1906 Rolls-Royce Light 20,
Lot 541
Formerly the property of the late Stanley Sears and the late Thomas Love,1906 Rolls-Royce Light 20hp Chassis no. 40520 Engine no. 40519
Sold for £441,500 (US$ 557,328) inc. premium

Lot Details
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Formerly the property of the late Stanley Sears and the late Thomas Love
1906 Rolls-Royce Light 20hp
Registration no. AF 274
Chassis no. 40520
Engine no. 40519


  • The early history of Rolls-Royce is well recorded elsewhere, particularly in Bryan Goodman and John Fasal's standard work, The Edwardian Rolls-Royce, and in C.W. Morton's A History of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Volume One 1903-1907. To repeat it here would be to deprive the reader of the pleasure of those worthy tomes. Suffice it to say that although the 'Silver Ghost' was to steal the show from 1906 onwards, perhaps the most fascinating era of the company's history lay in its early years as the fertile engineer's brain of Royce and the rather flash salesman's/gentleman adventurer's attitude of Rolls were applied to their new joint venture. What other company in so short a time offered twin, three, four and six cylinder cars of such diversity and capped all that with the extraordinary V8 'Legalimit'. It is thought that just nineteen examples of the Light 20hp model were built, this model adopting a shorter wheelbase than the standard model and all importantly a four speed gearbox with direct drive on third and overdrive top gear. This proved invaluable in the Tourist Trophy Races where Rolls was to excel in 1906. Distinguished owners/drivers of the Light 20hp included Percy Northey, C.S.Rolls himself and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. The Light 20 was arguably the company's finest model before the emergence of the one-model policy with the 40/50hp 'Silver Ghost'.

    Light 20hp, Car no. 40520, has a continuous history and is certainly one of an elite and exceptionally small group of pre-'Silver Ghost' era Rolls-Royce motor cars surviving. Its history begins on 7th November 1905 when factory records show that a £50 deposit was paid. The Company's Order No. was 444 and it appears that the new car was destined for Midland Counties Motor Garage of Alfred Place, Granby Street, Leicester, believed to have been Rolls-Royce agents at the time. Rolls-Royce's favoured coachbuilders, Barker& Co. Ltd. of South Audley Street were commissioned to erect the coachwork, the style ordered being a Roi des Belge (sic). The order was dated 25th October 1905 and numbered 189. On 26th March 1906 the complete chassis was delivered to the coachbuilders and the chosen colour was specified as Rolls-Royce green – 'the same as the six-cylinder Trials Car'. The finished car was delivered to 14 & 15 Conduit Street, London, on 3rd May 1906, the total manufacturing cost amounting at that stage to £518-6s-11d, including coachwork, paint and trim which amounted to £103-10s-0d. The finished car was invoiced at £665 Nett. Its precise movements from Midland Counties are not recorded – perhaps it was retained by them as a demonstrator – (curiously the factory guarantee book lists the body as being a tourer by W.H. Johnson of Kings Lynn) - however on 24th June 1907 40520 was registered AF 274 with Cornwall County Council, its recorded owner being Charles Williams of Caerhays Castle, near St.Austell. It is thought that this car remained in the ownership of Charles Williams for some years – perhaps it was relegated to the back of the motor house when Williams' father acquired a 40/50hp Silver Ghost on 31st March 1909. Cornish registration records show that this car was transferred into the ownership of County Coach and Motor Works on 22nd October 1912. This company operated from Lemon Quay, Truro, and was headed we believe by one J.Sherman.

    In 1922 the car was run into a bank about two miles from Truro on a return journey from London – quite a trip in a 16 year old motor car. The nearside front spring was broken and the car was retrieved and taken back to Lemon Quay where it was placed on the top floor by the lift. The car was not used again and certain parts, including the body, were removed. When the garage lift was subsequently taken out the survival of this car was assured as it could not easily be removed. It was in August 1939 that Rolls-Royce aficionado and Veteran Car Club stalwart, the late Stanley Sears, found the car, its final rescue being deferred until March 1946 when hostilities had ceased. Its rescue involved the removal of an upper window frame and careful lowering onto a platform lorry below.

    Stanley Sears was to own this car and we think the only other surviving Light 20hp, Car no. 26350, at the same time. He chose to restore 26350, equipping it with replica coachwork in the style of the Tourist Trophy cars. This car survives in England in the hands of a Rolls-Royce enthusiast. It is recorded that some parts from 40520 were 'borrowed' to complete that restoration.
    In October 1983 the Sears Collection of Rolls-Royce motor cars was dispersed at auction and 40520, in substantially dismantled state, was acquired by the late Thomas Love – what better home could it have found as it now shared the motor house at Fernhill, Perth, with the ex-Oliver Langton 1904 10hp Rolls-Royce which Thomas had been fortunate to acquire some few years earlier (Sold by Bonhams at Olympia in December 2007). Thomas related that when he got the dismantled 40520 home he was surprised how remarkably complete it was – exceeding his expectations – and he was particularly fortunate to have the slightly earlier car in the motor house, which assisted greatly with the restoration. 26350, the other surviving Light 20hp, had returned to these shores from Oklahoma in 1987 and its owner, who himself was embarking on a re-restoration of that car, was able to assist greatly in providing information regarding missing parts. Major items re-made to original pattern included, front springs, radiator core, lubricator box, distributor, inlet manifold, water manifolds, water pump, coil box, silencer and pipe, crown and bevel gears, brake drums, tappets, nearside axle tube, track rod and drag link. Much work was carried out in Thomas's own workshop, but specialist skills were drawn upon from the likes of Cecil Bendall at Brentclass, Ashley-Carter & Co., Hofmann & Mountfort Ltd and Andrew Smith in Cheshire. Invoices are on file.

    Some twelve years after acquisition 40520 was almost ready for the road and it was registered with its original Cornish number in September 1995. In May 2003 it was officially dated by the Veteran Car Services Ltd. Dating Panel, enabling it to participate in events for members of the Veteran Car Club. As Past President (1991-1993) of that institution it gave Thomas enormous pleasure to participate in at least one such event in this highly significant motor car, which by his own great efforts he had restored to the road – surely what membership of that club is all about. On that event it wore what Thomas amusingly described as its "MFI coachwork" – strangely not dissimilar to Rolls-Royce's own 'on test' bodies. Sadly the Roi-de-Belges coachwork that Thomas had contemplated for this car never came to fruition and the next owner therefore has a blank canvas to work from in this respect.

    40520 is well documented in the aforementioned standard works by Bryan Goodman and John Fasal and C.W. Morton. It comes with a history file recording Thomas Love's ownership, copies of original factory records and sundry research correspondence recording its continuous history. Its significance lies in the fact that it is one of the earliest pre-'Silver Ghost' Rolls-Royce cars extant, possibly one of just three surviving from the year 1906, and here is a car of such finesse that its potential performance belies not only its engine size but also its years – certainly Charles Stewart Rolls found just that as he raced to victory in a similar model in the International Tourist Trophy Race of 1906 on the Isle of Man at an average speed of 39.43mph.

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