SOL 1: Solihull’s Mayoral Limousine

The history of Solihull Council’s Mayoral vehicle (“SOL 1”) is a long and interesting one and coincides with Solihull becoming a Borough in 1954. Being a Borough meant that Solihull would also have a Mayor for this first time. It was usual practice for Boroughs to have a Mayoral limousine in which the Mayor would be driven to official engagements.

Vehicle licensing

For vehicle licensing purposes, Solihull came under Warwickshire until 1964. Warwickshire had the designated registration letters AC, UE, WD, and their developments, such as AAC, AUE.

Neighbouring Birmingham had most of the two-letter registrations beginning with ‘O,’ including OL, which it began registering in 1923. In the 1930s an additional prefix letter started to be added to the existing two letters, starting with AOA.

By a happy coincidence, it was realised in 1954 that SOL 1 would soon be coming up for first registration with Birmingham City Council. Solihull Council enquired with Birmingham City Council about reserving the registration mark SOL 1 when it became available.

Reporting on the agreement between the Town Clerks of Birmingham and Solihull to reserve SOL 1, Birmingham Daily Post 20th September 1954 noted that it was thought that not only would the vehicle be instantly recognisable to the people of Solihull, but it would also be a nod to the fact that Solihull was the first town (actually jointly with Luton) in the country to be awarded borough status since the end of the Second World War.

The first SOL 1

The SOL 1 registration was first issued on a 1950 36hp Daimler limousine which Solihull Council bought in 1955 for £1,500. The Birmingham Daily Post 26th October 1955 reported that the vehicle was unable to fit into its garage, so the Council provided more room for the car at a cost of £100.

The Council’s archives don’t have any photographs of the first SOL 1 vehicle, so if you have any images of the car, please let us know.

When the Suez crisis resulted in petrol rationing in December 1956 the use of the vehicle was suspended to save costs. The Mayor used his own car for civic engagements for a short time.

As the petrol crisis rumbled on the decision was made to temporarily replace the Daimler with a second-hand Rover 90 at a cost of £900. The decision was made at a meeting of the General Purposes Committee but the Birmingham Daily Post 6th December 1956 reported that not all councillors were in favour of the “extravagant” expenditure. The Rover, a 1955 model, was capable of 25 to 30 miles per gallon as opposed to 8 miles per gallon the then current Daimler achieved.

The Birmingham Daily Post, 19th June 1959 reported that the Daimler, which it said had been purchased in May 1955, had not been new when purchased and that there had been recent difficulties in maintaining it. An offer to buy the civic car had apparently been made by a firm of undertakers, but the car dealer offering to supply an Austin Princess saloon also offered an allowance of £925 against the Daimler.

1959 – Austin Princess

This Daimler was replaced in 1959 by a seven-seater Austin Princess, which cost £3,075 14s 2d. This was in use as the Mayoral limousine until 1969.

Unfortunately, it was not the most reliable car and the Daily Herald 22nd July 1963 reported on a breakdown of the vehicle on the M1 when the Mayor and Mayoress , Councillor & Mrs H. B. Shaw, were en route to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace! The engine completely died and the car could not be restarted.

The Mayor’s Chauffeur, Alan Dodsworth, had to call the A.A., who towed the vehicle some 20 miles to the end of the M1 where a Humber saloon was waiting to take them to the London. Luckily, they were not too late to meet the Queen, as plenty of time had been allowed for the Mayor to change into morning dress at a London hotel.

The Mayor, annoyed at the indignity of it all, said “the makers have got the wretched car back,” noting that it was about the fourth time that the car had gone wrong.

1969 – Daimler

There was a lot of discussion on purchasing a new Rover to replace the Austin Princess because of its association with Solihull, but a suitable vehicle and price could not be found. The short list had come down to a Daimler or a Rolls Royce.

The Birmingham Daily Post of 1st April 1969 reported that the Mayor, Councillor J. C. Ledbetter, had accepted the new Mayoral car – a Daimler, which had been purchased at a cost of £4,800.

1977 – Daimler

By 1977 the time had come to replace the vehicle once more. Once again, opinion was divided on which car to purchase. One councillor suggested buying a Rover 3500 – an ordinary saloon car – and borrowing a limousine from a local undertaker for Royal visits when needed. However, other councillors felt that the car did not have sufficient passenger comfort and that “women would have to scramble in and out of the car if they were ‘dressed up’. It’s not very elegant.” (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 1st October 1977).

The policy committee suggested a second-hand Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, but this was rejected at Full Council, with Councillor Peter Kellie stating:

The Daimler is far better suited than the Rolls, which is a luxury car and is not built for the job. I reject the Rover because it is a saloon vehicle and is unsuitable.

