Among the pre-World War II Rolls-Royce cars, the 40/50 HP Silver Ghost is arguably the one to have and of these models, the pre-WWI models are the most desirable. Many pints of Guinness have been happily consumed while discussing the merits of the pre-WWI Silver Ghosts compared to the post-WWI models. There are those who favor the later large horsepower pre-WWII cars, the Phantoms, over the 40/50 hp Silver Ghost. However, of the pre-war large horsepower Rolls-Royce cars, the target car is the pre-WWI 40/50 h.p. Edwardian “Silver Ghost”, like this one, Chassis Number 2208.
Silver Ghosts were built from 1907 to 1925 in the Cooke Street Works in Manchester, England; and from 1920 to 1926 in Springfield, Massachusetts. One can quickly identify the U.K.-built cars comparing them to the Springfield cars by inspecting the wheels. Hub centers on U.S.-built cars have an indentation for the wheel spanner; U.K.-built wheel hubs are flat. Therefore, regardless of the coachwork, one can instantly tell if the chassis is British or American.
If your grandfather had purchased a new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in 1912, his Ł1,850 (about $4,000) bought only the rolling chassis, body not included. In contrast, the price of a brand new 1912 Ford Model “T” was $240, and that price included the body. This was when the average annual salary in 1912, in the United States, averaged $750.
The body, or “coachwork”, fitted to a new Rolls-Royce was specified by the owner. Rolls-Royce built no car bodies prior to 1939, but the company was anxious that their chassis were fitted with suitable designs. They would not deliver one of their finished chassis to just any body-maker. All bodies were custom-made, and a few Silver Ghosts were delivered from new with more than one body—a formal closed design as well as an open design, or perhaps a semi-open car. The bodies were changed to suit the occasion, or the climate. The cost to complete the car with a body, would cost the new owner at least another Ł1,000, and usually quite a bit more.
Well-informed Rolls-Royce enthusiasts are aware that most of these cars now wear replacement coachwork, since almost all of the original bodies have been cut up, abused, neglected and/or left to mold and rot in England’s damp climate. The chassis was more robust than the coachwork, and many of these original bodies did not survive. A Silver Ghost with a replacement body, built as it would have been when the car was new in type and workmanship, is as respected and valued as if were the original configuration. Though some might question a re-bodied car, consider the fact that Rolls-Royce produced the chassis and engine only, not the body, and without a body, the chassis and engine is incomplete. A highly researched and period-correct re-body like this one should not be questioned, nor de-valued in any way. It must be emphasized that there are precious few pre-1914 Silver Ghost cars with complete original bodies, fenders and instruments. Period-correct replacement coachwork cars like this one are fully welcomed into the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club, the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club and The Silver Ghost Association.
A prospective buyer of No. 2208 should keep in mind that this particular Silver Ghost is an exact duplicate of the iconic London-Edinburgh tourer, a very special car prepared in 1911 to rival England’s dominant marque, Napier. This was the car that helped Rolls-Royce become known as the maker of the best car in the world.
To prove which car was the best, and with the Royal Automobile Club monitoring the event, Napier and Rolls-Royce agreed to compete in a top-gear-only run (no gear changes even from the start) from London to Edinburgh, Scotland. The RAC recorded fuel consumption, then recorded the highest speed achievable by these two cars on the famous Brooklands racetrack.
The Napier carried the driver and three adult passengers, and finished the test with 19.35 mpg fuel consumption, and a maximum speed of 76.42 mph.
On September 6, 1911, the Rolls-Royce car with Works tester, E. W. Hives, at the wheel and carrying three adult men passengers, and with RAC officials present, began the run from London to Edinburgh using top gear only. The Silver Ghost chassis Number 1701E, which had been fitted with a lightweight touring body, made the run in stride achieving 24.32 mpg, and a maximum speed of 78.26 mph at Brooklands. Not only did these results exceed Napier’s, but the Rolls-Royce body design was so well received, (perhaps the finest-looking sporting car of the pre-1914 period) that the Company began to produce a full series of London to Edinburgh tourers for interested buyers. This car is one of that series built to honor #1701E, and one of the very few existing in as-new condition.
Driver Hives became as successful as the car he drove. He later became Lord Hives, and in 1946 was named Managing Director of Rolls-Royce having skillfully led the company thru the tough Post-WWII years.
