How to build a car for the Queen of England

Add some royal extras. But not too many

The Bentley state car was built from scratch, rather than adapted from an existing model like the 1977 car, and as such it boasts plenty of features to fit in with queenly duties.

“The car has rear-opening rear doors, which open to 87 degrees,” Richard said. “They’re very easy to get in and out of. There are certain other companies that introduced those type of doors a year later, but we were there first. There’s a step in the sill so you can step onto the sill and then into the car. It’s a rear-wheel drive car but to avoid the transmission and the sill step there’s a flat floor all the way across. Because it’s got high headroom you can walk all the way across the car almost without stooping. That way she can be looking at who she’s going to meet rather than about where she’s treading.

“The cant rail at the top of the bodywork comes away with the door as well, so it gives you extra aperture. If you’re wearing a hat or uniform, it makes it easier to get in and out.”

Despite these features, the state limo is not big on gadgets.
“It’s got very few luxury features. There’s a lot more feature content in a Mulsanne. We said do you want a refrigerator, TV, cocktail cabinet and so on, but she was very clear that this was a car for a particular job. It’s about practicality, not appointments.”

Cater for size

The Queen is not the tallest woman that ever lived. In fact, she’s rather small. Which doesn’t look good if you’re in a state procession with someone tall. In the car, however, Bentley has that sorted.

“The car has got two big rear seats which adjust electrically up and down, not backwards and forwards,” Richard said. “The Queen doesn’t need to recline, but it’s good to be the same height as whoever’s with you. Because the Queen is quite small, you can adjust the seat to any height so someone tall sitting next to her doesn’t look out of proportion.”

Think about the people

The state car isn’t for privacy, it’s for the Queen to greet her loyal subjects. So dark windows are a no-no.

“It’s got tinted glass, but it’s a very low tint,” explained Richard. “We wanted to tint it higher actually, to reduce the heat coming into the car, but the Queen didn’t want that because she wants to see and be seen. As a result of that, it’s got a very large air conditioning compressor under the bonnet, which powers a very powerful air conditioning system. With all that glass, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of heat in there.

“The car has a very large rear window and there are two opera covers that go onto that so for night use it’s a little more private. Having said that, there is soft lighting in the pillars and above so the Queen can be seen at night. It looks fantastic when she’s in all her state jewellery, glistening in the night.”

Involve the whole family

The older state car had extra fold down seats in case of extra guests, but they faced forwards.

“It meant that if you were in the rear seats, as the important person, you looked into the back of someone’s head,” Richard said. “When we talked to the Queen about it, we found the only time it’s used with four people in the back is with family members, so we said wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk to them rather than staring at the back of their heads. So it’s got fold down seats that are electrically released and then clip back up.”

Give the first one away. But only the first one

Two models of the limousine were built – one for testing to ensure the car would last, and the actual gift car itself. The first model handed over was officially a gift from the UK car industry – funded by Bentley and 50 of its suppliers, because the Queen can’t accept gifts directly from one manufacturer. It’s just not the done thing.

But then just days after the car was first used, the Palace called and asked if they could have the other one too.

“Our plan was to do a year of testing on the validation car so that we could understand what maintenance schedule we need put into place to run the main car for 25 or 30 years,” Richard said, “and then we were going to keep it for our collection. But she enjoyed the car so much that they asked if they could have the other car.

“We said OK, but we need to do the year’s testing. And of course the first car was a gift from the UK industry. We can’t give you another one. So there was a commercial transaction whereby we took two older Rolls-Royce state cars that were retired and gave her the Bentley in exchange. No money passed hands, but on the basis that no state cars have ever been sold, they are valuable cars. Now they’re part of the extensive collection of Rolls-Royces that we have, even though we’re not Rolls-Royce any more.

“After a bit more than a year, once we’d finished the testing, we stripped the car down completely, refurbished it, rebuilt it and presented it in July 2003. It means that when she’s travelling, one car delivers her to the airport or the train at one end, and there’s another there waiting for her at the other end. It’s moved by us, or if it’s not too far they drive it.”

Look after it once it’s done

The cars are normally kept in the Queen’s various garages, but Bentley brings them back to the factory in Crewe for regular maintenance.

“We see the cars twice a year, during what’s called the Sandringham Court, when the Royal Family is at Sandringham over Christmas and New Year. We’ll have the cars for a week or two. Then during the Balmoral Court, which is in September, we have them then for a couple of weeks again. The drivers then will tell is if there are any issues we need to deal with, but we always do a road test and a big inspection; put them up on a ramp and deal with things as you would in a normal service schedule. But we update stuff too. For instance, two years ago we changed the engines to be flex fuel compatible. So they can run on biofuel as well.

“The cars are used quite a lot. They’re 10 years old now and they’ve probably done around 100,000km. But we make sure that they’re in good running order.”

– Shots courtesy of Theo Cohen

Categories: Road


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