New prime ministers and the changing of the cars

Published: 12 May 2010

I’m sure I’m not the only car-geek who paid more attention to the cars than the politicians when watching the rolling news coverage of yesterday’s momentous handover of power. For most of the day, David Cameron was chased by the press in his much-criticised silver Lexus GS450h hybrid; the one that famously followed him from home to the House of Commons with his bags and clean pants when he ‘commuted’ in on his bike. (Super-geek note: the ‘GV56’ plate shows that it’s a very early example – so green kudos to Cameron for not changing it every year – and that it was probably supplied by Lexus direct, as almost all cars registered from their Surrey HQ come on a ‘G’-plate.)

But by the time the deal had been done and he and SamCam were on their way to see the Queen, he’d been given a Government-issue, previous-generation, but brand-new on a 10-plate Jaguar XJ, despite not quite being the prime minister yet. The glass is always the dead giveaway that a car has been heavily armoured; often oddly distorted, and with a thicker black ring around the edges. But it was also very apparent when the new PM struggled with the massively heavy door he was gallantly trying to open for his pregnant wife when they arrived in Downing Street.

Gordon Brown’s armoured XJ – a now very stately-looking X308, two generations before the current car – had spent most of the day parked apologetically around the back of Number 10. As Chancellor, the ever-prudent Brown famously refused to give up his knackered Omega when the Government Car Service gave ministers the choice of an XJ diesel or a Prius, but had to accept an armoured Jag when his security risk rose as PM. Jaguar’s new Indian owners were doubtless gutted; they’ve just launched their crucial new XJ yet the nation spent all day looking at shots of the old car, and the one before that. At least Brown’s minders tailed him in a current Range Rover; Cameron’s goons were aboard a 5-series.

So what does the future hold for this ground-breaking coalition? I’m more interested in the automotive implications. I wonder how quickly MacNeillie, the Government’s armourer-of-choice, can knock out a bulletproof new-generation XJ for David Cameron? Will Nick Clegg get one too, or does nobody care enough about him to want to take a pot-shot? Will ministers be offered a Toyota Auris hybrid, which has just started production at Toyota’s Burnaston plant in Derbyshire, rather than the Japanese-made Prius? And will they really turn down Ian Callum’s glorious new XJ for a humble hatchback? Put the economy on hold for now, chaps; sort the cars out first.

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By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features