SIL­VER GHOST

LO­CAL EN­THU­SI­AST’S VETERAN ROLLS-ROYCE IN ALL ITS BRIT GLORY

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS - WORDS DAVID BERTHON PHO­TOS AL­LIS­TER BROOKE

12 YEARS OF PAS­SION AND OB­SES­SION WINS MO­TOR­CLAS­SICA’S ‘BEST IN SHOW’

Ever since I learnt to drive on a 1910 Rolls-Royce Sil­ver Ghost I’ve been ob­sessed with this cel­e­brated col­lec­tor car. Okay, so that was nearly 57 years ago but my en­thu­si­asm for Henry Royce’s mas­ter­piece is still as strong to­day as it was back then.

Hav­ing just com­pleted a lengthy 12-year restora­tion on a 1913 Sil­ver Ghost and taken it for its first test runs I’m more than con­vinced its “Best Car” ti­tle back then was most de­served.

I’d owned two vin­tage Sil­ver Ghosts, a 1920 Cu­nard-bod­ied open-drive Limou­sine and a late-se­ries 1924 Hooper-bod­ied Lan­daulet, but had al­ways han­kered for one of the lighter pre-WW1 sports mod­els that re­ally es­tab­lished the model in com­pe­ti­tion and the mar­ket­place.

In my opin­ion few cars came close to the sporty Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh Sil­ver Ghost pre-war model. Rolls-Royce would of course have sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess with them in the Aus­trian Alpine Trial of 1913 and later that same year take 1st and 3rd place in the Span­ish Grand Prix, the only Grand Prix ever un­der­taken by the lux­ury car maker.

In 2001 I was told the last two un­re­stored Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh mod­els in Aus­tralia owned by a Mel­bourne doc­tor were avail­able for sale. Both 1913 mod­els, one chas­sis was a three-speed, the other a rare four-speed. Just 188 of the sportier Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh mod­els were built fea­tur­ing high-com­pres­sion en­gines, a larger car­bu­re­tor, two-inch taller ra­di­a­tors, lou­vred bon­nets, a larger ca­pac­ity fuel tank and gen­er­ally sportier tor­pedo style coach­work.

Most came with three-speed gear­boxes how­ever around 30 were fit­ted with four-speed gear­boxes mainly out of the need for the works team cars in the 1913 Alpine Trial to have bet­ter hill climb­ing ra­tios. These four-speed

L to E’s gained the added ti­tle of Colo­nial or Con­ti­nen­tal.

“AT ONE STAGE DUR­ING THE CAM­PAIGN ITS SER­VICE RECORDS IN­DI­CATE IT WAS IN BERLIN”

By sell­ing my 1920 Ghost and trad­ing the 1924 model I se­cured the four-speed, chas­sis 2583, which had been fit­ted in 1966 with a tor­pedo tourer body by Peels of Bris­bane from a large 1913 6-litre sport­ing Sun­beam.

In­ter­est­ingly, while the large Sun­beam had been de­liv­ered in Bris­bane in Au­gust 1913 the Ghost had been off-test at Rolls-Royce in Derby the same month, and then sent to Bri­tish coach­builder Con­naught for a tor­pedo tourer body. With war pend­ing its new Lon­don owner quickly made the car avail­able to the Bri­tish War of­fice for use by the armed forces.

One won­ders where it ac­tu­ally saw ser­vice but at one stage dur­ing the cam­paign its ser­vice records in­di­cate it was in Berlin. If you pro­vided such a ve­hi­cle for the war ef­fort you didn’t get it back af­ter the war; 2583 was auc­tioned by the War Min­istry at Earl’s Court on the 12 Novem­ber 1919, and pur­chased by a doc­tor from Ch­ester for 1880 pounds.

By 1928 it had been im­ported to Syd­ney, the new owner com­mis­sion­ing a lo­cal coach­builder, Prop­ert’s Body Works, to build a more mod­ern tourer body.

Records in­di­cate that dur­ing the 1930s and 40s it would gain a num­ber of bodies – from tourer, to sa­loon, then mod­i­fied for use as a tow truck, then as a shoot­ing brake, fi­nally be­com­ing a mourn­ing coach for a Fu­neral home, gain­ing a late-20s Cadil­lac body. Its most doc­u­mented jour­ney with this body was in 1951 when it par­tic­i­pated in a pa­rade in Syd­ney cel­e­brat­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the Fed­er­a­tion of Par­lia­ment.

Af­ter this some­what che­quered career by the early 1960s it had ended up in a rather di­lap­i­dated con­di­tion in a West­ern

“IT FI­NALLY BE­CAME A MOURN­ING COACH FOR A FU­NERAL HOME”

Syd­ney back­yard close to a rail­way cross­ing. It was soon spot­ted by an en­thu­si­ast who made an of­fer to buy it that was quickly re­jected.

