Not a Bentley; Prince Philip’s hearse is a Land Rover

Published April 17, 2021, 1:44 PM

by Inigo Roces

Land Rover Defender pickup

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, will be laid to rest today at St George’s Chapel. However, unlike other Royals, the vehicle taking him to his final resting place will not be a luxurious Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It will be a Land Rover.

Serving as the official hearse of the duke is a custom-made Land Rover Defender 130 single cab pickup.

The duke has been working closely with Land Rover to create this special vehicle since 2003. It is a work 16 years in the making and features a color, design touches, and modifications which the prince carefully chose. Land Rover says the final adjustments were made in 2019, the year he turned 98. He passed away at age 99.

Custom touches

The Land Rover Defender pickup off-road.

The 2005 Land Rover Defender 130 TD5 is the last of the classically styled Land Rover Defenders. Much of the vehicle’s design has barely changed since it was first offered to the public in the postwar era.

The Land Rover Defender 110

Unlike modern Defenders with a V8, this one’s powered by the older BMW 5-cylinder turbo diesel engine. 130 also stands for the vehicle’s wheelbase in inches, longer than the usual Defender of the time that was just a 110.

Prince Philip’s Land Rover Defender 130 TD5 hearse.

Unique to this particular vehicle is its Dark Bronze Green shade, a color requested by the duke as a nod to his years in the Royal Navy in World War II. The wheels are pained in a matching shade. By contrast, the grille and headlight housings were painted black.

Though somewhat macabre, the prince also designed the open top rear section where his coffin will rest. It features grips and stoppers to guide and secure the coffin. Finally, the rear tailgate opens downward rather than to one side like conventional Defenders.

Why a Land Rover?

Land Rover, from Series (leftmost), to Defender (rightmost).

Besides being extensively used by the British military, the Land Rover is also a favorite vehicle weekend hunters. The duke was a passionate recreational hunter, tracking pheasants and grouse at the Royal family’s estate and other rural areas in the UK.

Land Rovers, initially designed as tractors that can also drive into town, are perfect for the activity. It’s equipped with 4WD, was designed to be rugged, comfortably seats 5 and their guns and gear, and can easily conquer the muddy terrain leading to hunting grounds.

The Land Rover Series prototype, based on an American Willys Jeep.

After all, the original design was based on the American Willys Jeep, which itself was designed to handle tough terrain. Rover conceived of the vehicle to keep the company afloat as its luxurious cars weren’t selling after the war.

A Land Rover Series Station Wagon.

Because steel was in shortage after the war, the Land Rover was made with aluminum panels, which also prevented it from rusting. It was also designed to connect to agricultural equipment like plowing machines to till fields.

As the British economy recovered, the Land Rover proved so popular as a leisure vehicle that it continued to sell, requiring very few improvements over the years. This vehicle, conceived as a temporary model, ended up outliving the company that created it.

Land Rover is also the proud bearer of a Royal Warrant, issued by Prince Philip some 40 years ago. A Royal Warrant is given to companies that supply goods and services to the royal family, and allows them to proudly advertise the fact. 

The modern Land Rover Defender.

The Land Rover Defender, its descendant, is still popular today. While it has had to undergo a complete overhaul to meet tightening safety and emissions standards, the Defender line continues to be Land Rover’s best-selling product. It’s no surprise Prince Philip is a fan.