Birmingham Daily Post, 5th October 1977

An alternative suggestion from Councillor Grahame Boakes that a Rolls Royce was a capital investment and should be leased was rejected. He commented that the only use for a Daimler once it was sold was as a hearse.

1983 – Range Rover

In 1983 the council commissioned Land Rover to design and build a special vehicle for the Mayor. The Municipal Journal 8th July 1983 describes how Solihull’s Town Clerk, John Scampion, and Land Rover’s Managing Director, Mike Hodgkinson, came up with the idea as “an ideal way for the Council to show support to its major commercial employer.” They were able to convince sceptics who doubted that the standard Range Rover could be successfully transformed into a “sophisticated limousine.”

It was designed from the ground up and some of the features included sound proofing, air conditioning, the Solihull Council coat of Arms in badge style on the exterior, and a new shade of blue paint for the vehicle. The Mayor’s Chauffeur even visited Land Rover to be fitted for custom seats for complete comfort.

The vehicle was a first generation Range Rover that was ‘stretched’ by 20 inches at Land Rover’s Lode Lane factory and was first registered on 24th August 1983. It cost £18,430 and covered 61,000 miles in its first five years.

An article in the Birmingham Mail, 13th September 1988 reported on the forthcoming relegation of the five-year old Range Rover to be the reserve Mayoral car.

The Mayor of Solihull said that the Range Rover, although an excellent vehicle, did not add to the dignity of the office of Mayor and Mayoress, being a “workhorse, not a Mayoral limousine.” He noted that the car was uncomfortable on long journeys, with the driver often having to get out of the car, and added:

I defy anyone to get in and out of the car in a dignified fashion when they are wearing evening dress.

Birmingham Mail, 13th September 1988

In 1989, the SOL 1 number plate was transferred to the new Mayoral vehicle, a Daimler, and the Range Rover was re-registered with the SOL 2 number plate.

SOL 2 was a reserve car in the civic motor pool, and was often used by the Deputy Mayor. The SOL 2 vehicle registration was sold by Solihull Council in 2007.

In 1995, the Range Rover, which had some 85,000 miles on the clock, was further downgraded. The SOL 2 registration was swapped for the age-related registration A451 YOX.

This vehicle was sold by the Council in 1998 and driven regularly by its new owner until 2008. In 2020 he sold it to the Dunsfold Collection which collects and preserves rare Land Rover models. An article on the history of the vehicle was published in Land Rover Monthly magazine on 1st January 2021.

1989 – Daimler

The special 1983 Range Rover was replaced as SOL 1 in 1989 by a Daimler costing almost £50,000. Town Clerk, John Scampion, sought the views of immediate past Mayors and the strong consensus was that a Daimler was most appropriate.

A plea to consider a Rover 800 limousine from local firm, Thomas Startin Jnr Ltd, at a cost of £30,000, was rejected by Solihull Council’s General Purposes Committee in February 1989 after hearing that the limousine version of the vehicle would not be available until September.

1991 – Daimler

In January 1991, Solihull Council placed an order for a new £58,775 Mayoral limousine after Jaguar Cars at Coventry announced the phasing out of the production of luxury limousines. The order was placed with Wilcox and Co. of Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, whose quote was reportedly significantly cheaper than local supplier, Thomas Startin’s.

1997 – Volvo

The Solihull News of Friday 7th February 1997 reported that 18 motor dealers had been sent documents inviting them to tender for the supply of a new Mayoral vehicle. From a shortlist including vehicles from Saab, Rover, Ford and Mercedes, councillors decided that a £50,000 Swedish-built Volvo limousine offered the best value for money.

A Volvo 960 was purchased in June 1997. Land Rover expressed disappointment that the Mayoral car would not be a Range Rover, which they said would have been £2,000 cheaper than the Volvo, as well as having the benefit of its suspension able to be lowered on parking, making the vehicle easier to get in and out of. However, the Council pointed out that no tender in respect of a Range Rover had been received, so they had been unable to consider the vehicle.

The decision was also made to sell off the 1983 stretch Range Rover and to downgrade the existing Daimler to reserve Mayoral vehicle.

21st century vehicles

By 2009, the Mayoral vehicle was supplied via a leasing arrangement.

  • In 2013, SOL 1 was a black 2013 Range Rover Vogue
  • In March 2017, the Mayor’s car was updated to an ultra low-emission plug-in hybrid Range Rover 2.0 litre P400E Petrol PHEV Autobiography, capable of operating for 24-26 miles between charges on stand-alone battery power. This vehicle is pictured (in 2019) at the top of this page.
  • A new hybrid Mayoral Range Rover was received in November 2021.

If you have any further details of any of the Mayoral vehicles, please let us know.

David & Tracey
Solihull Heritage & Local Studies

email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

© Solihull Council, 2022.
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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