A PHANTOM PRESENCE


 

Photography Paul Harmer
Words Robert Coucher 

These two Rolls-Royces have connections with a Land Speed Record-breaker, Royalty and Brooklands. Now they return to their old haunt to reveal spirit.

Conviction and self-confidence are admirable traits as long as they don’t slide into arrogance and hubris. But it was hard to be humble when your new motor car had just been lauded by The

Autocar as ‘The Best Car in the World’.

The first motor car badged ‘Rolls-Royce’ was the Rolls-Royce 10hp shown at the Paris Salon in 1904, sold by Charles Rolls and engineered by Henry Royce. Their new company, Rolls-Royce Limited, was founded in 1906 and commercial manager Claude Johnson persuaded the directors to concentrate on just one car. That was the upcoming 40/50hp model which offered an ‘adequate’ 7.4-litre in-line six-cylinder engine.

Following that accolade from The Autocar, it soon took on the sobriquet ‘Silver Ghost’, after the famous silver Royce demonstrator, registered AX 201. It probably was the best car in the world at the time. And maybe that’s why Rolls-Royce continued with its confident notion that manufacturing just one model, the 40/50hp, for 20 years was a viable sales strategy. From 1906 until 1926, Rolls- Royce sold 7874 examples, including 1701 made in the US at its Springfield factory. That’s quite a lot of Ghosts.

Famously, factory demonstrator AX 201, chassis number 60551 and the original Silver Ghost, was entered in the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trial. It completed the required 15,000 miles and set world records, cementing the Rolls-Royce reputation for uncompromising quality and reliability. Then, in 1911, chief test driver Ernest W Hives made the London-to-Edinburgh run in a Ghost using top gear only, and orders continued to pour in.

The Silver Ghost was not designed as a sports car but some of its enthusiastic owners disagreed. One James Radley privately entered his Ghost in the 1914 Austrian Alpine Trial, only to find that its three-speed gearbox prevented him negotiating the steep Katschberg Pass. No matter: Rolls-Royce prepared four cars for the 1914 event, fitted with four-speed gearboxes and more powerful engines, and these team cars won six awards, including the prestigious Archduke Leopold Cup.

Inspired by this success, the factory began producing cars of similar specification for customers. Officially these were ‘Continental’ models but most knew them by the more evocative ‘Alpine Eagle’ nomenclature. During World War One, some Ghosts were converted into armoured cars to be used by tabloid hero Lawrence of Arabia, adding further to the motor car’s mystique.

‘The metallic finish was achieved by introducing inely ground herring scales into the paint lacquer’

Not until 1925 did Rolls-Royce deem its Silver Ghost to need updating. Sticking with the company’s now- popular ethereal theme, the ‘New Phantom’ was launched with an improved, larger-capacity 7.6-litre engine in the Silver Ghost chassis. Rolls-Royce still purported not to build sporting motor cars, of course, but its customers were enjoying the extra performance. This really came together with the all-new 40/50hp of 1929 – the Phantom II, last of the 40/50s, two of which you see here. ‘The best Rolls-Royce yet produced,’ wrote Land Speed Record- holder Captain Sir Malcolm Campbell. He should know, because he owned the metallic-blue one.

With its refined crossflow OHV 7.6-litre engine, its stronger and lower chassis with stiffer semi-elliptic springs all round and its four-wheel servo-assisted brakes, the Phantom II became a well-resolved drivers’ car. So much so, indeed, that Rolls-Royce additionally offered a ‘Continental’ version, Royce-speak for ‘sports car’, with a shorter 144-inch wheelbase and yet-stiffer five-leaf rear springs. Rolls-Royce sold 281 Continentals, including 125 left-hand-drive versions, out of a total production of 1281 Phantom II chassis of all types.

These two elegant Rolls-Royce Phantom IIs are at the old Brooklands circuit on 9 October 2019 for very particular reasons. The Brooklands Museum has given us permission to drive them on the hallowed banking because both have been here before and in special circumstances.

The 1929 Barker-bodied open torpedo Tourer, finished in its original cream and olive green livery, is chassis number 3WJ, engine number VK35, registration UU 8047. It’s owned by Alan Swann, his brother-in-law Paul Deschamps looking after its mechanical needs, and they have come armed with an old black-and-white photograph that shows the Phantom on the banking. The caption states: ‘A Rolls-Royce on the racetrack at Brooklands, Surrey, 9th October 1929.’ Exactly 90 years earlier.

Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and King of England before his abdication in 1936, had ties to Rolls-Royce. During the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s he undertook various tours around the country to boost morale.

The Prince, as he was then, had requested an open tourer in which to conduct these tours, so Rolls-Royce provided the very same Barker-bodied Phantom II that has just joined us. It comes with an old Pathé film clip from 1930, its footage identified as: ‘Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Hartlepool. Cheers all the way! Tumultuous enthusiasm from vast crowds everywhere pays fit tribute to popularity of the Prince of Wales during crowded 2 days tour of the North of East.’ The Phantom and its registration number UU 8047 can be clearly identified, with the Prince as one of the passengers in the rear seat.

Not a lot is known about the Phantom II Tourer’s life after that. The build sheets show it was delivered with open touring coachwork by Barker fitted to its long 150- inch chassis. It was painted in this same olive green and cream colour scheme with a green leather interior and nickel finishings. At some point it must have been rebodied because it now wears ‘James E Pearce Coachbuilders’ coach plates. The coachwork looks exactly like the Barker original apart from a small boot lid that has been let into the rear panel. Large, elegant and imposing, the Tourer has just the sort of regal looks fit for a prince. The rear compartment has vast legroom and what looks like an overstuffed green leather Chesterfield sofa squeezed into the space. It’s more akin to a motor-yacht deck than a motor-car interior.

And the 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental saloon? Sir Malcolm Campbell bought it new on 28 March 1933. Chassis number 140 MY, with engine number GF 45 and original registration number AGO 1, was sold as a complete car with Barker coachwork. As a Continental, it was laid down on the short 144-inch chassis with a lowered floor, a low-rake steering column, a wider track, a higher rear-axle ratio, André Hartford tele- friction dampers and stiffer rear springs. The engine also featured higher compression, a high-lift camshaft and a bigger ‘semi-expanding’ carburettor.