Rolls-Royce Phantom I Experimental

In May 1925, Rolls-Royce announced the New Phantom as successor to the long-running but aging Silver Ghost. Although the chassis was an evolution of the Ghost, the engine was new, with overhead valves and larger displacement of 7,668 cc. However, the New Phantom, later to be designated “Phantom I” after a Phantom II was introduced in 1929, was heavier than the Silver Ghost and performance suffered, especially when graced with the ever-larger bodies preferred by certain clients. Rolls-Royce designer Ivan Evernden explained the rationale for an experimental car in an article in Early and Late, the bulletin of the Rolls-Royce Section of the Vintage Sports-Car Club, published in 1964.

There was disappointment that the enhanced power had not produced a proportional improvement in the car’s performance. A special open sports Phantom I, chassis No. 10EX, had been made by Barker & Co., coachbuilders, of London, the intention being to have a car to appeal to the small but influential fraternity of owners who would accept the discomforts of an open touring body in exchange for an increase in performance and particularly in maximum speed.

Even this special car, however, proved too heavy. W.A. Robotham, assistant to Experimental Department head Ernest Hives, ran some tests at Brooklands and found that by successively removing certain items he could improve the top speed. Taking off the front wings gave an additional 6.4 miles per hour, the greatest single gain, but many smaller items contributed. With the side-mount spare, windscreen and bonnet ventilation removed, in addition to the wings, a full 11.4 mph was gained.

In December 1926, 10EX went back to Barkers for some renovations. The spare wheel was moved to the rear and enclosed in a clamshell-like compartment. A new detachable hood and cover were constructed, along with a tonneau cover. New wings were fitted, as well as four separate step irons in place of the running boards. A new vee-type windscreen was installed, and the seats were lowered using pneumatic upholstery. The headlamps were replaced with Zeiss units. Upon completion of the modifications the car was sent to Derby, where the cylinder head was replaced with an aluminium one. Hartford shock absorbers were added to supplement the standard hydraulic type. Hives was quite pleased with the performance and road-holding. Henry Royce tried the car, too, but found more things to improve. “Nothing was ever good enough for Royce,” wrote Evernden. Additional changes were made to the steering and suspension, which were eventually adopted for all Phantoms.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in June of 2011 at the Syon House, London.

40/50 hp, 7,668 cc overhead valve six-cylinder engine, dual ignition with coil and magneto, four-speed manual gearbox, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and live rear axle with cantilever leaf springs, four-wheel servo-assisted mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 144".

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Pieter E. Kamp

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