Classic Cars and Historical Figures: What Would They Have Driven?

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Almost everyone I know would identify me as not only a Motoring Journalist, but also a bit of a history buff. From William the Conqueror to the Napoleonic Wars, right up to the highs and lows of the 20th Century, I find every historical period intensely fascinating, and when i’m not writing about cars, one could usually find me watching documentaries or reading books on Alexander the Great.

This prompted me to delve into some of the great “what if’s” of history, what if the following icons from this list were alive today? Would they have a car? And if so, would it be a classic? Whether an all conquering Emperor, notorious politician or flamboyant member of high society, it certainly doesn’t take much imagination to put an historical figure with an appropriate classic car. Here is a list of 9 influential figures from world history and the classic cars I think they would own were they still here, though a couple of these figures the world is happy to have left behind!

Feel free to comment your thoughts and any other historical figures you would care to mention. These opinions are strictly my own. All aboard the Tardis and lets go!

1. Cleopatra – Rolls Royce Corniche

It is really hard when one thinks of Ancient Egypt not to immediately think of Cleopatra, and a certain film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Cleo, as you may know, was a titan of the ancient world, ruling Egypt with a rod of iron. Though she would meet her untimely end by poisoning herself after the death of her lover, Mark Antony, I reckon this Queen of Nile would be pretty suited in classic car circles with a Rolls Royce Corniche MK3 Convertible.

The Corniche was the absolute pinnacle of luxury during the late seventies and eighties. Celebrities everywhere were lining up in their droves for one, providing you could afford the new price. It’s definitely not hard to see Cleopatra in a Corniche Convertible like the one pictured, with its cream paint and tan leather interior. It is easy to imagine the pop culture Egyptian Queen in convoy surveying her subjects through Alexandria at the helm of this titan of the car world. By the way, her pop culture descendant Lady Gaga has one too!

2. Julius Caesar – Lamborghini Espada

Onto someone who needs no introduction to an avid reader of Asterix comics. Gaius Julius Caesar was the big cheese of the Ancient Roman Empire from 49 to 44BC. This was a result of rising through the ranks of the Roman Consul and the army. Caesar who proclaimed himself “Dictator for Life” is one of the most influential military leaders and political statesmen of all time.

With Rome being the center of the Empire which stretched across east and western Europe, Caesar and his Roman Legions made war against tribes and people Roman’s deemed to be Barbarians, he also became enamored of Cleopatra, who managed to twist him around her little finger and go to war on her behalf.

If Caesar were alive today, something like a Lamborghini Espada would be his classic of choice. They both share the fiery latin temperament, and like the Colosseum, the Bertone designed V12 four seat Espada is mesmerizing to look at. Caesar would have enjoyed commutes to the Senate in a car named after a bull fighters sword. Plus, the epic grunt from that V12 may have meant he wanted to take the scenic route to work, on the day his fellow senators lay in wait, knives in hand, to assassinate him.

3. Genghis Khan – Toyota FJ40 Landcruiser 

One billion people alive today can trace their family tree back to the absolute ruler of the biggest Empire the world has ever seen. Genghis Khan was the first “Great Khan” of the Mongol Empire, with just about every inch of Asia and Mongolia under his personal control. He did this by uniting the Mongol Tribes and increasing his influence to become sole ruler of the Mongolian plains in 1206.

Genghis Kahn’s Empire was made up mostly of vast wide open spaces and rocky mountain ranges, with tens of millions of horses at his disposal, he could send messages from one end of his Asian empire to the other, in three days. However, if he were around today and his classic of choice was a Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40, he may have had a more comfortable time.

The old FJ with it’s bullet proof diesel engine, four speed manual and simple low range four wheel drive, not to mention its legendary rugged go anywhere reliability, its easy to imagine a fleet of these as Khan’s disposal as he visits his subjects and is ready to winch his people out of trouble.

4. Henry VIII – Daimler DS40 Limousine

Founder of the Church of England, founder of the Royal Navy, and six wives who didn’t get the haircut they wanted, the Tudor King Henry VIII was the original gangster King. If something wasn’t to his liking, it was changed. If someone did not agree with his choices, he was “taken care of” For example, his aide Sir Thomas More refused to acknowledge Henry as the spiritual head of England and was promptly executed on 7th of July 1535.

