Veteran-Edwardian-Vintage, June 1981

A section devoted to old-car matters

The 1939 Royal Tour Buicks

The article on “Buick Bygones” in the issue of October 1980 has stirred-up much interest, one way and another. We have now had the following letter from a Canadian reader about the cars, not all of them Buick, which were specially built, or very carefully prepared, for the Royal Tour of Canada which HM the King and Queen undertook in 1939, when the war clouds were forming over Europe, and there was some doubt as to whether they would make the long journey. But make it they did and thus the special “Royal Tour” cars had a busy time. Incidentally, no aeroplane was allowed within three miles of the Royal Tour motorcade. The letter from Mr. Vern Bethel sorts out these monster top-privilege cars:-


Re: Mr. Garry Coxall’s comments on “Buick By-gones” and Royal Tour Cars, page 55, Motor Sport, January 1981.

To set the record straight regarding the 1939 Royal Tour cars:

1. Five (not three) specially bodied cars were made, four of which were made use only in Canada, the other only in the USA;

2. The cars used in Canada were two McLaughlin-Bucks Series 49 (equivalent to Buick Series 90), a Lincoln Model K bodied by Lincoln (not Derham) and a Chrysler C22 Royal bodied by Chrysler;

3. The car used in the USA was a Derham bodied Chrysler C24 Imperial;

4. The Lincoln and the Chrysler C24 are in good hands in the US;

5. One of the McLaughlin-Buicks is owned by Larry Norton of Oshawa, Ontario and the other is in my stable in Vancouver;

6. The whereabouts of the Chrysler C22 is a mystery, although it may have been destroyed in a Vancouver fire many years ago.

Vancouver, BC

Vern M. Bethel

In addition to his letter, Mr. Bethel sent us some very good photographs of the cars used for the 1939 Canadian Royal visit and referred us to a long and very detailed account of it which appeared in the magazine Torque for September/October 1980. Space precludes a long summary of this very informative article. Suffice it to say that for anyone interested in the cars and how they were used it is essential reading. Not only are the Royal cars described but the author, Arthur James, covers the chauffeurs who drove them, how they were leapfrogged from place to place during the 9,510-mile Tour, what it cost to build the cars, their colours and upholsery schemes, how much the Canadian Government reimbursed General Motors (they were some 20-dollars out of pocket on the exercise but the publicity must have been worth every one), and what became of the cars in later times etc.

The latter is most interesting, two of the Buicks having survived, one owned by Mr. Bethel himself. It has run a definite 165,000 miles, perhaps 265,000 miles. The other Buick led a more sheltered post-Tour life, in the care of a Iady-owner, and had clicked up only 19,000 when acquired by its present owner, who had used it for another 13,000 miles up to last summer. In the interim period some of the cars were displayed in museums and elsewhere and the Ford Motor Company put the Lincoln straight into the Dearborn Museum, where it can he seen to this day. Other cars besides those listed in Mr. Bethel’s letter were used during the Royal Tour, including a Cadillac, other Lincoln convertibles, even President Roosevelt’s 1936 Ford tourer, which he drove himself during a casual aspect of the Royal visit, and a VI12Packard, but Packard’s did not build a special car, possibly because they were about to close down their Canadian plant and the Royal Tour cars had to be Empire-built. It was this which made the at first somewhat unpatriotic move on the part of HRH the Prince of Wales in ordering Buick cars acceptable – these are referred to in the Torque article and detailed in the “Automobile Quarterly Buick History”. Incidentally, the Buick now owned by Larry Norton of Oshawa was given by Col. McLaughlin to the Earl of Athlone, the then Governor-General of Canada, after approval by the Prime Minister of Canada. There had been an attempt before this to send both Buicks to the New York World Fair but apparently the duty that would have to be paid caused the Idea to be abandoned. – W.B

*   *   *

The Highway Code’s Half-Century

Amid the present anniversary mania we must not overlook the fact that the Highway Code has attained its 50th birthday. After recommendation in 1929 by the Royal Commission of Transport that the Ministry of Transport should issue a “Code of Customs” for all road users to study, which Sir Arthur Stanley had proposed after attending a conference of motoring organisations that included the RAC, the AA and the National Safety First Association (now the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, a title which it adopted in 1941 when there was much likelihood of “accidents” from other than civil and motoring causes). Over 24 “customs” were suggested.

The first Highway Code arrived in 1931, instituted by Herbert Morrison, the then Minster of Transport. It cost one old penny. In 1935 it was revised during the era of Hore Belisha, to make the presence of his Belisha pedestrian crossing clear. The third edition came out in 1946, when Alfred Barnes was Minister of War Transport but the price was unchanged. Alas, the fourth edition of the Highway Code, which was published in 1956, cost 6d.

As we ran through such Transport Ministers as Harold Watkinson, Ernest Marples and Barbara Castle there were reprints in 1961, 1963 and 1964 of the 5th edition that had arrived in 1959. A new edition was approved by Parliament in 1968 but published in February 1969. It had a Foreword by Richard Marsh and the reprint carried Fred Mulley’s Foreword. When this edition was reprinted in 1970 and 1972 these had a Foreword by John Payton. The price had increased of course, to 6p. There were four reprints of that one, the last of which cost 15p.

A fresh edition came out in 1978, priced at 25p and is currently in use. And, bless my auctioneer’s gavel, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if all these early isues of the Highway Code do not become collectors’ items, seen by those who have that sort of glint in their eyes as appreciating assets! – W.B.