Body No. B-7180
Acutely aware of the booming market in North America and the United States in particular in 1919 Rolls-Royce identified Springfield, Massachusetts as the site for its first assembly plant outside the UK.
The choice of Springfield made eminent good sense at the time, when New England, and the Connecticut River valley in particular, was the center of high quality manufacturing in North America. Not only were there many nearby vendors of high quality components and services but the area around Springfield had a reservoir of skilled, meticulous craftsmen trained in the armories and machine tool factories that lined the river from Vermont to Long Island Sound.
The first Springfield chassis Rolls-Royce 40/50hp Silver Ghost was delivered in 1921. Gradually specific adaptations to American conditions, preferences and suppliers worked their way into the Springfield Rolls-Royces including the somewhat revolutionary decision to offer lefthand drive in 1925. A 3-speed gearbox became standard around the same time, as did dual battery ignition.
As significant as these changes were, however, none of them were as basic as the realization that Americans bought even their luxury automobiles differently from their British and Continental counterparts. Americans expected to visit a showroom, pick out a car there complete with coachwork and take it home.
Rolls-Royce responded by establishing a shadow firm which bought coachwork from established coachbuilders in bulk under the name "Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work" and supplied the catalog bodies which made up the bulk of Rolls-Royce sales in America. The recognition today, over three-quarters of a century later, of catalog names such as Pall Mall, Piccadilly, Newmarket and Ascot are ample evidence of the success of Rolls-Royce's strategy. It also endorses the refined design and quality of construction and finishing which distinguished these and other cataloged Rolls-Royce coachwork in North America.
The success of Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work was such that in 1923 Rolls-Royce established its own coachworks in Springfield. In 1926 it took control of Brewster in Long Island City, New York and began to use the Brewster name instead of Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work
In 1927 Springfield changed over to the New Phantom, which interrupted production but improved the quality and performance of the product. At the same time Rolls-Royce introduced a series of new and up-to-date designs by Brewster which have become some of the most attractive and eagerly sought examples of classic Rolls-Royce coachwork. Designed with input from sales manager J.S. Inskip, the elegant, flowing, classic lines of the Ascot sport phaeton, the jaunty York roadster and Regent convertible coupe with their side entrance rumble seat doors and the luxurious closed Avon sedan established a precedent for quality, comfort and luxury which persists to this day in Rolls-Royce's reputation.
At some later date Rolls-Royces went through a period when they acquired a fuddy-duddy image, but this was anything but the marque's style in the late Twenties. A November 1929 ad in Vogue
magazine made it clear that performance was an essential characteristic.
"Somewhere between you and the graceful little figure-head that rides that radiator, you know a powerful motor is purring. You know it by the ease with which you glide up hills, and by the swallow-flight of the scenery."
Fashionable, reliable and powerful, a Rolls-Royce had instant cachet wherever it appeared, strengthening the image of its owners and freeing them from worry about mundane matters of performance, comfort and reliability so they could concentrate on their business and social activities. Lightweight, sporting, open coachwork like the Ascot sport phaeton made the most of the Phantom I's 7,668cc engine which some outside reports describe as having 113 brake horsepower.
Not surprisingly Jay Gatsby, the protagonist in F. Scott Fitzgerald's great novel The Great Gatsby
, chose a Rolls-Royce. It became a key player in the story.
When Paramount assembled a world class cast in the early 70's to create the third film version of The Great Gatsby
it needed a Rolls-Royce to appear beside Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston and Bruce Dern in the storied playground of Newport, Rhode Island which stood in for the fictional North Shore Long Island communities of East and West Egg.
Among the cars attracted to screen test for the part in Rhode Island was this Rolls-Royce, then owned by Seekonk, Massachusetts collector Ted Leonard.
Leonard had the perfect Rolls-Royce, a 1928 Phantom I Ascot sport phaeton. Although it was a few years later than the early Twenties period of Jay Gatsby's sojourn among the wealthy of suburban Long Island, it fit Scott Fitzgerald's prescription: elegant, large, distinctive, fast and powerful. It would have to function "like an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight...." It perfectly fit the image of "Gatsby's gorgeous car."
