Rolls-Royce Phantom I Ascot Sport Phaeton
Rolls-Royce began to build automobiles in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1921. The location was chosen for its proximity to major northeastern markets and important suppliers as well as the supply of skilled craftsmen trained in the armories of the Connecticut River valley and the New England machine tool industry. The first 40/50hp Silver Ghosts were shipped knocked down from England and assembled in Springfield, under the direction of a cadre of some fifty experienced Rolls-Royce hands who emigrated from Derby.
Specifications slowly began to evolve, first substituting locally-sourced components for those from English suppliers and later effecting specific modifications to specifications to better adapt American-build Rolls-Royce automobiles to the North American market.
More significantly, the bespoke, custom-ordered coachwork that graced Derby-built chassis did not fit American buying patterns and from the beginning Rolls-Royce offered standard coachwork, usually painted and trimmed to order. Bodies were ordered from a number of independent coachbuilders in quantities of up to twenty at a time. They were badged “Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work” and were built by Brewster, but also by Smith Springfield, New Haven, Merrimack, Willoughby and Biddle and Smart. By 1923 business was good enough for Rolls-Royce to establish its own coachworks in Springfield. In quality of construction, finish and fittings the Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work bodies and later Rolls-Royce cataloged coachwork from Brewster (after its acquisition in 1926) are as good as anything built anywhere in the world. In design they are considered to be among the most attractive, balanced, pleasing and functional bodies ever built for any luxury marque.
The 40/50hp Silver Ghost was superseded in 1926 by the Phantom I, suitably modified for lefthand drive and manufacture in the United States. Introduction of the Phantom I coincided with integration of Brewster’s coachworks with Rolls-Royce’s American operations and the addition of several new offerings including the very attractive open Ascot, Derby and Speedster. Called touring car styles by other manufacturers, Rolls-Royce described them in its advertising materials as Sport Phaetons, a description that aptly characterizes their elegance, style and flair.
By 1929 further changes had been made to the Springfield Phantom, including an aluminum cylinder head, chrome-plated exterior brightwork, flat bar bumpers, servo-assisted four-wheel brakes, thermostatically-controlled radiator shutters and conical headlamp housings. Highly evolved to adapt to the road conditions and driving preferences of North American customers, with ample parts and service support from both Rolls-Royce representatives and a network of U.S.-based suppliers, it is no surprise that in this booming year Rolls-Royce sold some 350 automobiles.
One of them was this beautiful Ascot Sport Phaeton, delivered to Alphonzo E. Bell, California entrepreneur and developer of the exclusive Los Angeles enclave of Bel Air. A double Olympic tennis medalist in 1904 (bronze in singles and silver in doubles), Bell had begun to develop Bel Air in 1922 and its success is mirrored in the style, beauty and exclusivity of Bell’s Rolls-Royce Phantom I Ascot, the ideal complement to the balmy weather and active lifestyle that symbolizes Los Angeles and Bel Air.
The Ascot’s elegant lines are essentially the same as the highly regarded Derby phaeton and its near-identical twin, the upswept rear fender Speedster, and very similar to the extremely rare York Roadster. Refined by a nearly horizontal continuous concave accent at the beltline, raked single piece windscreen and gracefully flowing fenders, the Ascot’s sporting flair and superb proportions make it one of the most attractive of all open Springfield Rolls-Royces. Its appearance thoughtfully complements the nearly silent performance of the Phantom I chassis and driveline, a desirable combination of attributes which many collectors have seen fit to emulate with replica coachwork but on S364LR is supplied from new by Rolls-Royce.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2009 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona and in August of 2011 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.
113hp, 7,668 cc inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, live axle suspension with front semi-elliptical leaf springs and rear cantilevered leaf springs, four-wheel servo-assisted drum brakes. Wheelbase: 146 1/2"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel