History, Significance

Why Daimler?

by Laura Breen on 23 February, 2012

Daimler DE36hp car under construction
This is one of the images provided by John Lees. It illustrates the complex process by which the cars used for the South African royal tour were constructed.

In contrast to the anonymous black 4WD used to whisk the Queen around Australia during her most recent visit, this unwieldy and attention-grabbing Daimler must seem rather a curious choice of royal transport.

I can’t be sure why the Australian government of 1948 elected to go to the enormous expense and hassle of commissioning English cars to be shipped halfway across the world but I suspect it was intended as a strong gesture of imperial loyalty to British industry.

The royal family had favoured the Coventry-based Daimler Company’s luxurious cars for much of the twentieth-century, and so I imagine the Australian government was keen to ensure their Majesties’ comfort. It also seems to have been a matter of keeping up with established standards.

A fleet of Daimler DE 36hp ‘Straight eights’ had proved their mettle during the recent royal tour of South Africa. This successful and well-publicised sojourn undertaken by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in early 1947 – their first official tour since the Second World War.

You can catch a glimpse of these cars in some great footage which I came across in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Archive.

The Daimler Company was quick to recognise this golden opportunity. The following year, Daimler rep John Lees corresponded at length with John Armstrong, the Minister in charge of organising the upcoming royal tour of Australia.

It was intended that the King, Queen and Princess Margaret would visit the country in early 1949. He sent over a quirky little package of marketing material containing vehicle specifications, construction photographs and a very enthusiastic letter of endorsement by the South African government, which remains on file at the National Archives of Australia.

Lees’ tactful suggestion that it wouldn’t do for the Australian government to fall short of the royal success enjoyed by the South Africans may have also helped seal the deal.

In mid 1948, it was agreed that the Australians would purchase six Daimler DE 36hp ‘Straight eights’ – two landaulette models (this type had a folding hood at the rear), two tourers (open-topped cars) and a limousine (a closed body). Work was start almost immediately.

Does anyone agree that Daimler was an appropriate choice of royal transport in Australia?