1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Transformal Phaeton
Coachwork by Hibbard & Darrin
Chassis no. S317KP
Engine no. 20178
Body no. 767
*7,668cc inline six-cylinder engine
*A gift to 20th Century film icon Marlene Dietrich
*One of two Transformal Phaetons
*Subject of a $500,000 restoration
*Prominently featured in Tom Cotter's book The Cobra in the Barn
Newly restored and never shown, this magnificent 1930 Rolls-Royce Torpedo Transformal Phaeton by Hibbard & Darrin is documented to have been delivered new to Marlene Dietrich, one of the greatest film icons of Hollywood's golden age.
Born near Berlin in 1901, Dietrich became an international film star with her role in 1929's The Blue Angel, directed by Josef Von Sternberg. Shot with both German and English soundtracks, the film was the first major sound motion picture made in Berlin, a global center of Avant garde film production at the time. Dietrich sang what would become her signature song, "Falling in Love Again," in the movie.
On April 14, 1930, Marlene Dietrich arrived in Hollywood, to continue making films with von Sternberg, who had left Germany a few months earlier to work for Paramount Studios. In a letter written that evening, Dietrich mentioned that von Sternberg had greeted her at the train with two welcoming gifts from Paramount...a bouquet of flowers and a green Rolls-Royce.
That green Rolls-Royce is the very car offered here.
Dietrich and von Sternberg immediately set to work on the Paramount production, Morocco, with Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou co-starring. Remarkably, Dietrich's Rolls-Royce appears prominently in the movie's final scene. The big car was moved around on location in the California desert on an enormous sled, drug by a huge Caterpillar tractor.
Rolls-Royce factory records show that ownership of Springfield Phantom I chassis S317KP, with coachwork by Hibbard & Darrin, was formally transferred from Josef von Sternberg/Paramount Studios to Marlene Dietrich on November 26, 1930. A few days later, Morocco opened in movie theaters. Dietrich would receive an Oscar nomination for her performance in the film.
Dietrich was photographed several times with her sleek uber-luxury car for publicity purposes. Some of the resulting pictures are still frequently published today. Dietrich's daughter, Maria Riva, reminisces about the Rolls-Royce in her 1992 memoir, Marlene Dietrich. Maria recalls the big green carand its fascinating sculpted radiator ornamentwhen she, at age 6, joined her mother in California during 1931. Other childhood memories of the Rolls include shopping trips to Bullocks on Wilshire and runs to the beachalways with her mother's liveried chauffer, Harry, at the wheel.
Dietrich had a long career in film and, later, as a live entertainer. In 1939, the year she became an American citizen, Dietrich played a memorably comedic role in Destry Rides Again, a film co-starring Jimmy Stewart.
During World War II, Dietrich toured extensively with the USO, entertaining Allied troops in both European and Pacific theaters. In the 1950s, Dietrich chummed with Frank Sinatra and the "Rat Pack" in Las Vegas. She opened at the Sahara Hotel in 1953, receiving a then unprecedented $30,000 a week to perform. Poor health finally sidetracked one of the entertainment world's most enduring and unique personalities in the mid-1970s. Marlene Dietrich died at age 90 in 1992.
Documented ownership by an iconic movie star aside, S317KP carries an especially attractive and important example of a patented convertible design by Parisian coachbuilders Hibbard & Darrin. Between 1923 and 1931, "Carosserie Hibbard et Darrin" was operated by expat American partners Thomas L. Hibbard and Howard "Dutch" Darrin. The duo designed and built bodies for the finest automotive chassis available and served a clientele that included royalty, tycoons and celebrities.
Even as they consulted with other prestige automakers on design matters, Hibbard & Darrin represented Rolls-Royce in Paris during the late 1920s and their shop was the preferred coachbuilder for the automaker's cars sold there. Rolls-Royce records indicate Hibbard & Darrin built 35 bodies, of varying styles, for the American-built Rolls-Royce Springfield Phantom I chassis. These bodies were built to order in Paris and shipped "in the white" to America, where they were painted and trimmed by a Rolls-Royce approved coachbuilder (usually Brewster) before being installed.
