High mileage cars have featured on CC before, and there have been some surprising numbers, not least from a Fiat Brava (131 Mirafiori) and a Volvo P1800. But this one has a different history.
The car itself is a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom (retrospectively known as a Phantom I) built in 1928, in Derby, England and completed with a limousine body by Windovers.
Windovers had a history going back to the 17th century and of being in coach building from around 1800. Windovers built their first body for a Rolls-Royce in 1910.
By the 1920s, Windovers were fully established and respected as a coachbuilder for the market Rolls-Royce were in, and had a strong presence across export markets too, especially India, where the Maharajahs bought many Rolls-Royces, and Windovers coachwork was a popular choice.
The Phantom, launched in 1925, had a 7668cc, straight six engine, and was officially rated at 43hp., and recorded by Rolls-Royce as being “sufficient” and was probably around 100 bhp This car was effectively the successor to the famous Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and typically came on a 143 or 150 inch wheelbase, had semi-elliptic springs all round and, by 1928, hydraulic shock absorbers all round, along with RR’s four wheel brakes assisted by their mechanical servo system.
A total of 2200 were built in the UK from 1925 to 1929, along with another 1200 in Springfield, MA. All cars were bodied by one of the many coach builders, of course.
This car was specified by Sir Ernest Salter Wills Bt, a scion of the Wills family behind the Imperial Tobacco company and later Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, at a cost of £2850, say £100,000 in today’s values. Then painted bright yellow, it was immediately pressed into intensive service, shuttling between the family’s homes in Perthshire, Scotland, Wiltshire in southern England and Menton on the French Riviera.
This is an early photograph of the car, possibly from Windovers’ own records.
Sir Ernest kept the car for twenty years before it was used in Yorkshire as a private hire vehicle and then by a doctor in southern England on his rounds, when it was painted bright red. Long before then, of course, using this as an every day car would have been very expensive, in fuel, and tax, alternative, assuming your fuel ration went far enough to fuel it. It may have been an old car but it was never a cheap car to run.
The current owner bought it in 1965, instead of the sensible car his family were expecting, having haggled the price down to £190.00 (say £2500.00) and he used it as daily driver for many years before allowing it to go into a gentle retirement and sympathetic restoration.
So, whilst not original or restored to its exact original specification, it is car with a long and documented history, which is supported by family members’ recollections of its time with Sir Ernest Wills, and which has now covered in excess of 350,000 miles.
What maybe even more noteworthy, and is supported by service records and Wills family accounts, is that 100,000 of these miles were completed by the end of 1929. Or perhaps almost 2000 miles a week.
Very nice. A car that was used as intended, as a comfortable but usable every day conveyance. At the time this car was built, it was thought that a car, much like a house, should be built to suit the needs of the owner for a lifetime. In this case, much like a house, this car has outlived the original owner, being passed along and used much like a house is used. We do not expect a 90 year old house to be original, but restored and maintained in a manner that renders it useful. Try that with any new car today. Can you see anyone still using a 2017 RR Ghost 90 years from now with 350,000 miles on the clock?
JFrank, actually yes I can see a modern RR lasting this long and racking up the miles.. the problem I see is finding an owner who would actually use these cars as intended.. too bad too.. I would love to daily drive a modern Rolls here in Michigan, winter and all. Alas, I am not Sir James..
I don’t know that the modern, BMW based ones will last as long as you believe. Part of the history of this car was sympathetic ownership and maintenance. Modern RR cars may have sympathetic ownership and most will be maintained, but probably not as long as you think. And, as you believe also, many RR cars never get used as intended, as they are more parade cars, only to be seen in, not daily drivers. Most high cost cars end up traded before maintenance cost get borne by the owner, so you see poorer people owning highly depreciated high dollar cars that they are not able to maintain properly.
They say if you have a choice between a 1970s RR with low or high miles, take the one driven, as it will have less problems. Add in the modern electronics that will probably fail within 20 years, and the chance to see a modern RR with 350,000 miles, even 90 years from now, is going to be rare.
I think you hit the nail on the head with the issue of electronics. It will always be possible – if expensive – to fabricate a replacement mechanical part, but I don’t see how that could be done with electronic components. I suppose manufacturers could lay in a stock of display screens and the like for restoration purposes, but I have the depressing feeling most won’t bother.
