Paul Charman: Here's to the 'queen of petrolheads'

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Queen Elizabeth II drives in Windsor.  Photo / Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II drives in Windsor. Photo / Getty Images

It's not her foremost claim to fame, but a life-long passion for autos is surely among Queen Elizabeth II's most endearing qualities.

This has not been lost on motoring enthusiasts, who are just one sub-set of the subjects who avidly follow the life and times of the world's longest-serving and likely most popular monarch.

With three shows on New Zealand television and Netflix depicting Elizabeth, her family, or ancestors (The Crown, The Windsors and Victoria), this queen's popularity seems strong as ever.

Even aged 90, she transcends the hardcore royalist fan base, touching additional sub-groups in society.

And I'd argue these groups include petrolheads - just look at Elizabeth's motoring credentials and tell me if I'm wrong.

Princess Elizabeth (born in 1926), future queen Elizabeth II of England, learning how to change a car wheel as an auxiliary-officer of the English Army, 1945. Photo / Getty Images
Princess Elizabeth (born in 1926), future queen Elizabeth II of England, learning how to change a car wheel as an auxiliary-officer of the English Army, 1945. Photo / Getty Images

As a teen during World War II she trained as a truck driver and mechanic and even rode motorcycles; she went on to enjoy a lifelong passion for cars, not only being driven around in limousines, but driving and collecting her own vast fleet of autos - including many 4X4s; Elizabeth has stuck almost exclusively to British motors, even during the many long years when they barely deserved royal patronage; lastly, determination to keep taking the wheel apparently persists - because as far as we know Elizabeth II still drives.

This last point makes Elizabeth an inspiration to the half million-plus Kiwis aged 65 years and over who still hold a licence - in particular the nearly 8000 members of this group who, like Elizabeth, were born ahead of World War II (more on this later).

Despite not being required to hold a drivers licence because of her royal status, the Queen learned to drive during World War II, when she operated a first aid truck in the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service.

A substantial pictorial and video record of this point in Elizabeth's career includes brief news reel footage.

Alongside the photos - no doubt taken for propaganda purposes - of Liz adjusting carburettors, changing spark plugs and truck tyres, I find the shots of her riding a military issue BSA 250cc motorcycle around a slalom course particularly interesting.

This was the era when mechanics were trained to service everything on wheels, so no doubt Elizabeth serviced the occasional bike, as well as cars and trucks.

Meawhile, the collection of ultra-rare cars at Sandringham, which Liz has amassed during a lifetime of driving, may be worth millions.

It includes the very first royal car, a Daimler Phaeton from 1900.

Queen Elizabeth II driving her Daimler Jaguar car. Photo / Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II driving her Daimler Jaguar car. Photo / Getty Images

There are apparently numerous vintage Rolls-Royces, Jaguars and Bentleys, many of them gifted to the Queen.

Her favourite vehicle is said to be the Land Rover Defender, a vehicle she drives on various country estates. She has possibly owned more than 30 of these, plus more than a few Range Rovers.

Queen Elizabeth ll drives her four wheel drive Land Rover. Photo / Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth ll drives her four wheel drive Land Rover. Photo / Getty Images

Over the years the list has also included Aston Martin, Vauxhall, Wolseley, Morris, Windsor, Lea Francis, Austin, Humber and many other British makes.

Of course, owning cars is one thing but driving them safely is quite another matter.

And in this respect, like many older drivers, Liz has had to overcome her share of ageism.

For example, in July last year it was reported that during her weekly drive to church the Queen was blocked by a family enjoying a stroll, fanned out across the road and walking with their backs to the traffic in Windsor Great Park.

Elizabeth smiled and waved as she drove her Jaguar X Type car onto the grass to steer around the family; a trivial incident perhaps, but one that was quickly reported around the world.

 Queen Elizabeth II in a Jaguar X Type estate car. Photo / Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II in a Jaguar X Type estate car. Photo / Getty Images

Driving in your 90s
For many older New Zealanders a driver licence is an important factor in their independence and many senior drivers are able to continue driving safely well into their 90s and beyond, says Harry Wilson the NZ Transport Agency's Road Safety Director.

"As a group, older drivers are relatively safe, they tend to drive conservatively, travel fewer kilometres and do not deliberately drive unsafely. While senior drivers don't have as many crashes, if they are involved in a crash however, they and any older passengers are at more risk of being seriously injured or killed because of their greater physical vulnerability than younger people."

Wilson says the older population are also more likely to be affected by unpredictable health and cognitive changes that may affect their ability to drive safely.

That's why the NZ Transport Agency recommends people buy the safest car they can afford, which can greatly reduce the risk of injury for an older driver in a crash.

"It's important for family and friends of senior drivers to monitor their driving and help make adjustments if necessary. Senior drivers are required to renew their licences and undergo a medical check at age 75, 80 and every two years after that."

Wilson adds that New Zealanders over the age of 65 are expected to make up about a quarter of the population from the late 2030s, "meaning there'll be more senior drivers on our roads over the next few decades than ever before".

- NZ Herald

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