Why would a Rolls Royce imported to Australia as an official vehicle for Queen Elizabeth's 1970 visit end up as a rally car?
Warren Brown visits the Fox Classic Car Collection in Melbourne to find out.
Investigating National Treasures with Warren Brown is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.
Here's the scenario. You need to buy a used car to rally halfway around the world. Well, who would you want to own the car before you? Well, if it was Queen Elizabeth II, you'd be on pretty safe ground. Lizzy's not much of a petrol head, and it's a dead cert that she wouldn't drive the car into the ground. But what if the other owner was responsible for one of the most controversial days in Australia's history?
So who is this bloke, and what did he do to advance the republican cause? The answer is here at the Fox Classic Car Collection in Melbourne. Even if you know absolutely nothing about motor cars, the name Rolls Royce Phantom V conjures up an image of luxury and elegance — something fit for a queen. And that's exactly what this car was.
‘And here they are — the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, in a Rolls Royce, leading this group of cars down ...’
The gracious old lady — the car, not the Queen — was brought to Australia in 1970 to be used in royal tours. It's a long time since the Queen sat on these seats, but this car still has the feel of a very regal Rolls. But it wasn't the presence of a royal derriere that made this car so infamous. It was a vice-regal bum and the person it was attached to that put this car in the news.
GOUGH WHITLAM (ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE):
'Well may we say God save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor-General'.
November 11, 1975. The day Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
Now, flash forward exactly seven months — June 1976. Sir John Kerr makes his first official visit to Melbourne since the sacking and the good citizens are not happy. The car you see in those photographs, which had been pelted with eggs and paint and stones and smoke bombs, is this very car. The same Rolls Royce that carried the Queen of Australia past cheering crowds was now carrying one of the country's most hated men — Sir John Kerr — Her Maj's official representative. Isn't that amazing what a difference six years can make?
So then this vice-regal Royce rolls out of history, but not into graceful retirement. In 1997, Sydney doctor John Matheson and his wife drove the Phantom 16,000 km in the gruelling Peking to Paris Rally.
This Rolls Royce Phantom V has seen some sights. From the highs of a royal visit to the lows of a constitutional crisis, where it became famous as Kerr's car. This beefed-up rally car might've travelled halfway around the world since then, but it's finally found its home in Melbourne, and it's one of our National Treasures.