to be sold at
2018 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction
The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost motorcar is a legend and it is the car that really began the Rolls-Royce tradition. The firm Rolls-Royce Ltd., was formed in 1906 and was the result of a business partnership formed between engineer Frederick Henry Royce and the Honorable Charles Stewart Rolls, an aristocrat and influential automotive pioneer, to produce motor cars that were refined and with excellent performance.
Henry Royce had a particular talent for taking a good thing and making it better and in 1903, at age forty-one and running a successful dynamo and electric crane manufacturing company, he elected to direct his attention toward his new passion – the motorcar. He decided to make three cars to his own design and with careful attention to the design and construction in addition to the general excellence of workmanship, the Royce cars were very much quieter and more flexible than others cars of the time.
Once the Rolls-Royce Company started manufacturing cars in the tiny Manchester factory, it would be four models of the Rolls-Royce cars before one model, the six-cylinder Rolls-Royce 40/50, would prove so successful that it was decided, in 1908, to discontinue all others.
Motoring at the time tended to be inexpensive, noisy and slow, or a combination of either faster, noisy and expensive, or reasonably quiet and luxurious but lacking in performance and very expensive. Rolls-Royce cars combination of low running costs and brisk performance with an unparalleled degree of refinement was something quiet new. Having proved their ‘Silver Ghost’ car through publicized speed and reliability trials, Rolls-Royce started serious production of the 40/50 Silver Ghost chassis at a rate of four per week.
At the time when the relatively unknown Rolls-Royce Company had to make its reputation, the motoring world was concentrating upon the ‘gear changing’ difficulty, and much publicized ‘top-gear only’ runs made top-gear flexibility an essential selling point. The skillful motorist who liked to use their car to the best advantage soon learnt to use the gears properly, but the great majority were unable and unwilling to do so, and to them the Rolls-Royce’s famed top gear flexibility was its most enviable quality. Another of the Silver Ghost’s endearing characteristics was its ability to ‘start on the switch’ even after standing for several hours. With early car ignition technology and battery conservation still being developed, this overcame any anxiety about battery discharge.
Although it was a relatively big car the Silver Ghost had a rare quality of seeming smaller when driving than it actually was, especially compared to other such cars of the period. Also, those larger less-manageable cars were driven by the chauffeur for their owner’s proper enjoyment, where the owner-driver could enjoy two or three hundred miles a day in a Silver Ghost without feeling totally exhausted.
It is as a luxury touring car or town carriage during the Edwardian era, rather than a sports car, that the Silver Ghost had set a world standard. The client for whom the car was intended had not the slightest interest in specific output or power-to-weight ratios. What interested the discerning high society motorist, including women, in 1907 and 1924 alike was that the Rolls-Royce engine could propel its load without noise or vibration from 3mph to 70 mph using only the top gear and for a petrol consumption between 16 and 20 mpg.
This 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost on display at the Blackhawk Museums is the last of the 116 of the B-Series Silver Ghosts produced and is still in its original elegant and handsome Barker-bodied Landaulette configuration. It was recorded as being on chassis and engine test on January 28, 1914, and was then delivered to Barker of London to be fitted with its open-drive limousine coachwork.
Barker & Co, coachbuilders were established in 1710 and built coaches for Queen Anne, King George II, and Queen Victoria. Barker was associated with Rolls-Royce from the very beginning. In 1905, C.S. Rolls & Co. issued a statement that “all Rolls-Royce cars will be fitted with Barker’s bodies”. The skill that won them the reputation for producing horse-drawn vehicles of extreme elegance was now transformed to the motor car.
1913 Barker open-drive landaulette illustrated in the Company's 1914 sales catalog
The design of this car’s body was in many ways typical of formal cars of the period, with a high roofline featuring large windows around the rear compartment, clearing the way for the towering ladies' millinery and men's top hats favored at the time, as well as a sliding division window between the enclosed passengers and the chauffeur in the open. Barker gave the design its own flair with a carriage-style curved molding running through the front doors, which themselves are curved up into the cowl. These touches lighten the appearance of the car and give it a distinctive grace.
The completed Silver Ghost was delivered to its original British owner, D.E. Cameron Rose, Esq., of The Hall, Pinner, Middlesex, on May 28, 1914. It remained in the U.K. not long, as it was subsequently acquired and imported to New York by Robert W. Schuette, the U.S. Rolls-Royce distributor at the time and also the American agent for Barker & Co. (Coachbuilders) Ltd. Schuette subsequently sold the motor car to Miss Helen Brice, of New York City. Helen Brice was the daughter of U.S. Senator and Mrs. Calvin S. Brice, who had amassed fortunes in the ultimate industries of his era, railroads and banking, and then profitably sold out to Commodore Vanderbilt. The vast sums collected from this venture afforded the Brice family a lifestyle among the finest East Coast families of the era.
Helen Brice was a well-known figure in the social circles of the times and used her Silver Ghost on a regular basis until early 1934, at which point she and her chauffeur, Francis Cox, came to the conclusion that it was advisable to trade it in for a more modern automobile. A slightly used 1932 Lincoln was seen as a suitable replacement, and the Rolls-Royce was traded in at the dealer at 1710 Broadway in New York. Mr. Cox was apparently sentimental about the car, however, and in a moment of rare foresight wrote a letter to Mr. Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, suggesting that the Silver Ghost, as an elegant example of original coachwork on a great chassis, would be appropriate for Ford's new museum. Apparently Mr. Ford agreed. Shortly thereafter, Cox received a letter back from one of Henry Ford's assistants, Frank Campsall, notifying him that.. “we have arranged to have this car forwarded to Dearborn for our museum”.
The car was shipped from New Jersey to Michigan to join one of the most amazing and complete collections of its kind at Henry Ford's museum. The Silver Ghost was put on display at what was then known as the Edison Institute, later to become today's The Henry Ford, and remained on display there until 1971. (photo below)
The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost motor cars were produced in England from 1907 through 1925, and the Springfield Silver Ghost was manufactured by Rolls-Royce in America starting in 1921, and remained in production for nearly a year longer than the English version. Including the 1,703 made by Rolls-Royce of America, Inc., at Springfield, MA, a total of 7,876 Silver Ghost cars were manufactured over nearly two decades.
The car’s reliability and longevity was summed up in in Royce’s own words: “The quality will remain when the price is forgotten.”
Over the years, this Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost on display has been in the collections of a number of renowned Rolls-Royce enthusiasts including: B. Paul Moser, Denean Stafford III, and Richard Solove
click image to view next