Ghosting along in the silent Wraith
Made from 1946 to 1958, the Silver Wraith was Rolls-Royce’s first post-war car.
The rolls-royce Silver Wraith has an indefinable something about it - a delicacy of behaviour which escapes definition in written words’. So said the Autocar magazine in April 1946 and they are words that are as valid now as they were all those years ago.
Autocar’s findings were certainly brought to life by a drive in one of these grand old ladies which is still cruising gracefully after well over half a century on the road.
The car, a 1949 HJ Mullinerbodied Silver Wraith, had covered just 41,000 miles when I drove it and had enjoyed the care of three very particular owners one of whom had treated it to a trip across the Atlantic for a spell on the roads of Alabama in true British grand tour style.
The Silver Wraith was a true pivotal model for Rolls-Royce, embodying the best of postwar features with new ideas and technology. As a touring limousine it was one of the first true executive expresses.
When you look at the latest in top business and luxury motoring technology this was the mummy of them all and was the pride of the British motor industry.
But what makes this particular Wraith so special was that because of its low mileage it still retains a hint of newness, giving a rare insight into what it would be like to drive such a car which still had a whiff of the showroom about it.
I took the Wraith for a cruise along some quiet lanes plus a section of a busy by-pass. I am no stranger to Rolls-Royce cars and soon got into the swing of it in spite of the fact that this mammoth icon of sheer luxury was the largest manual gearbox car I had driven .
Unlike most modern cars, the gear selector is on the floor at the right - harking back to the days when the cheauffeur would always quickly slide across to the left hand side to exit on the nearside and niftily open the doors for aristocratic passengers in the rear.
And there is no synchromesh between first and second gear, necessitating declutching on upward changes and double declutching on downward shifts - a technique most new drivers have not heard of.
There is no getting away from it - the Wraith is BIG. Even your hardened cut-em-up white van man types defer to this one. There is nothing nippy about it, the car demands a relaxed, long view of motoring and the driver has to bear in mind its immense weight and width.
Although it is effortless when cruising, you just can’t hurry a car like the Silver Wraith. It sets the pace and once you have got the feel of it you end up like the car’s servant, doing all the right things at the right time.
Although everything is beautifully made and feels superb, the car is not without its little quirks. Brakes, for instance are power assisted and at speed they would stop an express train. But at around 2mph they would have a job pulling up a kid’s scooter and it could catch you out.
The reason is that the brake assistance system works off transmission revolutions and not engine revolutions. This is just one of the reasons you see drivers of elderly Rolls Royce models leaving a very healthy gap in slow moving traffic.
Under the bonnet the silent 4.25 litre engine produces massive torque. It can actually propel the car away at 10mph in top gear on a flat surface without a judder.
The bodywork was built by HJ Mulliner of Chiswick, London, a company that had a true affinity with the chassis and its 125bhp power unit. It has a purity of line and is everything that is RollsRoyce.
It even has its own special version of the flying lady. The Wraith, which continued into the early 50s, always had the kneeling lady, a variation on the theme but a true mark of distinction.
What you don’t get with this car is the high-tech smugness and holier-than-thou efficiency of modern luxury cars. The Silver Wraith does not need these qualities - it upstages the lot because it is so, so beautiful.
So to finish, I refer back to the Autocar in 1946, the year I was born. It says: ‘An imaginative person might easily believe the Silver Wraith’ s feelings could be hurt by a carelessly casual or definitely dangerous driver. Offended dignity might cause it of its own volition to move off to more congenial company.’
Luckily, when the time came to say goodbye, I felt I had a bond with this aristocratic beauty, possibly because we were around the same age. At least it did not slip itself into gear and head off in high dudgeon. It was a fantastic drive in a true piece of automotive artwork .
BEST IN SHOW Final touches at Rippon’s 1948 show car
TIMELESS 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith with Hooper coachwork in front of Palace House,Beaulieu.