The Hordern Ghost
1913 Rolls-Royce 'Silver Ghost 40/50hp Roi-des-Belges Tourer
Coachwork by Wilkinson and Sons of Derby, U.K. c.1980
Chassis no. 2617
Engine no. 11A
For anyone not familiar with the model, the Silver Ghost towers above many of its contemporaries in that it was entirely over-engineered and built to last forever, but also it was well-marketed and so was very successful causing it to last in production for nearly 20 years.
Henry Royces fastidious attention to detail ensured that where a certain level of build quality was necessary for a car to work, he would make it far beyond this requirement, one only need gaze at the engine or rear axle, each held together with so great a number of bolts that it seems possible that they were intended never to come apart, indeed on a few surviving examples they never have! Where one ignition system was enough for some cars, naturally the Rolls had magneto and coil, throughout the car a belt and braces approach was taken.
Better still as with all the best machinery, the most important element the motor is a work of art in itself, the blend of aluminum crankcase, copper and brass piping, brass and aluminum castings and intricate control tubes being such a work of beauty, that even when some cars were scrapped this aspect was preserved and restored, some adorn collections today in this form. A well rebuilt motor will often start simply on the firing of the spark from the coil to one of the liter capacity cylinders, without the engine having ever been turned over, it is little wonder that they were so appreciated by their chauffeurs! Similarly they were coveted by their owners, who frequently named them as one might a yacht. The silence of the companys silver painted trails car earned the 40/50hp model its Ghost title.
Where other manufacturers with products of similar quality faltered, thanks to the marketing genius of Claude Johnson the model sold well, and the reputation that it earned meant that they have always been prized from day one. Because of this they were rarely scrapped, though often since the running gear continued to perform long after the coachwork was fashionable many have had a series of lives from luxurious transport to reliable workhorse.
2617 is one such example and dates from the immediate pre- Great War years, by which time Rolls-Royce had already been building its famed Best Car in the World for 6 years and would continue to do so until 1926.
As with most examples of the marque research for these cars is straightforward, the very obliging and efficient Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club in the U.K. being able to provide copies of the original order and build cards for these cars. The records demand close examination for they detail virtually every component of the running gear and chassis, the dates on which they were tested and retested and further when and if servicing was completed later in the cars life. The company also kept note of any changes of ownership that they were made aware of.
From the full set of records for 2617, it is confirmed that this Silver Ghost was dispatched from the works on October 25th, 1913, fitted with the engine it still retains, number 11A, and in nickel finish for radiator and brightwork fittings, again as today. It was sent to probably the finest quality coachbuilder of the day Barker and Co. who furnished the chassis with a Landaulette body capable of carrying as many as seven passengers, though normally four and light luggage.
The completed car was sold new through Glasgow Agent L.C. Seligmann and dispatched to Australia where it would become the latest of a few Silver Ghosts to be owned by the Hordern family of Sydney. Anthony Hordern and Sons were extremely successful retailers and the late 19th and early 20th Century were their heyday - at around this time the business owned what was the largest department store in the Southern Hemisphere in Sydney, occupying some 15 acres. Not surprisingly this wealth afforded them the finest money could buy, and testament to how popular the model was a number of Silver Ghosts were purchased by them.
For the subsequent history of this car and of many of its brethren that traveled to this country, we are fortunate to be able rely on the extensive research of Ian Irwin, who meticulously chronicled the detailed histories of these cars in his book Rolls-Royce in Australia.
Between the many Hordern family members, the children of whom were often named after their fathers and the number of Rolls-Royce that they owned, deciphering the specific histories of each car is no small task. Working with Mr. Irwin who has conducted research beyond that printed in his book, we have been able to confirm that this was supplied to Mrs. Anthony Hordern Senior a widow, whose husband had died in 1886. Mrs Hordern lived at Drummoyne House, Drummoyne close to Sydney. The car was registered for the road with the New South Wales number (NSW) 42. It is understood to have arrived in Sydney in the middle of 1914 and was most noted for its livery which was a deep regal purple.
We believe that on Mrs Horderns death in 1919, the car passed to her niece, Mrs. (later Lady) Samuel Hordern, who was by then resident at Babworth House, Darling Point Sydney. Returning to the factory records, these confirm that by August 1919, the car was serviced for Major Samuel Hordern, and around this time it received what is described as a light overhaul, the brakes and gearbox being attended to, and diagonal stays added to the front cross member again these are still worn be the car, confirming the originality of the mechanical aspects.
Rollss last note of ownership comes on January 17th, 1930, when the car passed to Wood Coffill and Co. Ltd of Sydney. At this point it is understood that the car suffered the same fate of many Silver Ghosts, in that it was rebodied or converted for use as a hearse. While this might seem a huge pity today, the reality was of course that Rolls or rather Royce, for it was he who was responsible for the engineering ingenuity of the model, had built a chassis that would far outlast that of its aesthetic fashion.
Mr. Irwin confirms that it was bought from Wood Coffill by Bernard Dowd of Mt. Martha, Victoria in 1941 and remained with him for more than 30 years, until it was purchased from his estate by Robert Griffith and David Jones.
At this time it was sent to unquestionably the most knowledgeable expert on the model of the day, Jonathan Harley of Stratford, U.K., who was entrusted with a comprehensive refurbishment of the chassis. In cataloging the car, Bonhams spoke with Mr. Harley who recalled 2617 well and commented on how well preserved and unmolested the chassis was. This is similarly borne out by photographs in the Irwin book showing the car in rolling chassis form in this period.
Mr. Harleys mechanical work was matched by that of modern day coachbuilding house, I. Wilkinson of Derby, whose fine work ensured that a number of Rolls-Royce, Bentley and other cars returned to the road with period style coachwork. In this case, they constructed a slightly anachronistic but ever popular Roi-des-Belges touring body for the car, complete with dog-leg windshield, full length top, running board tool boxes etc. When completed the Ghost was actively campaigned on the concours circuit and on tours, receiving a number of awards. A few years later the car was sold to renowned collector and friend of Richard Paine, John Mozart and later passed to his own collection.
Owing to its relatively recent rebuild and the quality of the work, the Rolls was more often used than many of the Paine cars, and would on occasions in the summer be used. On close inspection today, in addition to the known provenance of the car, it is reassuring to find that the car would appear to retain its full running gear, from matched engine, the additional struts to the front cross member which are mentioned in the factory records and even little details such as the chassis number stamping on the gear lever shaft, meaning the car has always been together.
The restoration has now aged a little, but this remains a very handsome example of the model enhanced by its subtle livery and comprehensive set of period lighting and accessories.
A file of photographs of the restoration, copies of the original build cards mentioned in the text and board with rally and concours plaques accompany the Rolls-Royce.
- We have discovered that the trays in the running boards contain a near full set of Rolls-Royce tools.