Cars & Churchill: Blood, Sweat & Gears (3): Humber…

Cars & Churchill: Blood, Sweat & Gears (3): Humber…

Updat­ed from “Blood, Sweat & Gears (3): Hum­ber,” in The Auto­mo­bile, 2016, with an adden­dum on Churchill’s last ride.

Hav­ing writ­ten about cars and Win­ston Churchill for fifty years, I final­ly pro­duced a piece on them both. From exot­i­ca like Mors, Napi­er and Rolls-Royce to more pro­sa­ic makes like Austin, Hum­ber and Wolse­ley, the sto­ry was three decades in com­ing. But I am sat­is­fied that it is now complete.

Part 3, con­clud­ed from Part 2Excerpt only. For foot­notes,  all illus­tra­tions and a ros­ter of Churchill’s cars, see The Auto­mo­bile (UK), August 2016. A pdf of the arti­cle is avail­able upon request: click here.

“The only car I can stretch out in”: WSC, hands warmed by a muff, in the Pull­man on his 85th birth­day, 30 Novem­ber 1959. (Asso­ci­at­ed Press)

Humber for the Man

After the war, Lord Rootes and Churchill became close friends, exchang­ing Christ­mas gifts and farm ani­mals, even col­lab­o­rat­ing polit­i­cal­ly. “So sor­ry that we did not do bet­ter in Coven­try,” Rootes wrote after the 1950 gen­er­al elec­tion. Churchill was offered a new Mark III Hum­ber Pull­man that Octo­ber, but demurred. The Tories had lost only nar­row­ly, and he was sure he’d be returned to office soon. The fol­low­ing year they won. He remained prime min­is­ter until he retired in 1955.

The Pull­man Mark IV at the Louw­man Museum.

By then he need­ed a new limo, but Hum­ber had dis­con­tin­ued the Pull­man. Churchill was for­lorn: “I’m sure you could build one for me if you tried,” he wrote his friend. “You can’t let me down now, I need anoth­er Pull­man that I can stretch out in.” The sym­pa­thet­ic Bil­ly Rootes found a low-mileage Mark IV and expen­sive­ly rebuilt it. Tech­ni­cal­ly works prop­er­ty, it remained on loan to Churchill for the rest of his life. It is now at the Louw­man Muse­um in The Hague, Netherlands.

Churchill was a loy­al Rootes cus­tomer. He bought a Hill­man Minx in 1948, a Hill­man Husky in 1958. In 1955, mark­ing his 80th birth­day the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber, the Rootes Group pre­sent­ed him with a 1956 Hum­ber Hawk Mark VIA estate, “a token of our appre­ci­a­tion of his ser­vices not only to the coun­try, but to all of us.” The Hawk often accom­pa­nied Churchill on his hol­i­days in France, where it was ide­al for trans­port­ing his oil paint­ing para­pher­na­lia. 


Notable among Chartwell’s post­war farm vehi­cles was an army-sur­plus Jeep sup­plied by Wolfe’s Garage in West­er­ham (still doing busi­ness). Phil John­son, a mechan­ic, devised a step to help Churchill climb in and out: “I altered it sev­er­al times to his instruc­tions. He was a metic­u­lous man.”

Churchill, his poo­dle Rufus, and the 1954 Land Rover UKE 80, pre­sent­ed on his 80th birth­day. (Rover press photo)

In 1954, Churchill was pre­sent­ed by the Rover fac­to­ry with a new Land Rover. It bore the num­ber plate UKE 80. Rover said this stood for “UK Empire” and eighty years” UKE plates were cur­rent at the time in Kent, so it must have been easy to get one. I sus­pect Rover might have hunt­ed around for the own­er of UKE 80 to get the num­ber they want­ed, plates being trans­fer­able in Britain.

The tech­ni­cian who deliv­ered the Land Rover offered to find some rough ter­rain to demon­strate where it could go: Sir Winston’s response was that he want­ed to see ter­rain where it couldn’t go.

Dead shot

He often rode shot­gun to his son-in-law on Chartwell Farm. Once they drove up to a square of uncut wheat, where work­ers had cor­nered a rab­bit. Aged 80, Churchill alight­ed, grabbed his piece, and dis­patched the hare with one shot. “He was a great marks­man,” said Christo­pher Soames. The Land Rover sold at auc­tion for £129,000 in 2012.

At the end there were two Mor­ris Oxfords: Fari­na saloons, most­ly used by Clemen­tine Churchill. George Weath­er­ley of the Cam­bridge-Oxford Own­ers Club has tracked both; they are cur­rent­ly insured, but not taxed. In 2013 the ’64 made £51,000 at auc­tion, through its famous asso­ci­a­tion. There is how­ev­er no Churchill record of a Van­den Plas 4 Litre R alleged­ly owned by Lady Churchill, destroyed in a banger car race a few years ago.

The car alleged to have car­ried Churchill on his last ride from Chartwell to Lon­don in late 1964 was a 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25 lim­ou­sine by Thrupp & Maber­ly. From the mid-1950s, it was fre­quent­ly hired by Churchill from Frank Jen­ner of West­er­ham. Advan­tage Car Hire offers it for spe­cial occa­sions. (Alan Dyson)


The Churchill car ros­ter lists sev­er­al “familiars”—not Churchill’s but known to or used by him. The best-known over his last years was a 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25 lim­ou­sine by Thrupp & Maber­ly, hired from Frank Jen­ner of Westerham.

Jen­ner said he bought the car because Sir Win­ston han­kered for a Rolls-Royce, per­haps recall­ing his old Sil­ver Ghost with more plea­sure than it gave in 1921. In it, Jen­ner said, Churchill made his last jour­ney from Chartwell to Lon­don, in Octo­ber 1964. He died there three months lat­er. This beau­ti­ful Rolls is avail­able for hire from Advan­tage CarHire.

To the last, Churchill’s staff remem­bered the sense of urgency so char­ac­ter­is­tic of the man. In the old Hum­ber, “Mur­ray, the detec­tive, would sit at [the chauffeur’s] side, qui­et­ly mur­mur­ing, ‘slow down here’ or ‘pull in to the left a lit­tle more,’” wrote Roy How­ells, a male nurse. “At the back Sir Win­ston would be…tapping on the glass par­ti­tion and call­ing out, ‘Go on!’ When­ev­er he felt Bul­lock was slow in over­tak­ing he would lean for­ward and bel­low, ‘Now!’ It does Bul­lock great cred­it that he nev­er real­ly took the chances his pas­sen­ger would have liked….”

BBC Region­al News, 16 August 2022.

Addendum: Churchill’s last ride

BBC Region­al News reports that the Austin Van­den Plas hearse which trans­port­ed Sir Winston’s cof­fin at his funer­al has been ful­ly restored. The work was by done by Jo Burge of Clas­sic Marine Engines in Suffolk.

The Van­den Plas was used for some time on funer­al work, but det­se­ri­o­rat­ed over the years and was head for the scrap heap. Bris­tol Memo­r­i­al Wood­lands had it restored—a frame-off project which took Burge three years. “It wasn’t real­ly the car we were restor­ing,” Burge told the BBC. “It was the story.”

“Sir Win­ston was not a motorist but enjoyed good trans­port as a means to an end,” recalled Phil John­son of West­er­ham. “Com­fort and reli­a­bil­i­ty came through as para­mount. He saw cars as incred­i­ble time wasters and they were sure­ly not his scene.” Well, they are ours—and inter­twine amus­ing­ly with the saga of the great man.



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