From the arrival of flashing indicators and the launch of the iconic Mini, to Suez crisis petrol-rationing and today’s highly efficient, low carbon technologies, Queen Elizabeth II has witnessed each and every change over the past 60 years of UK automotive history. In celebration of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, UK automotive trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), highlights some of the key automotive events through her long and continued reign.
1 January 1954: Flashing indicators became legal on Britain’s cars. These were either amber all-round or white at the front and red at the rear.
1 June 1954: Standard introduced Britain’s first diesel engine, a version of the Vanguard, powered by a two-litre engine, derived from that used in the Ferguson tractor which Standard also built.
December 1956: Petrol-rationing was introduced, the result of the Suez crisis that closed the Canal to oil tankers. It remained in force until May 1957.
10 July 1958: Britain’s first parking meters were installed in London’s Grosvenor Square. Charges were 6d (2.5p) for half an hour and 1 shilling (5p) for one hour.
December 1958: The first stretch of motorway in Britain was opened, the 8.2 mile long Preston by-pass, which is today part of the M6.
August 1959: A ‘triumph of front-wheel-drive packaging’ BMC’s Mini Minor was launched for under £500.
1961: Jaguar launched the E-TYPE which Enzo Ferrari called ‘the most beautiful car in the world.’
January 1964: Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon drove a Mini Cooper S that gave the British Motor Corporation its first victory in the Monte Carlo Rally.
1 June 1964: Production began at Vauxhall’s new factory at Ellesmere Port on Merseyside. Today it is one of the most efficient plants in Europe and will build the seventh generation Astra from 2015.
1 January 1967: Blanket 70mph speed limit was introduced on Britain’s roads.
9 October 1967: Breathalyser tests were first introduced for British motorists. This specified that if a driver’s alcohol limit was found to exceed 80mg per 100ml of blood, the individual could be liable for prosecution.
1 January 1974: A 50mph speed limit was introduced on Britain’s roads to conserve fuel supplies.
May 1974: The world’s first catalysts to control vehicle pollution were produced by Johnson Matthey in Royston, Hertfordshire.
1976: British supercar, the Lotus Esprit, went into production. Outstripping its own sales forecast the Elise was introduced in 1996, and by 2011 Lotus had built more than 90,000 sports cars.
6 February 1977: Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, a gift presented by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders for the Queen on her Silver Jubilee.
March 1978: Ford Bridgend plant in Wales commenced engine production – annual capacity has since doubled to one million engines today, while Ford’s Dagenham Diesel Centre opened in 2003.
22 October 1980: The last MGB, a pewter coloured GT, was built at Abingdon. Introduced in 1962, over
half a million MGBs were built.
July 1984: Groundbreaking ceremony took place on the Nissan facility in Sunderland, now the UK’s largest car manufacturing plant and one of the most productive in Europe.
19 February 1986: British Leyland built the five millionth original Mini.
8 October 1992: Honda’s Swindon factory begins production and by February 2008 produced its two millionth car.
December 1992: The Toyota factory at Burnaston, Derbyshire, begins car production while its Prius brought hybrid technology to the mainstream both in the UK and globally.
1 October 1995: Petrol was no longer sold in imperial gallons but metric litres.
1998: VW purchased Bentley in Crewe and Rolls-Royce joined the BMW stable, both quintessentially British marques continue to be a success in markets around the globe.
26 April 2001: BMW began production of MINI Cooper and MINI at its Oxford plant, investing a further £500m in 2011 and heralding the two millionth Oxford-built MINI the same year.
25 January 2002: Nissan opens its European Design Centre in London.
27 May 2002: Bentley Motors presented Her Majesty The Queen with a new official State limousine on behalf of the UK motor industry, it becomes the fifth official State vehicle.
17 February 2003: The London Congestion Charge was introduced.
April 2004: Ford Motor Company completed construction of London’s first wind park, constructing two giant wind turbines at its Dagenham manufacturing site.
December 2009: The United Kingdom Automotive Council was established to enable government and industry to work closely in key technology areas sustaining levels of investment in skills, jobs and innovation.
4 November 2010: Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull plant produced the one millionth Range Rover.
11 July 2011: Production began on the MP4-12C at McLaren’s hi-tech plant in Woking.
December 2011: The year concludes with diesel cars taking a record 50.6% of the UK new car market and alternatively-fuelled vehicles sell a record 25,456 units as average new car CO2 emissions fall by more than 23% since 2000.
2012: Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary with close to five million vehicles being built at the site.