Rolls-Royce Phantom II Henley Roadster

The early history of Rolls-Royce in America is inextricably intertwined with that of the Brewster & Co. coachworks, which contributed some of the most elegant, sporting and attractively proportioned bodies fitted to any Rolls-Royce. At the turn of the 20th century, Brewster was the pre-eminent American coachbuilder. Willie Brewster began building automobile bodies in 1905 in New York City, and in 1911, he expanded to larger premises in Long Island City, New York. By 1914, he became a Rolls-Royce agent, importing chassis from England and building bodies for his well-established clientele.

Then in 1925, Rolls-Royce bought the company, making Brewster its primary supplier of coachwork in America. Eventually, well over 400 Springfield-built Rolls-Royces were Brewster-bodied. Phantom I production continued in Springfield after the Phantom II was introduced in England in 1929, but the Springfield Phantom I was phased out in 1931 in favor of the Derby-built, left-hand drive Phantom II. The Phantom II offered a more refined, updated chassis and an improved engine with a cross-flow cylinder head for better breathing, with the engine now mounted in unit with the transmission. Chassis improvements included hydraulic shocks and semi-elliptic springs front and rear. A considerable reduction in ride height resulted, lending itself to more modern and sleek body designs.

In 1930, the Rolls-Royce of America operation in Springfield knew it was in trouble. The magnitude of the Depression was obvious, and the Springfield manufacturing operation was closed, with Brewster now becoming an importer-distributor for Rolls-Royce in the US. The problem was that the new Phantom II, as introduced in Britain, was not suitable for the US market, because it did not have many of the advanced features of the final Springfield-built Phantom Is. For example, the Springfield Phantom I was left-hand drive, had thermostatic shutters, a complete “one-shot” chassis lubrication system, easier-maintained chrome-plated brightwork, smaller and more stylish 20-inch wheels, a carburetor air cleaner and a silenced intake system.

Springfield agreed to buy 200 left-drive Phantom IIs if the British factory would make all the improvements necessary for the US market. Derby agreed and went through a full experimental program to develop the improved Phantom II for the American market. Two experimental chassis were built at Derby – 24EX and 25EX. Both were tested in France, and then Ernest Hives, head of the Experimental Department, took 25EX to the US for evaluation there, arriving in October of 1930.

The result of the development program was a delightful car with an improved top speed, a lower chassis and quieter operation than the sophisticated Springfield-built Phantom I. In fact, the improvements inspired Derby to incorporate all of them (except left-hand drive) into all Phantom IIs, commencing with chassis JS1. The first deliveries of the left-drive Phantom II chassis began in the spring of 1931.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2010 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.

120 bhp 7,668 cc inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle with leaf-spring suspension, live rear axle with longitudinal leaf springs, and four-wheel servo-assisted drum brakes. Wheelbase: 150".

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

Gallery: Rolls-Royce Phantom II Henley Roadster