Me and my mo­tor

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE -

THIRTY years of love and de­vo­tion have gone into restor­ing this 1909 Sil­ver Ghost; the old­est Rolls-Royce in Aus­tralia and 17th old­est in the world.

‘‘We found it in 1958, 50 miles (80km) west of Charlevill­e rusted out in a pad­dock,’’ says owner David McPhee, 80, of Bris­bane.

‘‘My wife said to buy it for parts but when we dis­cov­ered how old it was it be­came a project on its own.

‘‘It cost £40 (about $64 in to­day’s cur­rency) and we thought that was too much.’’

Mr McPhee will not say how much it is worth now.

How­ever, Rollers of this vin­tage sell at auc­tion for be­tween $500,000 and $1 mil­lion.

‘‘I put 30 years of my life into it,’’ he says.

‘‘I haven’t put all that work into it just to sell it. No way.’’

The Derby-built 1100 se­ries Sil­ver Ghost, nick­named ‘‘Quick­sil­ver’’, is one of only 90 made.

It is pow­ered by a 7.5-litre, side-valve six-cylin­der un­der­square en­gine with 114mm by 120mm bore and stroke, one Rolls ex­pand­ing car­bu­ret­tor and an out­put of about 35kW. Bosch elec­tric start was fit­ted by the owner in 1920 be­cause the big en­gine was too hard to crank start.

Mr McPhee says the three­speed crash­box gear­box guar­an­tees a top speed of 105km/h. ‘‘For a 1909 mo­tor car that’s quite some­thing,’’ Mr McPhee says.

Rolls used the same slowrevvin­g en­gine from 1906 to 1926 with lit­tle mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

Mr McPhee, a for­mer civil en­gi­neer, has done most of the me­chan­i­cal restora­tion work, in­clud­ing build­ing an air fuel pump.

When he res­cued it from out­back obliv­ion, the car had a rusted four-door body, its third round of coach­work.

Mr McPhee’s re­search found a Grosvenor two-seater body on a Rolls with chas­sis num­ber 1126, four more than his Roller, so he de­cided to repli­cate that body style.

The coach­work was com­pleted by a Gold Coast com­pany in 1988.

Be­fore that Mr McPhee used to drive it up and down his semi-ru­ral street with just the chas­sis.

‘‘With­out a body it went like a bloody rocket,’’ he says.

The body is made of alu­minium, steel, kauri wood from beer bar­rels and it rides on metal leaf springs with drum brakes only on the rear wheels.

Al­though it has prim­i­tive me­chan­i­cals, there is re­mark­ably lit­tle changed from cur­rent cars with the same ar­range­ments of ped­als.

How­ever, cold-start­ing is a process of time and pa­tience.

Be­fore the driver gets in, they turn on the mas­ter switch on the bat­tery lo­cated on the right-hand run­ning board, then switch on the fuel cock be­hind the spare wheel.

The driver gets in through the left-hand door be­cause there is no right door as ac­cess is barred by the hand­brake and gear shift.

Once in­side, the driver se­lects a rich fuel mix­ture on a con­trol on the footwell, works a de­vice like a bi­cy­cle pump to prime the fuel pump, turns on the mag­neto, coil and bat­tery, re­tards the spark on a steer­ing­wheel-mounted con­trol, sets the gover­nor con­trol on the other side of the steer­ing wheel to a fast idle and then ei­ther gets a friend to man­u­ally crank the ve­hi­cle from the front or hits the starter but­ton.

‘‘It’s a re­li­able sys­tem,’’ says Mr McPhee.

True to his word, it springs into life im­me­di­ately, and purrs as qui­etly and smoothly as many of to­day’s en­gines.

Mr McPhee says he takes the car for reg­u­lar runs and drove it from the top to the bot­tom of Bri­tain in 2007.

He claims he gets about 17.6 litres per 100km, thanks to the 1740kg ‘‘light­weight’’ body and short chas­sis.

RE­STORED ROLLER: David McPhee at home with his 1909 Sil­ver Ghost.

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