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The Queen oversaw a golden age of British Motoring | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

29th September 2022
Gary Axon

The deeply sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month was a shared tragic moment not only here in the UK, but across the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.

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Watching this sad but inevitable moment in history unfolding on our screens outside the gates of the Balmoral Estate in Scotland, where her Majesty passed away, became even more remorseful when the hearse carrying her coffin first appeared passing through the imposing black wrought iron gates of the Royal Scottish Estate. The hearse was based on a very German Mercedes-Benz E-Class, followed by a convoy of Volkswagen Transporters/Caravelle people carriers (along with a handful last generations Range Rovers), as if to add insult to injury. 

For a British Queen, I feel strongly that Her Majesty should have left Balmoral for the very last time in a British-built vehicle, not a Teutonic Mercedes-Benz. Even if it might have been one of Coleman Milne’s E-Class hearse conversions, converted in Bradford (which I don’t think it was, rather it looking like a German Binz modification). I struggle to believe that within the whole of Scotland at the time, a more dignified and suitable British Jaguar, Bentley or Rolls-Royce hearse could not be found for this momentous historic occasion.

Photography by Andy Buchanan, courtesy of Getty Images.

Photography by Andy Buchanan, courtesy of Getty Images.

Fast forward to eleven days later, and my fear of Her Majesty making her last serene journey from Westminster Abbey to her final resting place in Windsor for her official funeral in another blasted Mercedes hearse was mercifully addressed, her coffin appropriately being carefully transported in her ‘official State hearse,’ a bespoke coachbuilt Jaguar XJ, one probably made by specialist Jaguar hearse converters, Eagle Cars, also to be found in Bradford.

Having spent her life rightly driving and parading in British-built vehicles, from Rolls-Royce, Land Rover, Bentley, Humber, Vauxhall and others, it seems only appropriate that for Her Majesty’s final motorised journey should be in a car produced in this Sceptred Isle, and not in Stuttgart.

Photography by WPA Pool, courtesy of Getty Images.

Photography by WPA Pool, courtesy of Getty Images.

The timing of Her Majesty’s passing also brings to an end a once-great era for the British Motor industry. At the beginning of her long reign in the early 1950s, the UK boasted more than 50 world-class passenger car makers – from AC to Wolseley – joined by many exceptional commercial vehicle manufacturers too; Scammel, Foden, Bedford, Ford Thames, and so on. A handful of these proud British motoring names thankfully still exist today, such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Vauxhall, MG and Morgan. Sadly, not a single one of these fine marques now survive fully under British ownership. They’re either wholly or mostly owned by overseas rivals or investor groups.

Great British automotive brands such as Rover, Morris, Sunbeam, Triumph, Daimler, Armstrong Siddeley, Hillman, Austin, Jensen, HRG, and Riley, to name but a few, have tragically long since been consigned to the history books. Although a handful of very niche makers such as Alvis and Allard, have been revived to build occasional very costly and limited-volume specialist continuation cars for discerning and wealthy clients. 

It is a similar sorry picture for Britain’s once thriving specialist vehicle coachbuilding industry as well. Great British past names such as Gurney & Nutting, James Young, Freestone & Webb, Barker, Abbot’s of Farnham, Avon, plus the once significant makers of specialist coachbuilt vehicles such as hearses (Woodhall Nicholson, Wilcox, etc.) have long since disappeared (as have the majority of British cars they used to use as their mechanical base).

Image courtesy of Motorsport Images.

Image courtesy of Motorsport Images.

The one area of the automotive sector where the UK still dominates is the motorsport industry, with the majority of current F1 teams still based in England. Although tragically here too, many revered UK racing greats have gone, from Lola and March, to Cooper, Van Diemen and Connaught 

Though not as dominant or important as it used to be, the British motor industry thankfully remains today to make a very useful contribution to the UK’s employment rates and economy. We still play host to Jaguar Land Rover, based near the traditional Coventry heartland of this country’s motoring industry, as well as Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Mini, Vauxhall, Bentley, McLaren, Lotus, LTC and a few other established British car makers based here, along with Nissan (now the UK’s largest volume vehicle producer) and Toyota based in the UK too.

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The dignity and respect that Her Majesty constantly held throughout her 96 years was also perfectly reflected in many of the outstanding cars that the British motor industry built its once enviable reputation on. After all, where else in the world could a vehicle producer proudly be universally acclaimed to make ‘the best car in the world’? These cars are still made today, less than half-a-mile from where I am sitting as I write this piece at my base at the Goodwood Motor Circuit. Great Britain may no longer be able to claim to rule the roads of the world any more with its domestically-built cars, but pivotal machines such as the BMC Mini, Jaguar E-type, Range Rover, McLaren F1 and Morris Minor have helped to change the face of the cars the world still drives (and dreams about) today, thus doing the memory and amazing achievements of Her Majesty proud. 

Long live the King, and here’s to a promising new era under his reign for the British motor industry as it helps to pioneer new forms of environmentally responsible propulsion, finding solutions to the fresh new challenges that have never before been considered or tested.

Top image photography by Paul Ellis, courtesy of Getty Images.

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