By 1914, the reputation of the Silver Ghost was well on its way to justifying the claim as the best car in the world. The Rolls-Royce still carries the reputation as the “Best car in the world”, but it was a phrase coined not by Rolls-Royce, but by the respected publication Autocar, in 1907. Advertisements for the cars then read: “Silent as a Ghost, Powerful as a Lion, Trustworthy as Time.” Another early advertisement for the company carried the testimonial from a new Silver Ghost owner, “I may say my car is a perfect dream. It is so reliable that I have done away with my carriages and horses.”
The 40/50 h.p. (the model designation in accordance with the former British tax rating system) was designed for long life and absolute reliability. Anyone who is familiar with the pre-WWI Ghost is aware that many of these cars have delivered extremely high mileages and often under great abuse. Apart from sheer wear through neglect, very little goes wrong with the Ghost. Mechanical adjustment is straightforward, without quirks or gimmicks. The reputation of Rolls-Royce was rightly established by this very tough and honest car.
The 40/50 h.p. car was eventually known as the “Silver Ghost”, because the 13th chassis built, #1701, (also known by its British registration plate number, “AX201”, presently showing over a million miles on the clock, and still owned by Rolls-Royce Motors) was finished in a gleaming silver. It was ghostly quiet, in an era when other cars were so noisy and vibrated so violently that they truly did scare the horses. This newly-named Silver Ghost was such a marketing success that Henry Royce standardized on this one model and concentrated on conservatively improving it as each new design idea was thoroughly tested before being incorporated into the chassis. Engine displacement was increased to 7,428 c.c., and the original four-speed gearbox was replaced by a 3-speed in 1909. It was then changed back to 4-speeds in 1913, but with a direct top gear. Rolls-Royce motorists of the day found they could travel well on all road surfaces, with no need for gear changes; they remained in 4th gear. It was not necessary to confine top gear to the intended purpose of long straight roads. Having an indirect ratio, this geared-up top was not quiet, whereas the direct drive third gear was almost silent, and at low speeds on top, very little gear noise could be heard. The company wanted to maintain its reputation of not only being the best car in the world but the most silent, so in 1909, beginning with chassis No. 1100, they began to only fit a three-speed gearbox with direct drive on top.
The newspapers and magazines gladly promoted a demonstration of the utter smoothness of the idling (tick-over) Silver Ghost engine when Claude Johnson (often referred to as the hyphen in “Rolls-Royce”) balanced a penny on its edge on the radiator shell. The car idled so evenly the penny remained in place as if glued there. The story was carried worlwide and those who could afford a Rolls-Royce, wanted one
Not satisfied to rest on his considerable accomplishments, the indefatigable Henry Royce continued to improve on the London-Edinburgh type tourer, and make it even more usable for the steeper grades on the Continent. The cars had been tested in the hills of Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland and were considered more than adequate, but those roads were in no way comparable to conditions in the Alps, the length and severity of the passes, the altitude and corresponding atmospheric conditions and the angle of the hairpin bends.
In 1912, after designing a bumping machine to simulate thousands of miles on the road in the space of days, Royce then decided to change over to cantilever rear springing with chassis #2100, and had the radiator fitted with a larger block and header tank plus greater ground clearance.
An important consideration to serious Rolls-Royce enthusiasts is to preserve the Rolls-Royce part of the car, the chassis and engine. The body, though that’s the part first noticed, is not the Rolls-Royce. The objective is to keep the car on the road. Like that old adage, “A ship is safest in port, but that is not where a ship is meant to be.”, these cars do best when they are driven.
Like nearly all Rolls-Royce cars of this era, its chassis has carried several bodies through the decades. As England went to war, Rolls-Royce’s own chassis cards files for No. 2208 indicate, “Car used by Military on home or active service, European War 1914/19”. When scarcely run-in, the almost-new car was donated to the war effort.
The trouble-free performance of these cars did not go unnoticed by the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, Sir John French, as he sourced motor cars suitable for conversion to armoured cars. No. 2208 fortunately escaped being converted in this way. As records indicate, the car was used by British military officers. After the war ended, it was sold by the Ministry of Munitions to the first of a series of owners in England and then in North America.
Other cars were not so fortunate. Those cars converted to armored cars were able to withstand the stresses imposed on them by carrying three tons of armor-plating and a total loaded weight up to five tons. Normal, civilian passenger-use coachwork weighed about 1,500 lbs.
