.
During the 1950s the Prince was photographed behind the wheel of a rare Jaguar XKSS and drove a classic Aston Martin race car on the celebrated Motor Circuit at Goodwood in 1953. Some years later, period images also show him chatting and joking with 1976 Formula 1 British World Champion James Hunt at the height of his competition career.
In late 1955, during a visit to Britain’s then dominant car producer, BMC (Austin Morris) and its Longbridge design office studio as part of an official Factory tour, the Duke was shown a few top-secret sketches and clays of some planned future models. In his renowned forthright manner, Prince Philip commented to Austin boss Leonard Lord that he might want to get an expert outside design consultant to help out as the proposed new BMC models already looked dated and “not quite up to European competition” in his opinion, prompted by the futuristic Citroën DS that had just recently been launched. The Prince gave Lord a suggestion about who he should get as a consultant – Battista Farina at Pininfarina. Lord promptly acted on his recommendation, appointing Pininfarina to style the formal ‘Farina’ Austin A55 Cambridge/Morris Oxford family saloons, quickly followed by the influential two-box Austin A40 with its truncated tail (now the standard profile of all modern hatches, but revolutionary in 1959), plus BMC’s popular ADO16 1100-1300 range (the UK’s best-selling cars for many years), capable 1800 ‘Landcrab’ and MG B GT.