London,The Jack Barclay Showroom
2 December 2003
Used for the State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill
AUSTIN A135 PRINCESS VANDEN PLAS HEARSE
Registration No. BLE 704B
Chassis No. V-DH3/15638
Engine No. 15667
Black with beige leather and wood interior
Engine: Straight six, 3,993cc, 150bhp at 4,100rpm; Gearbox: four speed manual; Suspension: independent front with coil springs, rear semi-elliptic live axle; Brakes: drums all round, servo-assisted to the rear. Right hand drive
Austin had made a broad range of cars in the late 1930s including limousines of up to 28hp. The post-war revivals on this theme were far grander vehicles known as the A125 Sheerline and A135 Princess. The latter was a large luxury car comparable with the Mk VI Bentley, but costing £2,400 rather than £4,000. Its engine was a well proven unit also utilised by Jensen. Coachwork was by Vanden Plas, originally a Belgian firm that had established a London branch in 1912, eventually becoming independent. Vanden Plas had built fine bodies on Bentley, Talbot and Rolls-Royce cars in the 1930s. The company was acquired by Austin in 1946 and henceforth concentrated on luxury versions of this marque and contract work for the aero industry. The A135 was a handsome looking car that accounted for about 6,100 sales spread over eight years.
BLE 704B was dispatched as a rolling chassis on November 1st 1963. It was then clothed by Vanden Plas with hearse bodywork, assumedly completed by the date of first registration on August 14th, 1964. The first owners and operators of the hearse were well-known funeral directors Kenyon and it was they who were instructed to assist with the State Funeral of the great Sir Winston Churchill on Saturday 30th January 1965. The funeral recorded the highest attendance in British history and joining the thousands of adoring Britains were politicians and royalty from across the globe, all of whom had ventured to the nation's capital to pay their final respects to Britain's most heralded premier. The BBC broadcast the funeral on television and it was estimated that the viewing audience was in the region of 350 million people.
After the service at St. Paul's Cathedral, the coffin was carried by gun-carriage to the Thames where it was taken by barge (The Havengore) to Festival Hall Pier. At Festival Hall Pier, the coffin was transferred into this very motor hearse and the solemn procession then proceeded to Waterloo Station where the coffin was carefully unloaded and placed upon the steam locomotive Winston Churchill. The train journey would then take the coffin to Handborough, Oxfordshire before he was laid to rest at Bladon.
Last road taxed in 1991, the hearse is sadly not in good order, it does run but would certainly require re-commissioning prior to any use. Nonetheless the historical significance can be envidenced by the recent voting by the British public deaming Churchill the 'Greatest Briton of all Time'. Offered with the car is the V5 registration document and a copy of the BBC funeral broadcast clearly depicting the car.
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