x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The regal runabouts on display at the UK royal wedding

While some watched for the dress or the kiss, Matt Majendie was watching the motors on display.

After the ceremony and the balcony appearance Prince William drove his wife, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge along The Mall in London in Prince Charles' Aston Martin Volante.
After the ceremony and the balcony appearance Prince William drove his wife, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge along The Mall in London in Prince Charles' Aston Martin Volante.

Watching the royal wedding over the course of the weekend, I learnt a host of seemingly pointless facts.

I now know that the workers who stitched Kate Middleton's wedding dress washed their hands every half an hour to ensure it remained pristine, that 900 sugar-paste flowers adorned the happy couple's wedding cake, and that 24 million people in the UK alone tuned in to watch the event.

Most viewers were keen to catch a glimpse of the now Duchess of Cambridge and her dress but, in perhaps a poor reflection of me as a human being, my highlights were not of the wedding itself, but the vehicles taking the wedding party to and from Westminster Abbey.

The royal family has a garage of cars that would be the envy of most motoring enthusiasts, although the pity is that these magisterial vehicles tend to travel at no more than 14kph on state occasions.

For me, the pick of last Friday's cavalcade of cars was the Aston Martin Volante DB6 MKII, in which William drove himself and his new bride the 500 yards down The Mall from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House.

The Seychelles-blue 1969 convertible is owned by William's father, Prince Charles, who was given the car as a 21st birthday present by his mother and was used by Charles to transport him and Princess Diana in the early years of their marriage.

Now it travels a mere 500 kilometres a year and usually without the JUST WED number plate and 'C' and 'W' balloons that adorned it for its most recent ride around London; reportedly the handiwork of Prince Harry.

Prince Charles is renowned for his green credentials, particularly when it comes to transport, and the Aston Martin is no exception.

Buckingham Palace explained in a statement: "In June 2008, at the specific request of the Prince of Wales, who is keen that his cars should be run on sustainable fuel, the Aston Martin was converted to run on E85 bioethanol, made from English wine wastage," the wine apparently being from the royal vineyard.

As for the value of the car, well, it's a mere snip at £350,000 (Dh2.1 million) although, having been in the family for more than four decades, it is unlikely to change hands anytime soon.

Like the Aston Martin, the motoring theme of the day was very much "Best of British".

In the early 20th century, the royal family was more synonymous with Daimlers for getting around during state occasions but that all changed in 1950, with the purchase of a Rolls-Royce Phantom IV.

Only 18 were ever built (all for royalty and heads of state) and, today, just 16 remain. The car in question was the oldest in the fleet of State cars for the wedding and transported Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, all smiles, to Westminster Abbey.

Interestingly, the car has undergone a paint job from its original livery. When bought by the Queen in 1950 it was not officially a state car, so was painted Valentine green. When she became Queen two years later, it was repainted in the royal colours of claret and black.

The bride and her father, Michael, were chauffeured to the ceremony in a later Rolls-Royce, the 1977 Phantom VI. Previously the Queen's No.1 state car, prior to her association with Bentley, it was a gift from the British automotive industry on the occasion of her silver (25th) jubilee.

The Phantom VI boasts a whopping 6.75-litre engine making 200 horsepower and four-wheel drum brakes, little of which is used to great effect as it tends to always travel at such low speeds.

Intriguingly, it was the car damaged and splattered with paint amid demonstrations in London in December as it took Prince Charles and Camilla to the Royal Variety Performance.

Crown Equerry Col Toby Browne was tasked with the repairs prior to the wedding and explained: "One of the problems is that it's such a special car. There are details that have to be reproduced and are not available off-the-shelf. The claret paint is specific to all royal cars and certain bits of glass had to be made but it's really a minor detail you won't notice."

Other cars on show ranged from the Jaguar used to take Carole Middleton, the bride's mother, to the service and the Range Rovers used by the security services to tail the royal cars; not to mention the Volkswagen mini buses used to transport what the BBC commentators described in the wedding build-up as "the lesser royals".

But admirable as that variety of cars is, of course, all of those were comfortably trumped in terms of the wow factor by the two Bentleys on show.

Both are state cars and, as a result, neither has number plates. One transported William and Harry to Westminster Abbey while the other, a gift for her Golden Jubilee in 2002, was used by the Queen and her husband, Prince Phillip.

The custom-built Bentleys are two of a kind. Based on the Arnage and powered by a 6.75L V8 engine, they boast an enormous 3.84m wheelbase and are 6.22m long.

The body of each has rear-hinged rear doors - designed to enable the Queen to stand up straight before exiting the car - and a clear roof with removable panels for the throngs of well wishers to see the royals on board.

The pair of Bentleys was said to have been designed with heavy input from the Queen and her husband, as well as the couple's chauffeur. Inside, there are Hield Lambswool Sateen cloth rear seats along with pale blue carpets in the back and dark blue ones in the front.

Last but not least, and we're cheating here somewhat, bearing in mind it's not exactly a car, it's worth mentioning the 1902 State Landau carriage that escorted the newly weds from Westminster Abbey back to Buckingham Palace.

The State Landau was built for King Edward VII in 1902 with the aim of being used at his Coronation. Prince Charles travelled in it to his wedding in 1981 and returned in it with his new bride after the service. It was also used for the Duke and Duchess of York on leaving their wedding in 1986.

Painted in a lighter shade of maroon to stand it apart from the other coaches, it's adorned with gold leaf and upholstered with crimson satin.

As for what the happy couple will be driving now, apparently it's nothing so grand. Reports are a new Audi is on the cards.