Rolls-Royce’s 20hp was well ahead of its time in many regards. In the late 1990s when Bentley decided to look at a broader market for its products and introduced the Continental Coupe, it was hailed as genius and spurred marketing which brought them the Le Mans crown again after 70 years, this was a similar move. The 20hp was catering to the same market, the company wisely realizing that in the post- Great War era its market would head more towards the owner who was also the driver, or indeed to a slightly smaller budget than its clientele had traditionally had. With it the company templated a new in line six cylinder engine, which would later form the basis in an enlarged capacity for the first two of its Phantom series, it also moved the gear and handbrake levers to the center of the car, improving access for the driver and enabling practical four door coachwork to be fitted to the chassis. The latter proved confusing to the British and within 3 or so years the cars reverted to a right hand lever arrangement, but in the U.S. this would be adopted for Springfield built Phantoms, showing that Rolls was very much in touch with the times.
20hp cars were never built in America, but the new Springfield, Massachusetts factory clearly took orders for the model and this is one such car. GNK 66 was originally supplied through Rolls-Royce America to William G. Loew of Madison Avenue, New York. U.K. Rolls-Royce records note that originally the car was intended to be an enclosed 5 seater, and that just prior to shipping from Liverpool this was changed to a 2 door coupe, presumably referencing the body that the car wears today. The car was guaranteed in June 1925, when we may presume it was ready for the road.
According to factory build records on file, this shows that the original order for GNK66, a right hand drive, 4 speed gearbox example, was received on 3rd March 1925, for delivery to Rolls Royce America Inc, Springfield, Massachusetts for their customer William Goadby Loew. Initially, the build sheets stated that a five seat closed body was intended but in fact on 21st April they were amended to allow for the fitment of 2 seat coupe coachwork. The completed chassis finally left the works on 28th April for delivery to New York aboard the S/S Caronia ship.
Goadby Loew was a member of an old Manhattan family and had married well, his wife, Florence having inherited a $5 million fortune from her father. They had homes on Madison Avenue, an estate in Old Westbury, Long Island and a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.
Justus Locke established his coachbuilding firm in 1903 on the West side of New York City, moving to larger premises on the East side after WW 1. Mr. Locke passed away in 1925 but the firm continued to produce bodies until the late 1930’s. Lock & Co. produced bodies on most of the prestige chassis available in the USA at the time and this most unusual 2 door, 2 seat ‘faux cabriolet’ was surely a custom order for Mr. Goadby Loew. The presumably unique body features extremely high quality construction and delightful fixtures and fittings.
According to information contained in the history file from the American Rolls Royce Owners Club, by 1949 the car was owned by one N. Eastman Webber of Waterville, Maine who in turn sold it to Ralph Gould of Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1952.
Mr. Gould advertised the car in the Club’s magazine, the Flying Lady (copies on file ) and it was purchased by well-known pioneer/ old car collector Richard C. Paine who had a penchant for cars that had strong ties to the North East USA. He would retain GNK66 for over 50 years until his collection was dissolved and the car moved to Europe.
Today the car exhibits a wonderful patina of age and high degree of originality, retaining its nickel plated fittings including unusual barrel style lighting, typical of American built Rolls Royces but are very rare on a 20HP.
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