1931 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Phantom II MerlinSOLD
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Estimate: $600,000-$800,000 US

Offered Without Reserve

$412,500 Sold

Est. 1,100hp, 1,649 cu. in. V12 Merlin aircraft engine, four-speed manual transmission, semi-elliptic leaf spring suspension, and four-wheel servo assisted brakes. Wheelbase: 144"

When Henry Royce began to experiment with automobiles in 1903, he had the advantage of having seen many other cars. Most were rough running, unreliable, and noisy devices; he set for himself the goal of matching the smoothness of the steam car, the silence of the electric car, and the utility of the petrol powered car. His strength lay in his ability to refine and develop the work of others. His first car – the 10hp car – was easily the most refined automobile of its time.

However, a good product alone was not enough, and it was Royce ’ s partnership with C.S. Rolls – a consummate automobile marketer – that created the most respected name in automotive history. Beginning with the legendary Silver Ghost, Rolls-Royce dominated the carriage trade, being the preferred motor car for royalty and heads of state.

A direct descendent of the Silver Ghost, the Rolls- Royce New Phantom was launched in May 1925. (It would not become known as the Phantom I until after the introduction of the Phantom II several years later.) Although the New Phantom introduced a new and much modernized engine, for the most part, the chassis was almost identical to that of the Silver Ghost – though there was now a choice of two different wheelbase lengths: 143.5 inches or 150.5 inches. The Phantom transmission was also the same as before, except that the old cone clutch was replaced with a new, single dry plate clutch – more conducive to quieter and smoother operation.

Introduced in September 1929 at the Olympia Motor Show, the Rolls-Royce Phantom II was conceived in accordance with Sir Henry Royce ’ s staunch belief in evolution over revolution. The replacement for the ‘ New Phantom ’ offered a more refined, updated chassis and an improved six-cylinder engine, now mounted in unit with the transmission. Chassis improvements included hydraulic shocks and the use of underslung semi-elliptic springs for both front and rear axles. The lower frame allowed for a considerable reduction in ride height, which, in turn, rendered a more modern and sleek body design. In all, approximately 1,767 examples were produced and with the customer ’ s choice of coachwork, many were highly distinctive, often tailor-made, to the buyer.

By the time the Phantom II ended its limited production run, plans were already well underway at Rolls-Royce for development of newer military aircraft engines. Initially designated PV-12, the Merlin aero engine was Henry Royce ’ s final design before his passing in 1933, and was originally intended to fill the gap between the company ’ s upper and lower horsepower extremes. Over a period of various tests and modifications, early issues with reliability were resolved to produce one of the most successful military engines of all time and, quite possibly, the most important engine of World War II.

The massive V12 engine displaced nearly 1,650 cubic inches and, fitted with a two-stage supercharger, produced well over 1,400 horsepower. A contract with Packard yielded a Merlin-powered P-51 Mustang, which, alongside the nimble British Spitfires were partly responsible for turning the tide of the Second World War. Over 160,000 Merlin engines were produced and fitted into a wide variety of aircraft and continue to be highly sought after by enthusiasts.

While Rolls-Royce ’ s fabled Merlins have found various, limited marine and automotive applications after the 1940s, few have been as attractive and astonishing as this 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II. Fitted with a Merlin I engine that produces approximately 1,100 horsepower sans supercharger, this particular Phantom II is truly one of a kind. In fact, the only comparable automobile is a Phantom III, likewise fitted with such an engine and presently in the esteemed collection of comedian and auto enthusiast Jay Leno. Chassis 64GX did indeed begin its life as a Phantom II and was eventually owned by one Mr. Stephen J. Langton of England before its sale in the late 1970s to Nicholas Harley in London. In 2000, it was sold by an enthusiast in Oklahoma to the Wiseman Collection, where it has remained ever since.

The restoration of the Merlin powered Rolls-Royce spanned a period of approximately seven years, during which time its frame was lengthened, strengthened, and fitted with a Gurney Nutting-inspired body constructed by Wilkinson ’ s of Derby. The body, which features a longer hood and shorter rear, was painstakingly fabricated by Mr. Fred Peppiatt before being fitted with a 27-liter Mark I Merlin V12, fed by two fuel pumps delivering 100 gallons per hour through three enormous Carter carburetors.

As presented, the car remains in exceptional, show quality condition. It is finished in dark green paint with matching solid disc wheels and a black beltline accented by a fine red pinstripe. The paint has been polished to a smooth finish with a glass-like surface texture and is free of any noticeable damage or imperfections. The chrome and brightwork, limited that they are, have faded in certain locations but are still very presentable, particularly on the radiator and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot. A trunk compartment with an externally-mounted spare wheel is situated directly behind the folded black Haartz cloth convertible top.

Professionally fitted black leather upholstery bathes the interior and, along with the steering wheel and dash, remains in excellent overall condition. A dizzying array of instrumentation and Jaeger gauges covers the dash, which features mahogany trim that has been sanded and varnished to a lustrous finish. As for the black undercarriage, engine compartment, and engine, all were refinished and detailed at the time of restoration and retain an impressive overall appearance despite very minor signs of road use and ageing. Finally, period-correct Marchal lamps are complemented by a spotlight mounted to the driver ’ s side.

An older test drive of this Phantom II revealed an unparalleled driving experience. Firing up with a rambunctious burble, the car was praised for its smooth, relaxed acceleration and unbelievable top gear performance. The steering wheel was described as being well-weighted and the gear changes precise. A test at Donington Park in England even had the Merlin-engined Rolls-Royce out-accelerating a 1958 Vanwall Grand Prix car! Unfortunately, ownership of such a tremendous automobile is relegated to a very short list. With only one other comparable example in existence, this Phantom II represents an unprecedented ownership opportunity. While Autocar ’ s editors may have deemed the six-cylinder Silver Ghost as “ not one of the best, but the best car in the world ” , one can only imagine what impressions a 1,100-horsepower V12 Phantom II would have imparted on them.

Reference Number 15006

as of 11/4/2007

Car 1931 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Phantom II Merlin
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