The Royal Daimler’s history

Note: this blog closed in 2018 and is not being updated.  For further updates on the Royal Daimler conservation please visit the National Museum of Australia blog.

This Daimler landaulette’s current rather shabby appearance belies a remarkably glamorous, star-studded past. It all started in 1948 when Prime Minister Ben Chifley received confirmation that King George VI would visit Australia the following year. Although Australia had welcomed many royal visitors in the past, this would be the first time a reigning monarch was expected, and a flurry of preparations commenced far in advance.

Daimler landaulette with its doors open.
The Daimler’s current rather shabby appearance belies a glamorous, star-studded past. (Click on the image to see an enlargement)

One of the major issues was how best to show Australia off to the King. And, correspondingly, how best to show the King off to Australians. In a pre-television era within a huge country with far-apart towns and cities, the royal motorcade was not only an effective promotional tool but allowed more people to glimpse the visitors in person. It seemed a natural choice to commission six ceremonial DE36hp ‘straight eight’ cars from the prestigious Daimler factory in England.

However, to the shock and disappointment of many, the King’s ill-health forced the cancellation of the tour only a few months before the proposed departure. No doubt to the consternation of both the Australian government and the Daimler employees, since extensive plans had already been made – the cars were not only completed, but crated and waiting on the docks to be dispatched to Sydney. Under these circumstances, the government had no choice but to pay the bill. Fortunately, the Australian High Commissioner was able to sell two cars, but the remaining four lacked a buyer and were shipped to Australia. The cars languished, barely used, in various depots whilst the tour was again cancelled in 1952 after the King’s death.

Anticipation was at fever pitch by the time the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth arrived in 1954. A mere five months after her Coronation in June 1953, the monarch embarked on a strategic tour of the Commonwealth between November 1953 and May 1954. Spending two of these months in Australia, the visit strengthened this country’s relationship with Britain.

Administered with military precision by the Royal Visit Car Company, the management of the tour was no mean feat. The tour included an astounding 500,000 miles by motor car, with barely a delay or incident. Recalled for duty, the Museum’s Daimler landaulette was one of a fleet of 55 vehicles operating throughout New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and South Australia for the 1954 Royal Tour. According to the Queen’s itinerary, detachments of the main fleet were transported around the country by air and rail to supplement sub-fleet vehicles in Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia, bringing the total to 115 vehicles.

Visiting all states and territories except the Northern Territory, the Queen and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, were introduced to a huge variety of people, products and places. Incredibly, an estimated 75 per cent of Australia’s population saw the Queen at least once.

Families travelled many miles from their homes in the hope of catching a glimpse of the monarch. The abiding memory for those who did not get the opportunity to press the Queen’s gloved hand or attend a royal ball or garden party, was of her waving hand and smiling face as she glided by during the Royal Progress, a stately 6 miles per hour drive enacted through about 80 towns across Australia.

The Daimler landaulette in the Museum’s collection acquired an iconic status of its own – it was captured by the many lenses of the media and public. Joyously proclaimed by Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies as prompting ‘the most profound and passionate feelings of loyalty and devotion’, the tour was judged an extraordinary success.

Today the tour can be viewed as a cultural milestone that evokes strong memories for many Australians who grew up in a period of extensive social and cultural change. As the excitement of the tour began to fade, the Australian government again faced the issue of disposing of the four Daimler vehicles. A few months after the tour, the Museum’s Daimler landaulette was sold to the Governor of South Australia, Sir Robert George, who used it during various vice-regal occasions.

By the early 1960s the car had again become surplus to requirements and was sold on. It passed through two further South Australian owners in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before being purchased by the Museum from a private collector in 2009.

1954 Royal tour itinerary

3 February –  Sydney, NSW
4 February – Sydney, NSW
5 February – Sydney, NSW
6 February – Sydney, NSW
7 February – Sydney, NSW
8 February – Day off
9 February – Newcastle, NSW
10 February – Lismore, Casino, Dubbo, Victoria Park, NSW
11 February – Wollongong, NSW
12 February – Bathurst, Katoomba, NSW
13 February – Wagga Wagga, NSW, Canberra, ACT
14 February – Day off
15 February – Canberra, ACT
16 February – Canberra, ACT
17 February – Canberra, ACT
18 February – Canberra, ACT, Sydney, NSW
19 February – Day off
20 February – Hobart, Tas.
21 February – Hobart, Tas.
22 February – Hobart, Tas.
23 February – Wynyard, Burnie, Penguin, Ulverstone, Devonport, Latrobe, Deloraine, Westbury, Longford, Cressy, Tas.
24 February – Launceston, Tas., Melbourne, Vic.
25 February – Melbourne, Vic.
26 February – Mount Gambier, SA
27 February – Melbourne, Vic.
28 February – Melbourne, Vic.
29 February – Melbourne, Vic.
1 March – Melbourne, Vic.
2 March – Melbourne, Sale, Traralgon, Vic.
3 March – Yallourne, Warragul, Melbourne, Vic.
4 March – Melbourne, Vic.
5 March – Benalla, Shepparton, Tatura, Echuca, Rochester, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Vic.
6 March – Ballarat, Geelong, Box Hill, Croydon, Lilydale, Warburton, Vic.
7 March – Day off
8 March – Melbourne, Vic.
9 March – Melbourne, Vic., Brisbane, Qld.
10 March – Brisbane, Qld
11 March – Brisbane, Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Brisbane, Qld
12 March – Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns, Qld
13 March – Cairns, Qld
14 March – Day off
15 March – Mackay, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Qld
16 March – Day off
17 March – Brisbane, Qld, Broken Hill, NSW
18 March – Broken Hill, NSW
19 March – Adelaide, SA
20 March – Whyalla, SA
21 March – Adelaide, SA
22 March – Day off
23 March – Adelaide, SA
24 March –Adelaide, SA
25 March – Renmark, Mildura, Adelaide, SA
26 March – Adelaide, SA, Kalgoorlie, Perth, WA
27 March – Perth, WA
28 March – Perth, WA
29 March – Busselton, Albany, WA
30 March – Perth, WA
31 March – Northam, York, Perth, WA
1 April – Perth, WA

7 thoughts on “The Royal Daimler’s history”

  1. Fascinating restoration project, I will eagerly monitor progress on its return to its former glory.
    Its often interesting to compare museum exhibits with artefacts of the present day. What I would be interested in seeing, if the information is available, is some of the original specifications. EG Wheelbase and track, weight, No. of cylinders, cubic capacity, BHP output etc.

  2. Tony
    Thanks for the interest.
    I’ll track the info down and add it later.
    Comparisons with modern vehicles are interesting.
    Particually fuel consumption and weight.

  3. I’d be interested to see some effort put into tracking down the people and firms in Australia that were responsible for working on these vehicles as I believe you’ll discover that a firm in Brisbane was responsible for the upholstery of a vehicle for the 1954 Royal Tour.

  4. Hello Deborah,

    Thanks for your question. The upholstery in our Royal Daimler was fitted by coachbuilders Hooper & Co in London in 1948. Although the car was given a spruce-up by Commonwealth Engineering (ComEng) in 1953 prior to the Royal Tour, this upholstery remains original. There were no other Australian-made modifications to the fabric other than the addition of an air conditioning unit.

    As there were 115 other vehicles which comprised the fleet used in the 1954 Royal Tour, if you are able to give me some further details on the vehicle you mention, I could look into this further?

  5. There were vehicles for the 1954 Royal Tour that were worked on in Brisbane by the motor trimmers at a company called Cryen (spelling may be an issue – pronounced Cryin) in Fortitude Valley – the reason I know this is that my Father was one of the trimmers who worked on these vehicles.

  6. Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for your response. There were a large number of British, Australian and possibly American motor cars and buses administered by the Royal Visit Car Company, so perhaps the vehicles your father worked on are among these. I’m afraid I can’t offer much information about the other vehicles used during the Royal Tour as our research to date has focused on the Daimlers. However, I have gathered that British Humber Super Snipes and Pullmans were also prominent imports, and it may be that the upholstery and fittings for these were undertaken in Australia – do any blog followers have any further information which might be of interest to Deborah?

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