Curbside Classic: 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental DHC by Carlton Carriage – Seeing Ghosts

Boy, was this tough. Ten times I’ve tried to write an opening sentence for this post, but they all sounded inane or pompous. How could one write something silly when faced with a truly stunning 90-plus-year-old drop-top Rolls? Or why be grandiloquent when the car is doing that job just perfectly by itself? Let’s try something more basic, like the word “Wow.”

We might have to expand on that, but let’s dwell on it for a bit. There aren’t many pre-war cars about in this country. In itself, that’s worth a good “Wow.”

The second degree of “Wow” is called for because this is a coachbuilt car. And a Rolls-Royce Phantom II, no less. Third level of “Wow.” Yes, this is definitely worth at least a triple amount of awe. If only that pillar could have been persuaded to move to the side, our joy would have been complete, but let’s not be picky.

I found this pretty outlandish automobile where I usually find blue-blooded Brits (and there are a few I have yet to write up). A famous car collector/dealer resides in this immediate area, and given that it’s not too far from where I live, I like to go there very regularly, just to see if there might be a Bristol or a Bentley to snap up for CC. I don’t always find what I’m looking for, but this time… Wow…

But this is also the first time we’ve had the pleasure of having this particular Rolls-Royce on CC, so a little bit of history might be in order. The Phantom II model was launched in October 1929, mere days before the Wall Street Crash. Inauspicious as that sounds, Rolls-Royce still manages to shift a respectable 1693 chassis until production ended in 1935.

The Phantom II was the third and last of the 40/50hp Rolls-Royces. The first was the famous Silver Ghost (1906-1925) and the New Phantom (1925-30, retrospectively known as the Phantom I) was the second. Smaller and more affordable 20hp Rolls-Royce models were usually available during the reign of the 40/50hp, except during the 1910s.

The 40/50hp evolved quite a bit during those years of course, but the common trait among the three generations was a sturdy 144-150’’ (370-380cm) wheelbase chassis with leaf-sprung solid axles powered by a huge 6-cyl. engine. In actuality, the Phantom II’s chassis kept the previous models’ broad characteristics but was completely new and comparatively low-slung. Standard wheelbase models were the long 150’’ ones; the short chassis was dubbed “Continental” – a name that would have a long career at Crewe.

Our CC is one of those short-wheelbase Continentals – one of 281 produced, of which 125 were LHD. Compared to standard Phantom IIs, these have stiffer springs and, being shorter, a little less weight.

The Silver Ghost had a 7-litre side-valve motor initially, later upped to 7.4, but Phantoms I and II shared the same 7.7 litre engine block with OHV. The Phantom II’s six, however, had a new crossflow alloy head that gave it an appreciable (but never expressly quantified, as per usual) amount of power. The top two of the four gears have synchromesh (or that only came in 1932, sources don’t all agree). Apparently, a top speed of 95mph was possible, depending on the body and the nerve of the driver.

Speaking of the body, this car happens to be wearing a relatively rare two-door drop-head style (most Continentals, though “sporty” by comparison, got four-door bodies) made by the Carlton Carriage Co. in North London. The coachbuilder’s trademark “trouser crease” fenders, pillar-mounted spotlights and low, squat cockpit are all present and accounted for.

This coachbuilder was a relative newcomer, having started operations in 1924, but very soon became a very successful concern, particularly in the high-end market. Carlton bodied a lot of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, but also tried their hand at anything from Packard, Invicta, Lancia, Delahaye or Mercedes and even consented to dressing up the odd MG, Oldsmobile or Ford. One of their most famous clients was perhaps Sir Winston Churchill, who ordered a DHC for his Daimler DB 18 in 1939 – a car he extensively used during the 1945 general election campaign.

Carlton was especially noted for the quality of their drop-tops. And in 1930 – and with that gargantuan wheelbase – that meant a dickey seat in the rear, complete with a step strategically placed on the top of the left rear fender, as well as a nifty side compartment for your golf clubs. What more could one possibly need?

Carlton Carriage quit designing and building car bodies on the outbreak of the Second World War and focused on restoration work after the conflict, so their time in the limelight was a rather short one. But they did their job expertly, for sure.

This is the first Phantom II we’ve had on CC, but I can confidently promise it will not be the last. About 1100 Phantom IIs are still with us today, so it seems Rolls-Royce also did very well with this model. Incidentally, this was the last one that was developed under the aegis of company founder Henry Royce (1863-1933). In mixed metaphors, that’s what might be called giving up the ghost on a high note.