1934 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Phantom II Henley CoupeSOLD

RM Vintage Motorcars in Arizona - Biltmore Resort & Spa, Friday January 19, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $650,000 - $850,000

$825,000 Sold

The Brewster Phantoms

The history of Rolls-Royce in America is inextricably intertwined with that of the Brewster & Co. coachworks, which over the years of Rolls-Royce production and assembly in Springfield, Massachusetts, contributed to some of the most elegant, sporting and attractively proportioned bodies fitted to any Rolls-Royce.

Starting in New Haven, Connecticut in 1810, three generations of Brewsters created a succession of memorable designs. The firm was, at the turn of the 20th century, the pre-eminent American coachbuilder, renowned not only for its designs, but also for its construction. Willie Brewster began building automobile bodies in 1905 in New York City, and eventually expanded to a larger facility in Long Island City, New York in 1911. By 1914, he became a Rolls-Royce sales agent, importing chassis from England and building bodies for Brewster ’ s established clientele. Some 46 Brewster-bodied Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts were built before Brewster ’ s agency was interrupted by World War I.

Brewster continued to create coachwork for Springfield Rolls-Royce after WWI and in 1925 Rolls-Royce bought the company, making Brewster the primary source for the marque ’ s coachwork. Eventually, well over 400 Springfield-built Rolls-Royces were Brewster bodied, an elaborate and highly customized process that encouraged clients to visit the facility and oversee the progress of their orders, suggest individual features, and approve colors and materials. Even for cataloged bodies, the process of acquiring a Brewster-bodied Rolls-Royce was an elaborate ritual that set a standard of customer service that today is found only in the finest restoration shops.

Production of the Phantom I continued in Springfield after the Phantom II was introduced in England in 1929, but was eventually phased out in 1931 in favor of Derby-built left-hand drive Phantom IIs. Following Sir Henry Royce ’ s staunch belief in evolution rather than revolution, the new Phantom II offered a more refined, updated chassis and an improved engine with a cross-flow cylinder head for better breathing, and now mounted in unit with the transmission. Chassis improvements included hydraulic shocks and the use of semi-elliptic springs for both front and rear axles, which were underslung. With the new lower frame, a considerable reduction in ride height was the result – something on the order of nine inches, lending itself to more modern and sleek body designs. Of the many bodies cataloged by Rolls-Royce in America, none were more attractive and sporting than the exceptional designs penned by Brewster.

In 1930, the Rolls-Royce of America operation in Springfield knew it was in trouble. Sales of the Phantom I were shrinking and the Phantom II had been introduced in Britain. However, the magnitude of the depression was not obvious and Rolls-Royce was looking for a way through what was perceived as a recession that might last a year or two. They saw the solution in closing their manufacturing operation and becoming an importer-distributor for Rolls-Royce in the USA. After all, they owned Brewster, one of the finest coachbuilders in America, and a dealer network was in place.

The problem was that the Phantom II as introduced in Britain was not suitable for the US market because it did not have many of the advanced features of the last of the Springfield Phantom Is. For example, the Springfield Phantom I was left drive, had thermostatic shutters (vs. manual), a complete “ one-shot ” chassis lube system (vs. a partial system on the PII), chrome plating (vs. nickel that required frequent polishing), and smaller and more stylish 20 inch wheels (vs. 21 inch on the PII) and the PII lacked a carburetor air cleaner and silencer.

Springfield agreed to buy 200 left-drive Phantom IIs if the British factory would make all the improvements necessary for the US market. Derby agreed and went through a full experimental program to develop the improved Phantom II for the American market. The experimental department at Derby built two experimental cars - 24EX and 25EX - to develop the improved cars. Both were tested in France and then Ernest Hives, head of the Experimental Department (and later Managing Director of Rolls-Royce), took 25EX to the USA for evaluation there, arriving in October of 1930. The springing proved unsuitable for US roads and was later improved, and the 19-inch wheels Springfield wanted didn ’ t prove satisfactory, so 20-inch wheels were chosen.

The final result was a delightful car with an improved top speed, lower chassis and quieter operation than the Springfield Phantom I. In fact, the improvements inspired Derby to incorporate all of them (except the left-drive) into all the Phantom IIs starting with chassis JS1 onwards. The first deliveries of the left-drive Phantom II chassis began in the spring of 1931.

