Margaret Thatcher’s aides worried she would not be able to complete a reverse manoeuvre
A boast later feared to be true in more ways than one… When she was asked to test drive a 133mph Rover 800 saloon car, senior aides were worried she could not complete a reverse manoeuvre.
Private papers from the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust reveal their concerns the publicity stunt to boost her ratings could end with a prang in Downing Street.
Chris Collins, historian at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, said: “There was a stark fear she would crash into something and everything would go horribly wrong. In fact Mrs Thatcher had no problem with reversing.”
The papers from 1986 described how her team was initially delighted when the now defunct British firm, Austin Rover, asked her to launch the car in Downing Street.
Her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, believed the exercise would be “good publicity”, as he wrote, because the Rover 800 was vital to the manufacturer’s fortunes.
Some feared the Prime Minister would crash the Rover 800 causing a publicity nightmare
The 2.5 litre engine car was the result of a joint collaboration between Austin Rover and Japanese firm Honda.
In fact Mrs Thatcher had no problem with reversing
Historian Chris Collins
But as a precaution, Mrs Thatcher’s private secretary, Mark Addison, arranged for her to have a private test drive a week before at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country home in Aylesbury, Bucks.
He wrote this was “to get the hang of the car before it comes to Downing Street for the test drive in front of the cameras”.
The test went well but Mr Addison was still worried about the launch and offered her two options.
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Austin Rover, asked her to launch the car in Downing Street to the delight of her team, initially
He said the “straightforward way” would be to “drive the car from the front door towards the bottom of Downing Street, reversing into the side road, and driving back up the street to the front door.”
But he added: “If you would like to handle the test drive in this way, you would need to feel fully confident about manoeuvring the car into the side road and back out again.
She later wrote to the car firm thanking them for letting her and Dennis launch the ‘splendid car’
“The alternative would be to walk down to the car at the bottom of Downing Street and drive it back to the front door.”
Mrs Thatcher replied: “First option.”
The launch in July 1986 went well. She later wrote to the car firm’s chairman, Sir Graham Day, thanking him for letting her and husband Denis launch the “splendid car”.