Rolls-Royce cars were selected for this use because in 1914, the Royal Naval Air Service learned that the Belgians were using an armor-plated Minerva passenger car to successfully raid the German Army. The RNAS successfully converted an assortment of Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost cars donated by private citizens. No. 2208 was donated to the war effort, but was never converted in this way, while many other cars were quickly patched together; shielded with 3/8” thick steel armor plate, fitted with dual rear axles and two mounted machine guns. They carried a crew of three. Despite their crudeness, the 5 ton vehicles proved to be reliable and could maintain a steady 60 mph over sand despite extreme heat and wind. One example was so encased in armor, including aprons to protect the wheels, that it’s assumed to have been the prototype “tank”.
The archival documents accompanying No. 2208, document each owner, adjustments made, spares added and body changes through the decades. It should be noted that few cars, even a Rolls-Royce, carry such detailed validation of their history. In 1950, a closed body fitted to the chassis was discarded and replaced by a sleek, albeit not as originally-fitted, torpedo body. This body was slightly damaged by fire prior to the current owner’s acquisition.
In restoring the car, the objective was to re-create the car exactly as it was when presented to its first owner, Sir James Dale of Surrey, England, in January 1913. The car, chassis number 2208, was ordered with a London-Edinburgh type tourer body and was meticulously crafted by a Rolls-Royce favored coachbuilder, Mann Egerton, of Norwich. Coachbuilder Mann Egerton’s records indicate the car was originally commissioned to be a duplicate of chassis No. 1701 L-E (the actual car that completed the London-Edinburgh test.) “L. E” Type, designates a London-Edinburgh type tourer. Mann Egerton’s build records list “Extras” to the car to include nickel fittings, the chassis to the London-Edinburgh type and detachable wire wheels, exactly as it shows today.
No. 2208 underwent a lengthy restoration from 1994 through 2008 by its present owner. The restoration honored the chassis and body as originally built, using the one existing original photograph of the completed car as a guide for the replacement body. Countless hours of research were devoted to studying every detail of the Rolls-Royce Works records, Mann Egerton’s archives and further research as validated in such respected publications as “The Edwardian Rolls-Royce” by John Fasal and Bryan Goodman, (pages 580-581).
Every detail of the restoration was carried out exactly as determined from the original photograph, and known to be authentic for Rolls-Royce in that period. No detail was overlooked. From its original Elliot speedometer/odometer to its proper C.A.V. head and side lights, to its original multi-finned baffles on both sides of its original engine, all is spot-on correct and original as when new. The chassis, engine, gearbox and all fitments are original to the car and are in superb condition both mechanically and cosmetically.
The only non-original “modification” that has not been touched are the actual boot heel marks of the WWI officers, which purposefully remain at the base foot pedal plate.
The car has been thoroughly examined by known marque authorities and has been deemed as-original, in every detail. From its nickel brightwork to its original laced wire wheels to its restored instruments and finished as it was in 1913 in ‘Dark Gray” as the build sheet validates, this example presents as it was when new and as it was when its first owner collected it from the coachbuilder, Mann Egerton. No expense was spared and no detail was over-looked and workmanship is of the highest possible level. One Rolls-Royce expert who recently examined the car remarked, “When this car arrives on the concours field, the others may as well pack up and go home.”
In addition to its spot-on condition, this rare example of a highly desirable motorcar was the “hero” of the book, “The Silver Lady” by G. R. Neville Minchin, a suspense novel every Rolls-Royce enthusiast will enjoy reading.
The Rolls-Royce 40/50 h.p. Silver Ghost is the supreme example of the Rolls-Royce marque, and has earned a central place in automotive history. The values of these cars have risen steadily in recent decades owing to accelerating restoration costs. The pre-1914 cars, like this one, are the ones most sought-after by serious and informed collectors, therefore the cost, time and effort towards its restoration are justifiable.
The charm of driving a very high-geared Edwardian Ghost is addictive. An example of a properly maintained Silver Ghost’s road manners, as is No. 2208, was evidenced in the summer of 2004 (the 100th anniversary of Rolls-Royce) when driving solo, the owner of 1913 Silver Ghost Saoutchik Tourer No. 2442, traveled from her home in Pennsylvania to Pebble Beach, California and back. She drove over 5,000 miles in this car, without incident.
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