Ordered new by H.H. Prince T. Gournelli for cosmetics magnate Helena Rubenstein, ex-Bill Ruger, four owners from new
1938 Rolls-Royce 25/30hp Wraith 7-Passenger Limousine
Coachwork by Carrosserie de Villars
Chassis no. WXA72
Engine no. A5WB
Latest in the line of 'small' Rolls-Royces that had begun with the 'Twenty' back in 1922, the much revised 25/30hp arrived in 1936. The newcomer was a development of the immediately preceding 20/25hp model that had been introduced in 1929 featuring an enlarged (from 3,127 to 3,699cc) and more-powerful cross-flow version of its predecessor's six-cylinder, overhead-valve engine. Apart from the latter, early 20/25 chassis were identical to those of the last 20s, both models being produced during 1929. Thus the 20/25 inherited the right-hand gearchange lever and servo-assisted brakes introduced on its predecessor, as well as Phantom-style radiator shutters. Produced contemporaneously with the Phantom II, the 20/25 benefited from many of the features - such as synchromesh gears and centralized chassis lubrication - developed for the larger model.
Eventually the trend towards increasingly weighty coachwork prompted Rolls-Royce to revise the 20/25 for 1936. Raising engine capacity to 4,257cc provided the required power increase while the policy of using more proprietary components begun towards the end of 20/25 production saw the new 25/30 adopt a Stromberg carburetor and SU fuel pumps. In its superlative build quality and all other respects the new Rolls-Royce 25/30 remained much as its immediate predecessor, lasting in production until 1939 by which time 1,201 cars had been built.
WXA72 was ordered new by H.H. Prince T. Gournelli as a gift to his new bride, cosmetics magnate Helena Rubenstein. While Prince Gournelli, at the time a young gentleman with a somewhat murky claim to Georgian nobility, might have seemed like the ultimate catch for a female suitor, the feeling was a bit more mutual as it was Mrs Rubenstein who was the moneyed one in the relationship. Of Polish decent, Helena had built an international cosmetic empire on her spectacular publicity abilities and cunning knack for making the public lust for something they heretofore didn't know they needed. She was known for her directness and often quoted quip, "there are no ugly women, just lazy ones." By 1938 she was one of the richest women in the world. Her marriage to the young prince, who was 23 years her junior, came on the heels of her recent divorce from her first marriage. An avid social climber, her marriage to nobility gave her a regal title with which to further flex marketing might.
The power couple's choice of ride for their Paris residence was this Rolls-Royce 25/30hp fitted with 7-passenger limousine coachwork by French Carrosserie de Villars. Ordered in August of '38, the chassis was delivered to de Villars in late November of the same year and onto the Prince and Helena in early April, 1939. As two important people, it is unsurprising that the intended purpose of the Rolls, as stated on the build sheet, was "for touring purposes at comparatively high speeds".
Kept by Gournelli and Rubenstein until the former's untimely death in 1955, the car then passed to Virginian Frank Hand, Jr. in 1956. Mr Hand kept the car only briefly before selling it to noted collector Bill Ruger. Mr Ruger, a prep school and college roommate of the vendor, sold the car to its current owner in 1957 upon their graduation from prep school. Working on the car together for several years following, the car went through a few early restorations before a more recent and significant restoration was completed two years ago.
Having had only four owners from new and been in the current owner's garage for 56 years, the Rolls is now ready to move on to its fifth keeper. Looking as good as ever and buffeted by one of the most prolific self-made female multi-millionaires, the stately Rolls now readies itself for its next owner.
- Please note, since publishing the catalog Bonhams has learned that William Ruger did not in fact own the car in 1956 and therefore it is possible that the car has had more than four owners from new. The current vendor purchased WXA72 from James Weigel of New Caanan, CT in January of 1982 and performed a comprehensive restoration two years ago.