1923 Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost AX 201 Roi-de-Belges Recreation

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Introduced at the Olympia Motor Show in 1906, the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost went on to reign supreme during the following 19 years of production, firmly establishing itself as the unparalleled standard by which all other cars were judged. During this period, 6,173 cars were produced in Manchester and Derby until 1925, when the overhead-valve ‘New Phantom,’ also later known retrospectively as the Phantom I, finally replaced the Silver Ghost. In addition, Rolls-Royce of America, Inc. turned out another 1,703 Silver Ghosts in their American factory at Springfield, Massachusetts. The company’s reputation for excellence was indeed well deserved, and although the basic specification remained unaltered during production, they steadily developed the model over this period.

Serious competition, however, was experienced from such highly regarded marques as Napier, Lanchester, Hispano-Suiza and Daimler, which kept the Rolls-Royce model development programme from standing still. The “pursuit of excellence” it certainly was, and the company to this day enjoys the same reputation. Rolls-Royce’s after-sales service and their visiting inspecting engineers, with repair depots in many corners of the globe, ensured that their discerning customers were certain of proper attention and that their cars would be maintained to the standards set by the British parent company.

While a select few motor cars directly competed with the legend that is Rolls-Royce, none could better the extraordinary care and impeccable workmanship that went into producing these beautiful machines. The vehicles were produced with consummate devotion to the highest engineering ideals. They found their way to the Colonies in small but highly regarded numbers, and the Silver Ghost emerged from the Great War with its reputation enhanced by the sterling performance of its staff cars, armoured cars and aero engines during the conflict.

The unique partnership of Royce the engineer and Rolls the aristocratic salesman, together with the astute businessman Claude Johnson, set the stage for an indomitable team that became the best of British motoring achievement and created the magic of a name that became the pseudonym throughout the world for everything that stood for the very best!

The Silver Ghost engine is a clear case in point: six cylinders in two groups of three, with side-valves operated by single camshaft through rocking levers carrying friction rollers lying between the valve spindles and the camshaft. The driveline featured a four-speed manual gearbox mated to a cone-type clutch, with the propeller shaft enclosed in a torque tube. A spiral-bevel rear axle assembly, semi-elliptic front leaf springs, cantilever rear springs and 3 x 5-inch tyres on Dunlop split-rim wire wheels rounded out the sophisticated Silver Ghost mechanicals. The earlier cars were not fitted with front-wheel brakes, which commenced in 1924; consequently, this example, Chassis 30 PK, falls just within that early category.

30 PK – An extraordinary AX 201 recreation

This interesting car was originally fitted with Pullman limousine coachwork by Arthur Mulliner of Northamptonshire for G.H. Smith, Esq. of Kent and was delivered on 17 November, 1923. It falls into the ‘R’ Series of 40/50 hp model production, and the ‘PK’ chassis numbers ran from 1 to 63, of which only 10 are known to survive today. In the total Ghost production run, this car is amongst the final 500 examples manufactured. By the early 1960s, it had a more murky history, at one time even having been delegated to duties as a garage breakdown vehicle. The car found its way into the collection of Baron Johan Otto Raben-Levetzau, and it was displayed in his car museum at Alholm in Denmark.

The present body, a Barker Cabriolet de Ville (body no. 3636) dates from circa-1913/1914 and was transferred from the Baron's 1911 Silver Ghost (1677) onto 30 PK. In the period of 1923, this Cabriolet de Ville coachwork by Barker & Co., the most eminent coachbuilder, was the most costly at £2 850. It was finished in maroon and black, and this formal style of coachwork is a truly rare survivor from this early era of motoring. It was quite versatile, of course, permitting the car to be used in closed, semi-closed or fully open guise.

Rolls-Royce enthusiasts also know this car, 30 PK, as “The Sorcerer” as evidenced by its cast scuttle-mounted plaque in sterling silver, in keeping with the time-honoured tradition of early Rolls-Royce owners, who often personally named their cherished motor cars. As offered today, it features a truly stunning silver paint finish with impeccable attention to detail. All of the brightwork is silver-plated – from hinges to headlamps and radiator.

As presented, 30 PK is a stunning recreation of the very first Rolls-Royce to have been called a “Silver Ghost,” which was chassis 60551, so-named by Rolls-Royce’s own Claude Johnson. That car was the 13th 40/50 hp chassis produced at the Rolls-Royce Manchester Works, and it was sent by Mr. Johnson to Barkers to be mounted with 4/5-passenger Roi-de-Belges bodywork. This body was much the same as the circa-1913 Barker touring bodywork that was fitted to 30 PK during the tenure of past owner Baron Johan Otto Raben-Levetzau, save for the unique bulging sides that characterise a true Roi-de-Belges.

The original Silver Ghost gained fame for its uncanny reliability and durability in 1907 during a 2,000-mile journey under R.A.C. scrutiny. It won the Gold Medal in the Scottish Reliability Trials in the process, and then it travelled another 15,000 miles, 14,371 of them non-stop, more than doubling the existing record. A post-event teardown of the Silver Ghost’s engine, at Claude Johnson’s insistence, revealed such minor wear that it was famously reported that just two pounds, two shillings, and seven pence were required to return it to as-new condition! The Silver Ghost then went on to accumulate over 500,000 miles, capably demonstrating the enduring quality and reliability that is synonymous with Rolls-Royce. Now owned by Rolls-Royce, the original Silver Ghost continues to run and drive, in testament to its inspired creators. It is widely believed to be one of the most valuable motor cars in the world.

Today, 30 PK is simply stunning in every respect and features virtually perfect paintwork and impeccable attention to detail, as well as a multitude of desirable period accessories. In fact, the vendor has informed us that Jonathon Harley, who was retained by Rolls-Royce to conduct work on AX 201, worked extensively on this car as well and even fitted AX 201's original, refurbished wheels to 30 PK after Rolls-Royce commissioned him to build replacement wheels for AX 201. The entire build of this car took eight years with no expense spared. Given its sheer desirability and value, 30 PK has been driven only sparingly in recent years, but it does certainly run and drive today exactly as it should. Interestingly, the license plate AX 198 comes along with this Silver Ghost.

Offered complete with tools, 30 PK is at once commanding in presence and beautiful in presentation. It represents a very desirable entry into the best of vintage motoring events and shows, and for the Rolls-Royce enthusiast, the chance to own a fascinating recreation of AX201, the famous Silver Ghost.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in October of 2010 at the Battersea Evolution, London.

40/50 hp (taxable), 7,428 cc side-valve inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual gearbox, live front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and friction dampers, cantilever rear suspension, and four-wheel drum brakes with gearbox-driven servo. Wheelbase: 150½"

Source: RM Auctions

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