ex-king’s american car passion - Dukes 1955 custom build Chevrolet wagon - Ex-King’s American car passion

You might not know this, but the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne in 1936 and then made a hasty exit overseas so he could marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson, was an avid buyer of American cars.

Back in October 1935 the Duke paid a visit to a Buick dealership in London and ordered two cars. One, a Series 90, was for himself, and the other, a Roadmaster, was for Wallis.

Both cars were custom built with many special features such as cocktail cabinets, fold out picnic tables (think airline tray tables), foot rests, extra heaters, radios, luxury cloth seats and bespoke body panels that hid the occupants from all those pesky commoners.

When he abdicated the throne the Duke and Wallis took the Roadmaster with them to France where they had decided to live.

The Duke’s car was put into storage in England and has since passed into private ownership.

In 1938 he ordered another Buick. It was shipped to Paris and was often photographed with the Duke and Wallis usually entering or exiting the limo.

When World War Two broke out the couple was evacuated to Bermuda. His Buick stayed behind in Paris and for many years was considered lost.

Then, recently, it was spotted by Buick enthusiasts being used as a police car in the Hercules Poitrot telemovie “Murder in Mesopotamia”. The car looked very tired.

The hostilities of World War Two did not stop the Duke buying cars.

In early 1941, while Britain was being bombed by the Nazis, the Duke and Duchess ordered a Cadillac to use whenever they happened to be in staying in their New York penthouse.

This Cadillac was like no other car of the day. It was constructed especially for him by General Motors. The Duke paid a reported $14,000 for it, at a time when you could get a new Chevrolet for $800.

The body panels were shaped and assembled by hand. It was the first Cadillac to be equipped with power windows and featured styling that would not appear on mass produced GM cars until the late 1940s.

Other rare mechanical features included Hydra-Matic transmission, power radio aerials and power brakes. The V8 engine was hand built and all parts individually selected and then re-machined for minimum friction.

Inside it was upholstered entirely in rose-colored custom broadcloth. The floors were covered in Wilton wool carpet. Real walnut inlay was used throughout. Four stainless-steel velvet lined cases carried the Duchess’s jewellery. There were four cigarette lighters and a cigar humidor.

The big Caddy was probably one of the most-photographed cars in America before the Duke traded it in for 1952 Cadillac and a Buick station wagon. The Buick was sent to Palm Beach, just in case the Duke and Duchess needed it down there.

The Cadillac has been sold and resold over the years and ended up in a sorry state until completely restored.

It came up for auction a couple of years ago with expectations of around one million dollars.

No one bought it.

When the 1955 Chevrolet was released the Duke decided the station wagon model would make an ideal “runabout”.

But no standard wagon for these royals.

Their Chevy came with custom upholstery, bespoke luggage racks that cosseted the couple’s bespoke suitcases, special paint and roof racks.

Only one photo of this wagon is known to exist. The car itself has disappeared.

In the 1960s, when the couple were again living in France, the Duke switched from GM products to Chrysler Imperials.

His hearse was a very British Daimler.

David Burrell is the editor of Retroautos.com.au


David Burrell is founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. Dave has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. His daily driver is a Pontiac Firebird. Prior to starting Retroautos, David was an executive in a Fortune 500 company, working and living in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.