When highly gifted engineer Henry Royce built his first motor car in 1904, it was possessed of exceptional mechanical quality and silent running. This 10HP model, powered by a twin cylinder 1.8 litre engine, caught the attention of the Hon C.S. Rolls who had a successful London-based specialist car agency; the pair duly became partners and the rest, as they say, is history. The first fruit of the partnership was the 20HP, which won the 1906 Tourist Trophy race, and soon two, three, four and six cylinder models became available. The latter, however, the 30HP, suffered crankshaft problems and Royce thus decided to design an all new engine.
The following year it was introduced in the 40/50 at the Olympia Motor Show where it caused a sensation. Using twin iron blocks with an alloy crankcase, the 7046cc six cylinder, side valve engine featured a seven bearing crankshaft, integral cylinder heads, roller cam followers, full pressure lubrication, twin plugs per cylinder and dual magneto and coil ignition. Breathing through Royce’s own carburettor, it produced 50hp at a lowly 1500rpm allied to tremendous torque and unrivalled smoothness, ahead of anything else at the time; using a clutch and four speed gearbox in unit with the engine, it was also capable of 55mph. The 40/50’s ladder frame chassis was immensely strong too, with semi-elliptic spring suspension all round, while a footbrake operated on the transmission and a handbrake on the rear-only drums.
Orders flooded in, despite a price of £895, and by 1908 the Silver Ghost – so renamed after the striking silver plating and paintwork of the 13th 40/50 produced – was Rolls-Royce’s only model. For 1909 capacity increased to 7248cc and the gearbox changed to a three speed unit – it reverted to four speed with direct top in 1914 – and two years later a torque tube drive was fitted while power rose to 58hp. The latter was instigated for the Scottish Reliability Trial which saw a Silver Ghost run from the south coast to Scotland entirely in top gear; soon after, the Ghost was advertised as ‘The Best Car in the World’. Cars subsequently prepared for the 1913 Austrian Trial, incidentally, could top 80mph.
By the time private Ghost sales resumed in 1919, power had increased to 70hp at 2200rpm and a chain-driven starter motor and dynamo were standard. Four wheel brakes appeared in 1923 and Autovac fuel feed system in 1924. Production ended in 1925 after 6173 examples of what has become the epitome of the Rolls-Royce motor car had been built. Capable of extraordinary high mileages and reliability, even when abused, it was the Silver Ghost above all others that earned the titled ‘The Best Car in the World’.
Arguably one of the most desirable and iconic coachwork designs on the Silver Ghost chassis was the London to Edinburgh open tourer, with its sleek lines and very attractive appearance. Chassis No 48CE was completed in March of 1921 and shipped directly to the United States. Early records of the car are sparse, but it did appear in the 1968 RROC directory, listed as the property of Mr William D Small of St Louis, with the car listed as a Locke camp wagon at the time. In more recent times, the car was extensively restored by Silver Ghost expert Jonathan Harley, listed in his excellent book The Silver Ghost. The coachwork was replaced with a beautifully proportioned London to Edinburgh style body, finished in light grey and trimmed in black button leather and has the lovely Rudge-Whitworth wheels fitted at great expense.
The mechanical aspects were also completed to the highest standard, ensuring the car drives exactly as it should. It is a pleasure to drive and beautifully prepared. This superbly finished Silver Ghost really has to be seen to be appreciated.