Me and my motor
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.