The royal family have the use of a fleet of luxury cars, including vintage Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Jaguars and an Aston Martin. But untangling which vehicles are owned privately, which are held by the sovereign in right of the crown, and which are leased from the manufacturer is no simple task.
The royal mews at Buckingham Palace is the primary home of the motorcade of limousines and other luxury vehicles used by the family for formal occasions. These are often referred to as “state cars”, but the term does not necessarily mean they are owned by the state.
Many were provided to the royal household by car manufacturers, which presumably want to associate their brand with the British royal family.
Bentley, for example, provided two limousines in 2002 for Queen Elizabeth’s golden jubilee, and one was reportedly flown out by the company to Germany for Charles’s first state visit as king last month. An estimation of the value of the royal cars suggests these two vehicles alone could be worth at least £1.4m.
Bentley declined to explain the terms of its provision of cars to the palace, however some loaned or leased vehicles are understood to be returned to the manufacturer after being used by the royals.
While Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the ownership of specific vehicles at the royal mews, it would appear that some are held by the sovereign in right of the crown, meaning they are not the king’s personal property. But a visit to the mews by the Guardian suggests others are owned privately by the Windsors.
A 1950 Rolls-Royce Phantom IV estimated to be worth at least £2.5m, for instance, was bought by Elizabeth and Philip before she became queen. Only 18 Phantom IVs were made. On Elizabeth’s accession, it was repainted in royal claret, and became a “state car”, but there is nothing to suggest its ownership changed.
The mews also houses a 1962 Rolls-Royce Phantom V, which was bought by the queen mother and is understood to belong to Charles.
A palace spokesperson said state cars housed at the royal mews were “predominantly owned by the sovereign in right of the crown or are leased”. But they did not dispute that some of the vehicles were owned privately.
Confusing matters further, even vehicles in the royal mews designated as “state cars” are sometimes used in a private capacity.
During her wedding in 2018, Princess Eugenie, who has never been a working royal, arrived in a 1977 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI worth £1.3m. This state car was given to the queen as an official gift by the UK motor industry to mark her silver jubilee.
A separate fleet of cars resides at the Windsors’ private Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
Housed in a former stable block is a collection of 12 vintage cars, estimated to be worth at least £1.8m in total. All were formerly used by the royal household and are believed to be private property.
The most expensive car is a 1961 Rolls-Royce Phantom V, worth at least £700,000. Its origins are unknown but it was used as a state car from 1961 to 2002.
The palace did not say how the former state car ended up on the family’s private estate. A spokesperson declined to comment on the ownership of the vehicles in Sandringham, adding: “We would not comment on any private property owned by members of the royal family.”
In addition to the cars in the palace and at Sandringham, Charles owns a 1970 Aston Martin DB6 Volante, which was a gift from the late queen on his 21st birthday. The car, converted in 2008 to run on bioethanol – or, as Charles described it, “wine and cheese” – could be worth at least £2m at auction.
The Guardian’s analysis suggests that overall the king privately owns a fleet of cars worth, in total, at least £6.3m.
And something for the ponies
Not included in the tally is another Aston Martin, a 1987 V8 Vantage Volante, given to Charles by the emir of Bahrain on a state visit. It was customised to the extent that it included a leather-trimmed sugar-lump jar for Charles’s polo ponies in its glove box.
In December 1995, Charles sold the car at Sotheby’s for £110,000, and gave the funds to the Prince’s Trust, his own charity. Earlier that year, the palace introduced a policy on gifts for the first time. Updated in 2003, it now states: “Under no circumstances should official gifts be sold or exchanged.”
The palace declined to comment on how the disposal of an official state gift was compatible with the rules.