There is, in case you missed it, an election looming. Between now and May 7th we the people will doubtless have our dinners endlessly interrupted by doorstepping MPs and activists, all smiling and eager to secure our support.
If, like me, you find yourself flustered and bothered by this sudden increase in enthusiastic strangers at the door, then you might find yourself unable to muster a suitable reply when they ask what it will take to secure your vote. After all, all the usual questions are pointless: they’ll have a quick and easy answer to anything involving immigration, the economy and the cost of the average shopping basket, whatever that is. As a car enthusiast, of course, you want to know about the things that really matter. So here is a handy response if you do find yourself caught out: ‘Yes, I particularly want to know what will be keeping the wheels of Government turning?’ They won’t actually swear of course, but they may take a step back. As they retreat, smiling sympathetically, you may want to elaborate: ‘No, no I want to know what your chap will be driving when he becomes PM!’
Once upon a time the car that our top dog drove really mattered. Today, less so, but on The World Stage we still take pride in knowing our man (because it usually is) has the best motor. Until relatively recently the choice Prime Ministerial car was very important: when we looked up to our politicians we admired what they chose to drive. And aspired to drive the same.
So here, according to the Internet for the first time, is a list of the best Prime Ministerial cars.
The First Car
Prime Ministers haven’t always been bicycle-pedalling Eco-warrioring fitness fans. In 1902 Arthur Balfour, the then PM, was the first Premier to toddle up Downing Street in a car. It was probably a Sheffield Simplex, although nobody seems quite sure. Balfour was an early car enthusiast, although in other areas, like his views on race, he wasn’t quite so pioneering.
The Churchill Factor
Few of our statesmen have done Statesmanship quite like Winston. Before selfies, Twitter and Facebook Churchill was the master of media image and his cars were a big part of that. Despite being a dismal driver, Churchill worked his way through a succession of high end state cars including Austins, Humbers, Daimlers and a Rolls Royce. The Government operated an official car policy from 1940, initially using Austins, but they weren’t fast enough for Churchill so he demanded a Humber, the first of many different cars he used. And so it was that the image of our top bloke stepping out of a posh car captured the mood as Brits rushed in increasing number to the post-war car showrooms.
Today, if we remember the Hillman brand at all, it’s for the Avenger. Sadly Clement Attlee didn’t roar up Downing Street in an orange Avenger Tiger. His Government instead opted for the company’s stately 50s and early 60s models. Records don’t show whether Attlee and his crew actually used any of the ‘Gay Look’ models (advertising strap line: As Gay as a Mardi Gras’) but we can only hope.
In the late 50s and early 60s the Government dabbled with Daimlers. At the time these cars were the height of opulence just below Rolls Royce in the pantheon of luxury. Daimlers were considered solid and a little staid: ideal for Downing Street duties. But Daimler’s decision to very publicly court Hollywood with the infamous ‘Docker’ Daimler show cars (‘designed’ by the flamboyant wife of the company’s then Chairman) led to them being dropped.
The switch to Rovers from Hillmans seems to have been made because of Chrysler’s increasing ownership of Rootes. The P5 and P5B seemed virtually tailor made for ministerial conveyance: it was big, imposing, more British than a bulldog and could lift its skirts briskly when pursued by the great unwashed. No wonder it was a Downing Street staple until the early 1980s, despite going out of production in 1973. Its longevity was down to Thatcher who insisted on using her existing ministerial car when she became PM. Clearly shades of Churchillian media theatrics…
by the early 80s the PM’s automotive options were much reduced. Rover’s move downmarket with the hatchback SD1 was deemed more suitable for the security detail than the PM so Thatcher favoured the Jaguar XJ Series 3: Pinifarina’s redesign with higher rear roofline probably helped. Although the Jaguar is almost the polar opposite of the Rover P5, being long and low, it seemed to suit the times: it was stylish, swift and classic, a modern update on the rather staid Rover to suit Britain’s upwardly mobile, go-get it times. Every PM since has used Jaguar XJ, from the original to the current Tata model.
While Jaguars have become the most common PM wheels since the 1980s, Rover didn’t entirely abdicate its role. Rover 800s have appeared on The Street, plus the occasional Rover 75, apparently intended to show support for a British manufacturer after Jaguar was taken over by Ford. The 800’s poor reliability prevented it being a regular fixture.
Like many of their subjects, Prime Ministers are not immune from wanting to do different. Some have had to (Harold Wilson had to use a 5 year old Vanden Plas Princess because of strikes at Rover) while others have wilfully shunned convention. When he became PM Gordon Brown had to be almost forcibly detached from his creaky old Vauxhall Omega, standard issue at the time for the Premier’s underlings. Despite efforts to put him in an Austin Ambassador ex-PM Jim Callaghan stuck with his Ford Minster until his death. In his pre-PM days David Cameron, of course, favoured a bike, albeit followed by his official Jaguar XJ. As PM he’s settled into hand stitched luxury and sticks to four wheels.
We don’t have any ex-PM cars on the fleet but you can certainly get with the ministerial vibe in one of our Jaguar XJs. We recommend taking a back seat: plenty of legroom and quiet enough to make inopportune comments about voters as you are whisked away.