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Lot 061: Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost

Classic Car, Motorcycle & Automobilia, Brightwells Auctioneers and Valuers (24 June 2009)

First shown at the 1906 Olympia Motor Show, the Rolls-Royce 40/50 was a sublime feat of engineering that immediately made every other car look crude by comparison. Although it made no great technical advances, every part of it was crafted with such immense precision and total disregard for cost that it literally ran like clockwork. Power came from an uncannily smooth 7-litre six-cylinder side-valve engine that produced 50hp at just 1,500rpm and could propel the car from walking speed to 70mph in top gear, a feat unheard of at the time.

To publicise the new model, the 12th chassis made was given a Barker touring body painted in aluminium paint with silver-plated fittings and was entered into the 1907 Scottish reliability trials  a risky strategy as most cars of this era were notoriously unreliable and most roads were horrendous. However the Silver Ghost, as the car was immortalised, had no problems whatsoever and won the trial with ease. Not content with this achievement, Rolls-Royce then drove it between Glasgow and London 27 times (a distance of 15,000 miles) over 40 days and nights without stopping the engine once. Again it performed faultlessly.

A further test saw the car driven from London to Edinburgh using only top gear during which journey it averaged 24.3mpg and attained a top speed of 78.2mph doing a lap of the Brooklands circuit. These wonderful demonstrations of performance and utter reliability cemented Rolls-Royce's reputation and earned the Silver Ghost the title of The Best Car in the World.

Over the next few years the car was improved still further with features such as electric lighting, four wheel brakes and a four-speed gearbox while engine size grew to 7.5-litres and power to 70hp. Car production was suspended during the war but the chassis and engine were supplied for military use to make a range of highly successful armoured cars, one of the most famous being the one used to great effect by Lawrence of Arabia who said a Rolls in the desert is above rubies. A total of 7,874 Silver Ghost cars were produced from 1907 to 1926 (including 1,701 from the American Springfield factory) of which no more than 1,000 are thought to survive today.

Of course such quality does not come cheap and customers necessarily came from the very highest echelons of society  kings, queens, maharajas and tsars being typical owners. This particular car is no exception and, as copies of the factory build sheets in the history file show, it was sold new to the Prince Regent of Japan  a man soon to be better known as Emperor Hirohito.

In 1921 Prince Hirohito became the first Japanese royal to travel to the west, spending six months touring Europe including a three-week state visit to Britain in May when he spent several nights as a guest in Buckingham Palace. He got on exceptionally well with George V, recalling in later life that the king had treated him like a son and even brought him breakfast in bed dressed only in his underwear!

He also played golf with Prince Edward and toured several great British institutions including Oxford and Cambridge universities (where he was made an honorary professor) and, of course, Rolls-Royce where he ordered Silver Ghost chassis number 58 YG, choosing an open cabriolet body by Hooper. The Ghost was finally dispatched to Japan in March 1923, reflecting the length of time it took to make handbuilt cars of this quality.

Little is known of the subsequent history of the car but it is believed to have spent many years in Japan before finding its way to America in 1998 where it was owned by a JD Bambling of Easton, Maryland. It was first registered in the UK in April 2008. At some point the original Hooper bodywork has been replaced with lightweight open-drive Victoria coachwork in the style of the Maharaja of Mysore's car (chassis number 1683). The mechanical specification would appear to be very much as it left the factory although it has been upgraded with 19-inch Alpine Eagle front brakes for superior stopping power and has a high-ratio back axle for more relaxed cruising.

The car is beautifully appointed throughout with features such as wicker-backed front seats, mahogany floor boards, leather hood, both oil and electric lamps, serpent air-horn, a marvellous dog's head exhaust outlet and a matching set of Sidney Russell & Sons suitcases to the rear and a well-stocked Sidney Russell picnic set on the passenger side running board.

The car is said to be in excellent running order (with an MOT until April 2010) and certainly performed very well when your cataloguer was treated to a lengthy run on the occasion of his visit to take these pictures, easily keeping up with modern traffic on a dual carriageway and maintaining excellent oil pressure and temperature with a notably good ride, even over speed bumps.

Altogether a most fascinating motorcar with a great early provenance and whose subsequent history would merit further investigation. Given the historical significance of this car it is possible that a future owner may wish to return the chassis to original with Hooper touring coachwork. This will leave the rather magnificent 'Maharajah' body as the starting point for a second significant Silver Ghost project&

Lot Details
Auction Classic Car, Motorcycle & Automobilia
Brightwells Auctioneers and Valuers, Leominster
TypeCar
Lot Number061
Estimate£125000-£175000
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Year1922
Condition rating0
Registration numberBF 4733
Mileage-
Chassis number58YG
Engine numberP329
Engine capacity (cc)7428
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors