1912 Rolls-Royce 40/50 H.P.
Year of manufacture1912
Number of seats2
1912 Rolls-Royce 40/50hp Silver Ghost Cabriolet
Coachwork by Barker/Fry
Chassis no. 2145
Engine no. 47D
'Every now and then a restoration comes along that stands out in terms of quality and detail, and the 1912 40/50hp Silver Ghost Cabriolet, chassis 2145, did exactly that at this year's 47th Annual Federal Rally in Canberra.' David Berthon writing in 'Praeclarum' the journal of the Rolls-Royce Club of Australia, August 2005.
Although the 40/50hp model would in any event have earned its 'The Best Car in the World' sobriquet (actually first used by the Pall Mall Gazette in November 1911), Rolls-Royce's decision to drop all other types only served to focus attention on what would become known as the 'Silver Ghost'. Prior to 1908, when it relocated to a new factory in Derby, the company founded by engineer Frederick Henry Royce and entrepreneur the Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls had manufactured a variety of models at its Manchester premises. Cars with two, three, four and six cylinders were made, and even an abortive V8, before Managing Director Claude Johnson's decision to concentrate on the range-topping 40/50hp. The latter had first appeared at the 1906 London Motor Show and became known as the 'Silver Ghost' the following year when chassis number '60551' was exhibited wearing silver-painted tourer coachwork by Barker & Co.
The heart of the Silver Ghost was its magnificent engine, a 7,036cc (later 7,428cc) sidevalve six equipped with seven-bearing crankshaft and pressure lubrication. A sturdy chassis comprised of channel-section side members and tubular cross members was suspended on semi-elliptic springs at the front and a 'platform' leaf spring arrangement at the rear, though the latter soon came in for revision. The transmission too was soon changed: a three-speed gearbox with direct-drive top gear replacing the original four-speed/overdrive top unit in 1909. In the course of its 20-year production life there would be countless other improvements to the car, one of the most important being the adoption of servo-assisted four-wheel brakes towards the end of 1923.
After a successful 2,000-mile trial under RAC supervision, the factory demonstrator - chassis '60551', 'The Silver Ghost' - was entered in the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trial, completing the 15,000-mile run with flying colours to set a new World Record. From then on the car's reputation was assured, not the least in North America where the wide-open spaces placed a premium on reliability and comfort. Royce's uncompromising engineering standards demanded only excellence of his staff in Manchester and later Derby, and no chassis was delivered until it had been rigorously tested.
Rigorous testing continued to be undertaken publicly too in the interests of promoting sales, the next such enterprise being Ernest W Hives' legendary journey in September 1911 from London to Edinburgh using top gear only. Rivals Napier had just completed a similar stunt and Rolls-Royce felt obliged to rise to the challenge. Hives' Silver Ghost averaged a remarkable 24.32 miles per gallon over the 400-mile journey and on its completion was taken to the Brooklands racetrack where it was timed at 78.26mph. That car, chassis '1701', incorporated under-slung cantilever rear springs and an engine upgraded with increased compression ratio and a larger carburettor, while the lightweight sports-tourer 'torpedo' coachwork was by Holmes & Co of Derby. Orders for replicas poured in and today genuine examples of the 'London-to-Edinburgh' model are among the most coveted of all Silver Ghost variants.
The Silver Ghost remained in production in England until 1925, 6,173 being completed at the Manchester and Derby factories, and until 1926 at Rolls-Royce's Springfield plant in the USA where a further 1,703 were made, the longest production run of any model from this celebrated company.
Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, chassis number '2145', was completed with a Barker cabriolet body and delivered new to one E F Miller in London, who subsequently moved to Melbourne, Australia, taking the car with him. In 1929 the Ghost passed into the ownership of George Russell of Toorak, Melbourne, a local businessman. The car was owned by an E J Simpson of Melbourne in the 1930s and was probably re-bodied pre-war before being recovered in 1959 as a wreck by Laurie Vinall of Adelaide. '2145' remained in the Vinall family's possession as an un-restored chassis until it was acquired by the current owner in 2000.
A four-year total restoration was then embarked upon, the faithful re-creation of the Barker cabriolet body being entrusted to master craftsman Roger Fry of Perth, Western Australia. To ensure authenticity, Roger visited the UK and Ireland to study two original Barker cabriolets, with particular attention being paid to the design of the folding hood mechanism. The front body tub is an original Barker component from chassis '1905E', donated by a fellow Ghost owner. Tasmanian Oak was used for the body framework, which is panelled in aluminium, while all the body mouldings are alloy castings. The body is finished in Brewster Green with black coachlines, while the interior is trimmed in black Connolly leather to the front compartment and mushroom West of England cloth to the rear.
A carriage maker established as far back as 1710, Barker & Co of London was one of the finest of all British coachbuilders and a firm associated with Rolls-Royce from the latter's earliest days. Indeed, in 1905 Charles Rolls is said to have announced that 'all Rolls-Royce cars will be fitted with Barker bodies' and the London firm was regarded as its 'official' coachbuilder until Rolls-Royce acquired Park Ward in 1933. The Barker cabriolet as recreated on '2145' is a particularly versatile design, enabling it to be fully raised to cover both driver and passengers, part retracted in sedanca de ville style, or fully lowered and with the windscreen folded down if so desired. With the central division and side windows raised, the rear passengers enjoy the ultimate in comfort and protection.
After completion, '2145' received the coveted concours award mentioned above, having gained this outright win against an impressive field of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars of all ages. In his 'Praeclarum' article, David Berthon commented: '...in the eyes of many the high standard set by this restoration will surely form a benchmark for many years to come.'
In 2103 the engine was completely rebuilt with new bearings, a new rear block and new oversize high-compression pistons, since when only some 3,000 miles have been covered. The electrics were rewired at the same time and there are new bearings throughout the transmission. Other noteworthy features include hardened valve seats, a starter motor, turn indicators, safety glass and quartz halogen headlamps. A complete original tool kit and full complement of weather equipment are included in the sale.
Presented in concours condition, this beautifully restored Silver Ghost possesses all the qualities of refinement, reliability and performance that established Rolls-Royce as the pre-eminent British motor manufacturer as long ago as the Edwardian era.
Should the vehicle remain in the EU, local import taxes of 5% will be applied to the purchase price.