Some months later the same en­thu­si­ast no­ticed a story in the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald about a man with the owner’s name be­ing hit and killed by a train whilst walk­ing across the rail­way cross­ing. Some time passed be­fore he was able to ne­go­ti­ate the purchase of the Ghost from the man’s widow.

Iron­i­cally, at this time I was garag­ing the same en­thu­si­ast’s 4½–litre Bent­ley and he took me to look at the bare Ghost chas­sis af­ter he had chopped off the old Cadil­lac body at the lo­cal tip. Lit­tle did I think that some 40 years later I would be­come the owner of this rare and very com­plete Sil­ver Ghost chas­sis?

By the mid-1960s the car had been pur­chased by Faris Pal­frey­man, a Can­berra-based col­lec­tor who had amassed around 18 Sil­ver Ghosts, some com­plete, oth­ers in chas­sis form, in a wide range of con­di­tion.

Pal­frey­man had also ac­quired a large and com­plete 6-litre sport­ing Sun­beam and in 1966 trans­ferred its body onto 2583. On his pass­ing the car was left to his grand­son who sub­se­quently sold it on to a Mel­bourne doc­tor dur­ing the 1990s.

I felt the only way to treat the Ghost was a com­plete body-off restora­tion – the chas­sis was in gen­er­ally com­plete con­di­tion but, like many Sil­ver Ghosts, had some smaller de­tail items ei­ther mod­i­fied or up­dated over the years. It also sported a later 20s bon­net and makeshift mud­guards

“AN AT­TEMPT BY A PRE­VI­OUS OWNER TO START IT BY TOW­ING RE­SULTED IN A SEIZED EN­GINE”

De­spite its rather che­quered his­tor y the chas­sis proved to be true and straight and un­dam­aged, how­ever an at­tempt by the pre­vi­ous owner to start it by tow­ing prior to my purchase had re­sulted in a seized en­gine and dam­aged con­rods.

Mel­bourne Ghost spe­cial­ist Robert McDer­mott sub­se­quently re­con­di­tioned the en­gine with high-com­pres­sion al­loy pis­tons, a new camshaft and a new valve train. All other me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents were fully re­stored.

Much work was car­ried out by spe­cial­ists in Mel­bourne to a very high stan­dard – Jeff Ed­wards at Ar­ti­san Coach­works re­stored the body with tim­ber re­place­ment where nec­es­sary in­clud­ing a new wind­screen, new door cap­pings and hard­ware and a new hood frame. He also fully re­stored the ra­di­a­tor and built a pe­riod-style lug­gage rack.

Jamie Downie at Kus­tom Garage worked his magic on the body pan­els, also pro­duc­ing a new petrol tank and bon­net, new un­der-trays and a set of pe­riod-style mud­guards.

Well-known Rolls-Royce and Bent­ley re­storer Si­mon El­liott at the Derby Works was the project man­ager en­sur­ing the restora­tion’s au­then­tic­ity and com­plet­ing much of the fine me­chan­i­cal and de­tail work.

Given the rar­ity of the chas­sis I was de­ter­mined to en­sure it was as au­then­tic as I could make it and was for­tu­nate in 2010 to f ly to India and view the 1913 Span­ish Grand Prix winner, a very com­plete and un­mo­lested L to E Con­ti­nen­tal chas­sis.

Just an­other six of this rare Sil­ver Ghost se­ries are known world­wide and I’m for­tu­nate to have had ac­cess to all of them over the years to verif y de­tail.

My only re­gret per­haps is the time taken to re­store 2583 but the ex­er­cise nev­er­the­less has been enor­mously re­ward­ing.

How­ever, once be­hind the wheel the time taken was soon for­got­ten – the L to E Con­ti­nen­tal is a sim­ply ex­hil­a­rat­ing veteran car to drive with the pe­riod sports per­for­mance I was hop­ing for.

With­out doubt few if any cars in 1913 came close to match­ing the all-round ex­cel­lence of Henry Royce’s Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh Con­ti­nen­tal Sil­ver Ghost.

RIGHT High ten­sion trem­bler coil feeds start­ing ig­ni­tion.

BE­LOW CAV bat­tery box badge – per­haps the small­est and most dif­fi­cult item to source.

RIGHT CAV ig­ni­tion switch box sourced on eBay and found in a New York apart­ment loft.

ABOVE LEFT Dy­ing art – deep but­toned leather over horse­hair base by Robert Casha. ABOVE RIGHT Dual ig­ni­tion, 7428cc in­li­ne­six pro­duces mas­sive torque. RIGHT Ig­ni­tion switch, mix­ture con­trol, gov­er­nor lever and ig­ni­tion tim­ing – all at driver’s...

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