Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost London-to-Edinburgh

Frederick Henry Royce, an engineer trained in the British electric power industry, began tinkering with motor cars in 1902 and soon decided he could build a better car himself. By 1 April, 1904, he had a running twin-cylinder car on the road and began production on a modest scale.

Charles Stewart Rolls, 14 years his junior, was born to Lord and Lady Llangattock and educated at Cambridge. He became fond of bicycle racing and took to motor racing in 1899 with a de Dion-Bouton tricycle. In 1902, with his father’s backing, he began importing French cars to London and selling them. In the course of his business, he tested a Royce car; his friend Henry Edmunds, a pioneer motorist and founder of the Royal Automobile Club, arranged for him to meet Henry Royce over lunch in May 1904.

The two men hit it off, and Rolls took on the selling of Royce’s entire output. The first Rolls-Royce car was shown at the Paris Salon in December 1904, and by 1905, both three- and four-cylinder cars were in production. In 1906, Rolls cancelled all his other franchise arrangements and devoted himself entirely to the sales of Rolls-Royce cars. It was at this time that the two men’s business operations were merged as Rolls-Royce, Ltd.

Henry Royce embarked on largely uncharted territory when he set out to design a six-cylinder engine in 1906. In Britain, only Napier espoused the concept, and the vitality of longer crankshafts was of concern. Royce went back to basics and placed two sets of three cylinders on a common crankcase, set back-to-back such that the third and fourth pistons rose and fell together. Pressure lubrication was a forward-looking feature.

Production began in 1907, the most famous of the genre being a silver Barker-bodied tourer built for Managing Director Claude Johnson. Christened “Silver Ghost,” its name was later appropriated for the entire 19-year model run of what was officially called the 40/50, from its taxable horsepower rating. The Autocar opined on its remarkably silent operation: “At whatever speed the car is being driven on its direct third there is no engine as far as sensation goes, nor are one’s auditory nerves troubled…by a fuller sound than emanates from an eight-day clock.”

Johnson’s Silver Ghost took part in the 2000-mile Scottish Reliability Trial, winning a gold medal. He then subjected it to a further extended test, covering 15,000 miles in repeated London-Glasgow journeys, after which it was disassembled and examined for wear. All parts were found to be within tolerances, with a nominal expenditure to return it to as-new condition, exceptional for that stage in the development of the motor car. The car still exists, now restored, and it is estimated to have covered over 500,000 miles.

The legendary London-Edinburgh model resulted from a 1911 challenge by archrival Napier. Napier’s distributor, Selwyn Francis Edge, entered a 65-hp car in an RAC-observed run from London to Edinburgh, driven entirely in high gear. Rising to the challenge, Rolls-Royce responded with a nearly standard Silver Ghost chassis clad in attractive, lightweight tourer bodywork. Higher compression and a larger carburettor were the only mechanical modifications.

The Rolls easily outshone the Napier on fuel consumption, and in a timed run at Brooklands, it bested its rival, 78.26 to 76.42 miles per hour, driven by Ernest Hives, who later became Rolls-Royce’s chief engineer. This same chassis, with a single-seat body and a high ratio axle, was clocked at 101.8 mph in the flying mile at Brooklands the following year. The fame of its achievements and the aesthetics of the close-coupled tourer body resulted in production of a small number of similar models in ensuing years. Not surprisingly, the London-to-Edinburgh style has become an enduring favourite with collectors.

35 RG

The 1922 40/50 HP London-to-Edinburgh Replica was built by I. Wilkinson & Son of Derby in 1975 for the Antique Automobiles Company. It was once incorrectly ascribed the chassis number 2513 and was the subject of a High Court action reported in The Times on 22 July, 1991, in which it was stated, “Jonathan Harley, the leading authority on vintage Rolls-Royces, who reported the 1922 origin and uncovered the original chassis number.” This was identified as 35 RG. A further report appeared on 6 November, 1991, as well as an article in the Evening Standard on 11 November, 1991.

Chassis 35 RG was on test on 2 September, 1922, and it was fitted with engine no. P.283 and ‘A’-rake steering for formal closed (limousine) coachwork by the coachbuilder Messrs. Hooper & Co. of Chelsea. The first owner was Sir Thomas Skinner, 1st Bt. (1840-1926) of 22 Pont Street in London, well-known in the city of London for his reference books on the stock exchange and banking world; he was also a Director of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Bank of Montreal, and the Commercial Cable Co.

The second owner was the 9th Viscount Cobham, John Cavendish Lyttelton, K.C.B. (1881-1949), Lord-Lieutenant of Worcestershire and owner of 6,000 acres of land. His family seat was Hagley Hall, Stourbridge, Worcestershire. In 1952, the third owner was R. Threlfall, Esq., also of Stourbridge.

The registration carried on the car is EL-1743, which was originally issued by the Bournemouth County Borough Council, and ‘EL’ was allocated between December 1903 and November 1924. Recent owners have been Gerhard von Raffay in Hamburg, 1975, John Lawson in Surrey, 1981, John Silberman in Tampa, Florida, 1983, who then sold it to Millard Newman, also of Tampa, who has probably owned more Silver Ghost Rolls-Royces than any other individual in history. The vendor states that the car handles effortlessly, completing many tours throughout the UK and the Continent, including the Alpine Tour of over 1,500 miles.

This chassis falls into the ‘P’ Series of the 40/50 HP production, and the ‘RG’ chassis numbers ran from 1 to 43, of which only six are known to survive. As 35 RG, this 1922 replica of a typical 1913 London-to-Edinburgh tourer makes an elegant car for long-distance touring, without the prohibitively expensive cost of original London-to-Edinburgh chassis.

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: 190¼"

Source: RM Auctions

Gallery: Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost London-to-Edinburgh