The Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin will be carried in a Land Rover. Not any old Land Rover, but a Defender 130 Gun Bus, designed by the Duke for his funeral and adapted by Foley Specialist Vehicles. By chance, years ago, when researching my book on Land Rovers, I visited Foley while they were adapting the Duke’s vehicle. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement forbidding me from discussing the car until now.
First, a little history. The Land Rover was launched in 1948 as a farm vehicle to help re-establish Britain’s shattered economy through agriculture. It cost £450 and was later named the Series I. This was followed by the Series II, IIA and III and then the 110, 90, 127 and the Defender, the name now used to refer to the entire ‘boxy’ lineage of cars.
At face value, the Land Rover Defender is noisy, leaky, creaky and uncomfortable. But that is also its attraction. In an age of homogeneous reliability, it has character and personality. It is not bound by conformity.
Unlike other vehicles, no two Land Rovers are the same, even if they have rolled off the same factory line together. A Defender is like a Lego car. It might arrive in kit form, but it doesn’t take long before it is adapted into a bespoke, personalised vehicle. Grilles are changed, seats reconfigured, lights added, step plates, ladders and roof racks installed. A whole market for post-production modification was born through the utility vehicle’s adaptability.
Land Rovers carried marines into battle in the Falklands and ferried casualties from Iraq. They were used by the Israelis to dupe the Ugandans into releasing the hostages from the Entebbe hijacking, and by the thieves in the Great Train Robbery. They served on the front line in Northern Ireland (they are back on the streets now) and were once found on every farm in the country.
No other car has mastered the art of being classless. They are as at home on a farm as a country estate. They are beloved of rock ’n’ roll royalty, gangsters, dictators and footballers. Bob Marley loved his. Winston Churchill and Che Guevara loved theirs.
The royal Land Rover lineage has a long pedigree. The Royal Yacht Britannia had a blue Land Rover Series 1 for overseas tours. For the late Duke of Edinburgh, the Land Rover Defender was his primary mode of transport during numerous overseas tours.
And therein lies the significance in his choice of hearse. The Land Rover has been a part of Philip’s private and public life for 70 years. And his posthumous request has precedent. It may surprise people to learn that dedicated Land Rover hearse companies have been established over the years for farmers, soldiers and explorers. Even the Co-op offers a burial service with one.
Despite the array of high-spec vehicles owned by the royal family, the Defender remains their favourite. The Queen still drives one around her estates. It is said she designed hers with windscreen wipers on the inside to wipe away the condensation made by her dogs.