The Phantom is magnificent!
A story! An associate of another Curbivore tried, without success, to keep an early V12 7 Series on the road. Ah, you say, how difficult could that be?
Turns out the task is neigh on impossible. Well you reply, the owner clearly lacks skill, resources and commitment.
And you could be forgiven for arriving at that conclusion before being made aware of his other machines – a Mustang, a DC 3, a Sabre, a Ryan, and a Winjeel. All airworthy.
“Turns out the task is neigh on impossible.”
And that’s straight from the horses mouth.
I have to largely concur with JFrank here: there’s a chance that a modern BMW Rolls Royce could reach 350k miles, provided it’s used as intended, racks up those miles very quickly (as in, within 15 years or so), and is rigorously maintained. However, these cars have now become fashion items, depreciating rapidly and dropping into the abyss as soon as a new model becomes available. The people who buy them new have enough money to replace it after a few years, so they generally end up in the hands of people who can afford their (now much lower) price, but can’t afford the upkeep. The resulting neglect, combined with the insanely complicated electronic networks and finicky, complex mechanicals will render them worthless baubles in no time. Just look at the (relative) horde of cheap 70s and 80s Rollers and Bentleys out there. The surviving ones of the modern crop (if any will survive) will be treasured as classics: the pinnacle of internal combustion, the state of the automotive art just before electric cars took over.
2000 miles a week would be impressive for a British car built to today’s standards, let alone the 1920’s. What a great find!
How do you rack up 2000 miles a week in a country with no motorways and low (by today’s standards) speed limits?
Especially once you factor in the lack of motorways/freeways back then, you would have to slow down through every town.
Well if you want to go places…
Came across a black New Phantom sedanca de ville sailing up the M5 between Exeter and Bristol a few months back. Drivers of the surrounding modern traffic looked completely stunned firstly because the old Rolls absolutely towered over them but mainly because it was steaming imperiously past the slower stuff at a very genuine 70 mph. Magnificent! To keep things in perspective, the two thousand pounds that it cost would have bought you a substantial family home in a nice part of London, a butler and half a dozen 12 hp Austins.
This was almost undoubtedly the best car in the world at the time to subject to such a demanding regime, given the state of the art in metallurgy, casting and machining at the time. But then I’ve read stories of Fords being subjected to perhaps even more grueling conditions as delivery vehicles in the rugged and undeveloped areas of the Western US, as well as other difficult tasks.
This is a Rolls-Royce built when founder Sir Henry Royce was still alive.
I recall reading the chapter in Ralph Stein’s ‘The Great Cars’ that he was adamant regarding quality (and lack of unseemly mechanical noises).
I don’t have access to the book right now, and thus can’t quote Stein word for word, but according to him, if a mechanical assembly typically required 4 bolts to hold it together, Sir Henry insisted on a greater number than that. In certain cases, as many as 10 rather than 4 (or whatever number an ‘ordinary’ maker would use).
I have that book…here’s the paragraph:
“For fastening other parts, say, components of the rear axle housing, Royce used many tiny bolts, their heads almost touching each other. In Royce’s words, he “sewed” the parts together. There could be no leakage, no uneven strains. Where other car builders used ten bolts, Royce might use forty – which once made the mechanic engaged in dismantling a Rolls rear axle for me most unhappy and profane. I might add that this diddling with the differential proved quite unnecessary; the slight noise I thought it made was caused by the vibration of a hinged metal trapdoor, which the French body builder had arranged in order to provide access to the differential’s oil filler. I should have known that Rolls-Royce differential gears just didn’t make any noise.”
I am wondering how soon until replacement electronic parts can be printed in the manner if circuit boards
How satisfying to see a well-made old car that has spent its life with its sleeves rolled up and working hard. It is even more satisfying to see how well it has come through that life, now able to enjoy “retirement” with an impressive story to tell. A wonderful find and writeup!
Great story. That car has lived several lives, all of them interesting! My father-in-law’s family had a Rolls-Royce shooting brake as their daily driver when he was growing up (think it was a 20/25) and his overriding memory of it was the quietness of the car. I’ll try to get all of his motoring escapades and list them here one day, as for a grumpy old bugger he’s got a superb back story.
It never fails to impress me Roger! I thoughroughly enjoyed my ride in it and look forward to having another trip one day.