"He saw me looking with admiration at his car.
"'It's pretty, isn't it, old sport!' He jumped off to give me a better view. 'Haven't you ever seen it before?'
"I'd seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory, we started to town."
Nick Carraway, Scott Fitzgerald's narrator, described the salubrious and uplifting effect of Gatsby's Rolls-Royce's as they crossed the Queensboro Bridge, "A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds, and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us ... and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday."
Selected after a beauty contest cum
car show, S304KP was repainted to match Fitzgerald's description of rich cream and its natural hide upholstery dyed to be the requisite "green leather conservatory". A brightly finished labyrinth of windshields it already had, including wind wings front and rear, along with Rolls-Royce's classic radiator and the drum lights favored on Springfield-built cars.
In playing its role the Phantom had to become the instrument of Myrtle Wilson's death and Paramount, sympathetic to the age and authenticity of the Phantom's fenders, commissioned a duplicate set in fiberglass, along with a suitably wrinkled right front wing post-accident. Although most of the filming was in Rhode Island and Manhattan, some scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios' Heatherden Hall in England and the Phantom was flown across the Atlantic to appear briefly there. It is currently fitted with the movie's fiberglass fenders but comes with the original steel fenders and even the crumpled post-accident fiberglass fender.
Rolls-Royce records it as originally built with a Town Brougham body and sold to M.L. Logan in January 1929, then to George Hill in November 1929. Later, the factory record notes it having its present Ascot body No. 7180 ex-S240 RM. Confusingly, the factory records S240 RM's first body as a Pickwick Sedan No. RR-1742, only later in 1932 when sold by R-R Motors to H.M. Gallop in New York City acquiring this Ascot body. Copies of the relevant chassis histories from Rolls-Royce accompany the car. Ted Leonard acquired it in the early 70's, just in time for it to co-star with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby
Importantly, it is a factory dual cowl Ascot sport phaeton, possibly unique among Brewster Ascot coachwork. It also has a cast iron cylinder head rather than the corrosion-prone aluminum head. It is largely original, with minimal restoration. The chassis appears never to have been apart and much of the upholstery appears to be original although dyed to conform with its role in The Great Gatsby
Since its co-starring role in Gatsby it was maintained in Ted Leonard's collection until his passing and featured prominently and proudly in a number of shows and concours. Finished in Creamy Yellow with Deep Green leather upholstery and a Beige cloth top, the body beltline accent is a stronger Saffron Yellow tone. The six centerlock wire wheels are finished in body color and mount wide whitewall tires. Dual sidemounted spare tires and the luggage trunk tucked tightly behind the tonneau and between the gently flared rear fenders are covered in Beige fabric to match the top. Large drum-style head lights are secured firmly in forks mounted on the front frame rails and matched by a set of drum-style cowl lights. In addition to the Stewart Warner dashboard instruments there is a Chelsea clock and a pair of vacuum-operated windshield wipers.
The Phantom, with its stylish Brewster Ascot dual cowl sport phaeton coachwork, has movie star panache and presence, accented by the rear cowl assembly and its associated folding windshield which make this Ascot more sporting and comfortable than the similar Derby Tourer. The continuous lines of the Ascot, flowing straight back from the radiator's shoulders to and around the rear of the tonneau, emphasize the length and elegance of the Phantom chassis and leave no doubt why the Brewster Ascot is regarded as one of the most attractive and desirable body styles ever to grace any classic chassis, let alone the Springfield Rolls-Royce Phantom. The current vendor acquired the car in 2009 and it has been kept in careful, museum storage since then.
Few automobiles have ever had a legitimate co-starring role in a Hollywood film, let alone in an all-star production like Paramount's The Great Gatsby
. It embodies the style, grace and presence that characterizes F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book, a perennial on every list of candidates for "the great American novel." This 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Brewster Ascot Sport Phaeton is one of the great American classics, built in Springfield, Massachusetts, bodied in Long Island City, New York, and a co-star in the cinema re-creation of the great American novel.