"Dutch" Darrin personally designed, and held a patent for, the Torpedo Transformal Phaeton's distinctive convertible top treatment and trapezoidal-shaped side windows. With the top up, an inverted triangle-shaped flap fills the area between the retractable glass side windows, creating a weather-tight body with an elegant, intimate appearance. With top and side windows down, the style is that of a sporting dual-cowl phaeton.
The Torpedo Transformal body construction is also unusual. All major body elements are aluminum alloyconventional custom bodies of the period were typically fabricated with metal panels over a wood framework. The Transformal's doors are single-piece aluminum alloy castings. Hibbard & Darrin marketed their innovative rattle-resistant and light-weight aluminum body structure under the trade name Sylentlite (silent-light).
Most Hibbard & Darrin commissions were for formal town cars and it is thought only one additional long-wheelbase Torpedo Transformal was built. The sporty two-piece Vee-windshield design appearing on the Dietrich car is, however, thought to be unique to the car.
Several coachbuilders were licensed by Hibbard & Darrin to build a very few bodies in the Torpedo Transformal style, including Derham in the U.S., Castagna in Italy, and T.H. Gill in England.
According to Maria Riva's book, Marlene Dietrich eventually supplanted her green Rolls-Royce with a Cadillac V-16 town car, custom equipped with a large trunk in preparation for a European tour. The year that she actually gave up ownership of her cherished Rolls is not known.
By the 1940s, the ex-Dietrich Rolls-Royce had come into the possession of Colorado rancher and pioneer car collector J. R. "Bob" Creighton, who subsequently became the car's second owner of record in the Roll-Royce files.
In 1960, Bob Creighton's then 16-year old niece successfully took her driver's test at the wheel of the Dietrich caran occasion that generated local press coverage. The young woman had learned to drive the massive car on her uncle's ranch. At that time, the car's odometer read 64,000 miles.
The Rolls-Royce was inherited by Bob Creighton's daughter in the mid-1970s. A family member commenced a restoration attempt, an initiative that never got beyond stripping the body down to bare metal, rechroming some parts and painting the chassis. The partially disassembled car then languished in storage for two decades.
In 1995, a noted mid-western collector learned of the car's continuing existence and was able to obtain it from the Creighton family heirs. The full story of this amazing, truly once-in-a-lifetime "barn find" is told in Tom Cotter's book, The Cobra in the Barn.
In 2007, the still unrestored Dietrich Rolls-Royce was sold to the late mega-collector John O'Quinn. The sale agreement allocated $500,000 to a total "turn-key" restoration that restore the car to the as-new condition and appearance it evidence on the day Marlene Dietrich first set eyes on it in 1930.
Restorer Rick Hamlin's Classic Body Works agreed to take on the extensive project. The body was completely disassembled, revealing fascinating details of the Hibbard & Darrin aluminum construction. Paint chips found beneath the windshield frame correlated period reports that the body was originally finished in a medium green that had tiny flecks of gold mixed in, a step that gave the paint a rich sparkle in bright sunlight. The special paint was recreated for the restoration.
Remnants of the original interior were a guide for authenticity inside the car. The car's exquisite book-matched wood veneers were expertly reconditioned. The unusual original rearview mirror was missing and was painstakingly recreated.
The Rolls-Royce Phantom I six-cylinder 468-cid (7.6L) engine and attendant mechanical and chassis systems were dismantled, cleaned and rebuilt/repaired as necessary.
Work on the restoration was at last completed in 2010 and the Dietrich Rolls-Royce is here offered in its freshly restored state by the O'Quinn estate collection. Never shown, fully authenticated and marvelously restored, the Marlene Dietrich Rolls-Royce Phantom I is certain to be welcomed to the world's most prestigious Concours d'Elegance shows.
The golden age of film-making and the classic era of automotive design are uniquely intertwined in the well-documented provenance of this magnificent and historically important car, which has never heretofore been offered publically.
Here is an automobile loaded with genuine star power. It will be a delight to own and is sure to be a 'show stopper' whenever and wherever it might appear.
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