He is said to have remarked to the Queen when discussing his desire for a frill-free funeral: “Just stick me in the back of a Land Rover and drive me to Windsor.”
For the past 18 years, the Duke had been quietly modifying the Land Rover Defender TD5 130, requesting a repaint in military green and designing the open top rear and special “stops” to secure his coffin in place. He made the final adjustments in 2019, the year he turned 98.
The Land Rover’s original role would also have been to transport Prince Philip 22 miles from Wellington Arch, in central London, to Windsor – but the Covid pandemic curtailed the long-held plans for military parades in his honour through the streets of both the capital and the Berkshire town.
The Duke began the long-lasting venture to create his own bespoke hearse in collaboration with Land Rover in 2003, when he was 82.
The sturdy, utilitarian vehicle, with its heavy duty wheels and angular structure, stands as a showcase for his practical nature and his passion for functional design and engineering.
The Defender was made at Land Rover’s factory in Solihull in 2003, and Prince Philip oversaw the modifications throughout the intervening years.
The Duke, who served with distinction in the Second World War and held special associations with all the Armed Forces, requested that the original Belize Green bodywork be switched to Dark Bronze Green, a colour used for many military Land Rovers.
He also designed the open top rear section where his coffin rested, made to his exact specifications, including the rubber grips on silver metal pins known as the “stops” or “stoppers” which perform the crucial task of preventing the coffin from moving.
The vehicle also included matching green hubs, a black front grille, a single cab and no registration plates.
Eighteen years after the Duke began the Land Rover project, the vehicle was used for its intended function today.
It ferried his coffin in a slow procession from the State Entrance of Windsor Castle through the grounds to the West Steps of St George’s Chapel, followed by the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal family on foot.
Land Rover has maintained the vehicle since it was built and has prepared it for the funeral in collaboration with the Royal household. It was flanked by pall bearers reflecting the Duke’s special relationships with the military, the Royal Marines, Regiments, Corps and Air Stations.
Palace officials have told how the Duke’s interest in design sparked his desire to make the Land Rover and include it in his funeral plans, code-named Operation Forth Bridge. Two Land Rovers were made for “belt and braces” in case a backup was needed.
Army engineers worked around the clock to make sure the Duke’s Land Rover hearse was ready in time for his funeral. In recent weeks, when it became clear that he was seriously ill, Army engineers replaced some parts and ran checks on the vehicles being prepared.
A team from the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers was deployed to prepare the hearse after the Duke was admitted to hospital in February.
Land Rover’s relationship with the British Royal family goes back to the company’s foundation in the late 1940s, with the 100th vehicle presented to King George VI, the Queen’s father.
In the early days of Prince Philip’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth, he preferred British sports cars including a 1954 Lagonda and a 1961 Alvis convertible. By the 1970s, he was using Land Rovers and granted his Royal warrant to Land Rover over 40 years ago.
In 2016, he surprised Barack and Michelle Obama when he jumped into the driver’s seat of a then-new L406 fourth-generation Range Rover to act as chauffeur during an engagement at Windsor Castle.
The Duke visited Jaguar Land Rover’s manufacturing facilities on numerous occasions over the decades and accompanied the Queen when she opened its new Engine Manufacturing Centre in Wolverhampton in 2014.
In 2016, the family firm Foley “hand built” a Land Rover Defender 130 Gun Bus for the Duke’s use on the Sandringham Estate.
Thierry Bollore, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief executive hailed Prince Philip’s “impressive knowledge and deep interest in vehicle design, engineering and manufacturing”.
“We are deeply privileged to have enjoyed a very long and happy association with the Duke of Edinburgh over many decades,” he said. “We are also honoured that the Land Rover which the Duke designed will be used at the funeral on Saturday.
“The Duke was a tremendous champion for design, engineering and technology. During his visits to our sites he engaged with hundreds of employees and demonstrated his impressive knowledge and deep interest in vehicle design, engineering and manufacturing.
“The Duke was a truly remarkable man and will be greatly missed.”
In 2019, the Duke, then 97, was driving a Land Rover Freelander when he was involved in a serious car crash involving a mother and a baby.
The car he was driving was hit by another vehicle when he pulled out of a driveway on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk onto a busy A road, after being dazzled by the low sun.
The car flipped over and he was trapped and had to be rescued through the sunroof by a passing motorist. He was miraculously unscathed.
The baby was unhurt, but both women in the other vehicle had to be treated in hospital and one had a broken wrist.
Three weeks after the crash, Buckingham Palace announced that Prince Philip’s driving days on public roads were finally over and that he had voluntarily surrendered his driving licence. The CPS later confirmed that he would face no action over the crash.