Ghost­ing along in the silent Wraith

Made from 1946 to 1958, the Sil­ver Wraith was Rolls-Royce’s first post-war car.

East Kilbride News - - DRIVETIME - Ian John­son

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.

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