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The Cars of the 1959 Royal Tour

March 8, 2015

by Clive Law

During the summer of 1959, the Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, undertook the longest Royal tour in Canadian history (Buckingham Palace officials and the Canadian government opted to dub this a “Royal tour”, as opposed to a “Royal visit”, to dispel any notion that the Queen was a visiting foreigner.) The catalyst for the tour was the ceremonial opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, but beyond that, the intent was to visit many outlying districts never before visited by royalty. All ten provinces, four of the Great Lakes, both Territories (as existed at the time) and a visit to the United States were covered in an exhausting fifteen thousand mile, forty-five day tour.

The 1959 Continental Mark IV

The 1959 Continental Mark IV

In order to accomplish this task the Government of Canadian, with the logistical support of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and the Royal Canadian Air Force, made plans for both road and air travel for the Royal guests. In the expectation of large crowds who would line the Queen’s route in every town and city it was decided that an appropriate limousine would be needed. The Government contacted each of the ‘big three’ car manufacturers and each offered to provide a limousine suitable for Royalty.

“For the Royal Tour of Canada in 1959, the Big Three auto manufacturers, General Motors. Ford and Chrysler, competed once more for the honour of transporting royalty, Her Majesty the Queen andPrince Philip. On lune 13, 1959 a Lincoln, a Chrysler, and a Cadillac — all to be used on the tour — were displayed before the Peace Tower at the Parliament Buildings. At first the government had considered using fourteen limousines and fourteen convertibles, stationing two in each of the cities to be visited. Then the decision was made to use only three and to fly them ahead of the royal couple. The Chrysler and Cadillac had removable glass tops over the rear passenger compartment and only the Lincoln was a convertible. “Her Majesty and Prince Philip will have every conceivable luxury… the flooring material looks like dyed mink. There is a button that enables the Queen to shift the seating arrangement in any one of six ways. The Ottawa wrote “Prince Philip gets to move his two ways, forwards and hack. The cars cost about $ 150,000 and look every dollar of it. The spare tires are covered in special cloth, which somebody recalled as mohair…. There is no armour plate or bulletproof glass, confided the Citizen reporter, “The royal couple have nothing to fear but too much affection from Canadians.” “Very handsome,” said Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who left a cabinet meeting to be photographed with the three cars. After the tour, the cars were auctioned off to the highest bidder.”[1]

The driver drawing special interest from this young lady.

The driver drawing special interest from this young lady.

These three cars were: A Continental Mark IV, a Cadillac Custom 1959 Fleetwood Limousine and a Chrysler-Ghia Crown Imperial (this was a 1957 model upgraded for 1959). The Cadillac and the Continental were customized with a Landau-style roof permitting the Queen and Prince Philip to not only be seen by her loyal subjects but also to allow them to stand. Individually powered rear seats are installed with controls for the horizontal and vertical movement located on the individual arm rests [in the right-hand armrest, the Queen’s side, was also located a knob for remote-control of the car’s radio]. The Cadillac seats were tailored in silver-grey McLaughlin Carriage cloth, with matching cushions, in a distinctive square biscuit and button design and the floor was carpeted with luxurious mouton which extended up the doors.

During the tour each of the three cars was air-lifted by an RCA C-119 Flying Boxcar requiring that each car be used on a rotation basis during the 6-week tour.

During the tour the three cars were ferried across the country by RCAF  C-119 'Flying Boxcar' aircraft.

During the tour the three cars were ferried across the country by RCAF C-119 ‘Flying Boxcar’ aircraft.

The cars featured a maximum of comfort, convenience and luxury for the passengers with the greatest possible outside-inside visibility for the millions who lined the coast to coast parade routes. To provide an even greater measure of air-conditioned comfort, two additional outlets are installed in the rear compartment. The two new air-conditioned outlets are on the back of the front seat. In the Cadillac other special appointments included mouton-covered hassocks, a lap robe carrying a hand embroidered crest of the royal household [in hues of red and gold] and special lights to illuminate the Royal Couple during after-dark processions. Her Majesty certainly earned the right to some luxury as the 45-day visit included 17 military parades, 21 formal dinners, 64 guards of honour and 381 platform appearances.

Their Majesties taking advantage of their freedom to stand in the car.

Their Majesties taking advantage of their freedom to stand in the car.

A more complete description of the Cadillac states:

The upper portion of the car quarter panel has been removed from the rear door post on back. It has been replaced with a removable Plexiglas canopy that will permit onlookers the opportunity to view the royal procession even if the weather fails to co-operate. It is anticipated that in most parade points the car will operate with the top removed in the true landau concept. The roof is further modified with the addition of a 24-inch by 43-inch sliding panel. Electrically operated, the roof panel can be opened or closed from both the rear and front compartments.

Each of the three cars had a Royal shield and had an anchored staff on the leading edge of the roof, centered above the windshield, for the royal standard. The Royal standard was fitted with a chrome rings that fit snugly into the staff.

The Royal shield and the Royal standard's chrome staff.

The Royal shield and the Royal standard’s chrome staff.

One of the Royal standards used during the tour. The chrome stand with integral rings can be seen.  Courtesy Dean Owen

One of the Royal standards used during the tour. The chrome stand with integral rings can be seen. Courtesy Dean Owen


Acknowledgement – Dean Owen for the loan of photographs as well as an original standard with staff.

[1] Royal Transport: An Inside Look at The History of British Royal Travel. Peter Pigott, Dundurn Press.

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