1927 Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.
Year of manufacture1927
1927 Rolls-Royce 20hp Panel Brougham de Ville
Coachwork by Brewster
Registration no. DS 8665
Chassis no. GAJ15
Changing times after WWI forced the abandonment of Rolls-Royce's 'one model' policy, an all-new 20hp car joining the existing 40/50hp Silver Ghost in 1922. The 'Twenty' reflected Royce's interest in contemporary trends within the American automobile industry, incorporating unitary construction of engine and gearbox, the latter featuring the modern innovation of a central ball change, and a 'Hotchkiss drive' rear axle. The engine, Rolls-Royce's first with overhead valves, was a six-cylinder unit displacing 3,127cc. Favourably received as the Twenty was, its three-speed transmission's central gearchange was not well liked, and when four-wheel, servo-assisted brakes were introduced in 1925, a four-speed gearbox with right-hand, gated change replaced the original three-speeder.
This right-hand drive example of Rolls-Royce's successful smaller companion to the Silver Ghost was sold new in rolling chassis form on 31st January 1927 to Mrs A L Sylvester, a resident of the Plaza Hotel, New York, USA. The car was shipped to the USA aboard the SS Laconia. 'GAJ 15' wears unusual 'Panel Brougham de Ville' coachwork by the highly respected American firm of Brewster, a company acquired by Rolls-Royce of America Inc in December 1925. It is one of only two such built on the 20hp chassis and retains its original body. Credited to Henry Peter 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868), this style of body is noted for its formal upright and square appearance, with curving forward swage line in front of the rear compartment doors. This style was common on many horse-drawn carriages of the time, and when the motorcar was introduced many carriage designs were simply adapted by coachbuilders to accommodate an engine in the front as opposed to horses! This formal style is often referred to as a 'Town Car' and would have been used for taking the owner(s) to the theatre or opera or other formal occasions in the larger towns and cities. It dates from an era when horse-drawn carriages probably still outnumbered motorcars.
All the brightwork is nickel silver, and the style of the vertically striped paintwork is known as 'Dutch Pink', although not actually pink! Reportedly by Fabergé, the door furniture in the cabin is silver and enamel. The grey cord upholstery is old but probably not original, and the pull-down blinds are silk, albeit rather fragile today. There is a speaking tube for the passengers to communicate with the chauffeur. The solid 'artillery' type wheels are very robust and heavy, and would not be out of place on the battlefield! The other car bodied in this style is still in the USA and both examples were owned by the same family in the 1960s.
The Rolls-Royce changed hands five times while in the USA and was resident in the Powers Automobile Museum in Connecticut in the 1940s and '50s. It was brought back to the UK in 1991 and later had its engine stripped and rebuilt. The car was stored between 2000 and 2005 when it was sold at Bonhams' Harrogate sale in November of that year (Lot 442); it has belonged to the current vendor since March 2015. A list of all owners in the USA and up to and including the immediately preceding owner in the UK is on file. Other documentation contained within the comprehensive history file includes copies of the original order form and chassis cards; photocopied literature; a quantity of expired MoTs and tax discs; copies of previous registration documents; a current V5C Registration Certificate; and a most substantial quantity of bills for works carried out and parts purchased while with previous owners (perusal recommended).
This car is featured in a number of publications on Rolls-Royce cars including Rolls-Royce in America by John Webb de Campi; The Rolls-Royce Twenty by John Fasal; and Coachwork on Rolls-Royce by Lawrence Dalton. A die-cast scale model of it has been made by Top Marques of Honiton, Devon and one is included in the sale.
The vendor advises us that the car in good running order but has not been on the road for some months because he has had to undergo hand operations; the engine has been run regularly but a general service is required. This exceptional car comes complete with tools, jack, hubcap tool, town cap, rim lever, special grease gun, etc, all housed under the front seats, and has a period-correct Flying Lady mascot on a correct cap. It also comes with an original instruction book; a full set of keys for ignition, bonnet locks, rear compartment, and padlocks on spare wheels and the fuel can. Side screens for the front compartment are kept in a black bag in the rear compartment.
The only known faults are a sticky starter, which occasionally does not engage and needs a push to move it, and the electrical charge, which sometimes takes a while to get going, although it works well then. One of the spare tyres is deflated, and the petrol tank gauge does not work (there is a marked dipstick in the rear of the car). It should also be noted that there is an electrical cut-off switch just to the side of the driver's seat.
The only reason for sale is that the elderly owner, at nearly 80, has arthritis in both hands and the aforementioned operations have not been as successful as hoped.