Churchill as Motorist
Could you tell me if Winston Churchill drove an automobile? I’m interested in establishing whether the major World War II leaders, on both sides, could drive a car. So far, I know only that Franklin Roosevelt drove his own Ford at Hyde Park (hand controls but he was his own driver when he needed to be). This may seem an odd line of investigation, but I think it might be illuminating. —P.C., New Hampshire
I have a long-simmering article about Churchill and automobiles; he owned quite an assortment, from Morrises and Land Rovers to a big Daimler given him by his friends in 1932. But most of the time he was driven—virtually always after 1930, even around his farmlands at Chartwell, by the “duty Morris” and afterwards a Land Rover. Lady Churchill drove until quite late in life; her last car was a Vanden Plas Princess in the 1960s.
Churchill drove himself at least early on, but he was dangerous behind the wheel. Always impatient for progress, he thought nothing of driving up on the sidewalk (“pavement” in Britain) to get around traffic jams. This occasionally put him in trouble with local constables, who let him off with a warning when they recognized him. I have only run into a few photos of him behind the wheel of a Wolseley in 1925. I notice the car has a nice ding in its right front fender.
Roosevelt too was a scary driver with those dicey hand controls, at least when Churchill rode alongside him. The latter wrote that they came precariously close to the cliffs overlooking the Hudson near Hyde Park, in FDR’s Ford V-8, and he was glad when they arrived back at the house.