What kind of vehicle would be fit for a larger than life Tudor King like Henry, how about a Daimler DS420 Limousine? There is plenty of room front and rear, so Henry and his considerable girth and some of his immediate entourage could relax in comfort. The 4.2-liter Jaguar straight six provided plenty of wafting grunt for touring the kingdom, and the middle row of seats could be folded away in case the King and Anne Boleyn needed some quiet time. Fit for a King I’d say.

5. William Shakespeare – Jaguar E Type Coupe

The greatest contributor to the arts and the English language is without doubt, the famous 16th century playwright, William Shakespeare. Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and so on and so forth. This was a man continually in the spotlight, with people far and wide lining up to sample his latest dramatic works.

Its fitting that if he were President of the Royal Shakespeare Company today, he would need something to suit his image, that something would easily be a Jaguar E Type Series 1 Coupe. Probably the most beautiful car ever made, the E Type was not only faster than the equivalent Ferrari when it was new, but at a fraction of the price.That long gorgeous bonnet with delicious minimalist coupe lines would mean that Shakespeare would arrive at the premiere of his latest play in style. Providing the Lucas electrics don’t pack up!

6. Marie Antoinette – Mercedes 300 SL Roadster

Most famous for her iconic line to her subjects, “Let them Eat Cake” Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France shortly before the Revolution in 1792. She and her Husband, King Louis XVI were the last rules of the old French monarchy, living out their days ruling France with their court in the magnificent palace of Versailles.

Marie was brought up in this fantasy world of fine living and excess since her early years in Austria, so its easy to imagine if Marie Antoinette were alive today, something like a Mercedes 300 SL Roadster would suit her to a tee.

A soft top version of the breathtaking 300 SL Gull-wing sports car, the 300 SL Roadster is one of most sought after classic Mercedes around, with 1800 built during its nine year production run. With a 3.0-litre straight six producing 240hp, it produced more grunt than the Coupe. This would mean Marie would be tearing up the back lawn at Versaille with considerable ease.

7. George Washington – 1963 Lincoln Continental

One of America’s founding fathers and the first official President of the United States from 1789 to 1797, George Washington led the revolution against the British during the Revolutionary War. He founded the American Constitution and with his Vice President John Adams, forged a new identity to what would make America one of the world’s foremost industrial and economic superpowers. Heck, you only need look at the famous painting of Washington standing on the prow of a row boat crossing the Delaware draped in the stars and stripes to get the picture.

Naturally an American patriot like this would need the most American statement of a classic car imaginable, which is why a 1963 Lincoln Continental would be ideal. Despite the assassination of John F Kennedy marring the image of the Continental for many, I reckon if he were alive today, a luxury Continental MK 4 Convertible with all its girth and 460 CI V8 grunt would suit his commute to the White House rather nicely.

8. Napoleon Bonaparte – Citroen DS Cabriolet

You know you are a force to be reckoned with when you have an entire age of combat named after you. In his prime French Emporer Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Western Europe during the 18th and 19th Century in a way not seen since the Roman Empire. With campaigns in Spain, North Africa and even Russia in 1812, there was very little in Europe which did not capitulate to the influence and rule of this squat little Frenchman.

Armed with his famous old guard and henchmen like Marshall Ney, Napoleon met his end and was exiled to Elba, before holding a final stand near the Belgian town of Waterloo against the British and the Prussians in 1815.

If “Bony” as he was called, was alive today, its entirely possible something like a Citroen DS 21 Cabriolet would be in his garage.With its hydro-pneumatic self leveling suspension, gorgeous yet futuristic lines and tonnes of tech which for the day was ahead of its time, I reckon it would suit Napoleon rather well.

9. The Duke of Wellington – Land Rover Series 1

Napoleon had an an enemy across the channel and Arthur Wellesley, better known to history pundits every where as the Duke of Wellington, was the man who stopped Napoleon’s Empire building. With the help of allies, Wellington fought Napoleon tooth and nail throughout the long battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Through Flanders, Portugal, Spain, France and finally Waterloo in Belgium, Wellington is a legend in the history of the British nation, he even became Prime Minister twice.

A no nonsense go anywhere hard charging fighter like wellington needs a rugged, hard charging yet quintessentially British classic car, which is why I believe a Green Land Rover Series 1 would be his vehicle of choice. The Landie, with its climb every mountain and ford every stream attitude, would have suited Wellington and his infantry well and probably would have given him something to tinker with in retirement.

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