The Brewster coachworks at the Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City was ready with designs for the new Phantom II chassis when it arrived. Some of the designs were warmed-over Phantom I styles and some were fresh and delightful designs. The first of the new designs was the Newport town car (for traditional chauffeur driven use) and the Henley Roadster (for the owner-driver).

The Henley used a clever styling trick of the double belt-line to make the side of the car appear lower. Later that same double belt-line was used on two other body styles, namely the styles offered here - and only the styles offered here.

It is interesting to note, however, that the hood line evolved over these three styles. The Henley shows the classic square hood line. The Newmarket Permanent sedan shows the extended top line where the top of the hood flows all the way to the windshield and the ventilator opens through the hood. Finally, the Henley Coupe hood extends back along the sides of the hood as well. Brewster styling was always improving and evolving.

The cars were mechanically and aesthetically successful even though the depression limited the market. The contract for 200 left-drive cars was never fulfilled, but 116 were sold in North America and 6 in Europe. While sales were limited, these cars are recognized as among the most desirable of all the classic era Rolls-Royces.

The Only Henley Coupe Ever Built and Still in Timewarp Original Condition

120bhp 7,668cc. In-line six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle with leaf spring suspension, live rear axle with longitudinal leaf springs, and four-wheel servo-assisted drum brakes. Wheelbase: 150"

This story starts with Charles Finn Williams, a local man from Cincinnati who trained as a lawyer. He practiced law, became a prosecutor and was named Deputy Attorney General of Ohio in 1906. In 1910 he was engaged to become the Vice President and General Counsel to the Western and Southern Life Insurance Company. He liked the insurance business and it was good to him; eventually he owned several insurance companies and controlled several more. He was a Republican, but respected Franklin Roosevelt and in January 1934 he was the Chair of FDR ’ s birthday celebration. He was, by anybody ’ s description, a wealthy man.

In 1934, his daughter, Miss Mary Elizabeth Williams, wanted a new car. She liked the Rolls-Royce Phantom II Henley roadster but worried about her hair style in an open car. Tom Colvin, the salesman at the local Rolls- Royce dealer had just the solution: Brewster would make Mary a Henley with a fixed top. Mary thought that would be just perfect. An order was placed and the car was delivered to the Williams home at 1920 Dexter Avenue in Cincinnati on May 22, 1934, at a price of nearly $20,000 – the equivalent of more than $300,000 in today ’ s terms.

How long Miss Williams kept her lovely coupe is not known, but it is likely that she traded it sometime after the war ended. We do know that in April of 1952, the car was in the hands of E. C. Patterson, Jr., of the Chattanooga Tank and Boiler Company, who was offering it for sale.

Donald Weesner and his wife learned of the existence of the Henley Coupe in Ohio in the mid-1950s and immediately arranged passage by rail in an effort to buy it. He reported that, while he knew of the Henley roadsters, he had never seen a coupe before and upon viewing it, he stood transfixed by the beauty of the car and its outstanding original condition.

A deal was struck and Mr. and Mrs. Weesner left Cincinnatti for the long drive home to Minnesota. Once home, the car became the Weesner ’ s pride and joy, and they would own it for more than 45 years before it was finally resold at a Christie ’ s auction in 1999, where it was acquired by Connecticut collector-dealer Dennis Nicotra. Later, RM arranged the sale of the Henley coupe to another collector-dealer, Mark Smith of Pennsylvania (and Virginia and Hew Hampshire). The vendor acquired the car from Smith in 2003.

The car is still in lovely original condition, showing just 34,000 miles on the odometer, a mileage that is supported by the condition of the vehicle. Most of the paint is believed to be original, as is the still-supple black leather interior. The original tan top has been replaced with black leather but little else has been done to disturb the originality of this wonderful motor car.

With its low, raked windshield and stunning lines, the Henley coupe is one of the prettiest classics of the era. It is also unique, built to order for Miss Williams, and never replicated. That it is one of the finest unrestored Phantom IIs extant is simply icing on the cake. RM Auctions would like to thank noted author and Rolls-Royce expert Mr. John Webb deCampi for his assistance.


Please note that this vehicle is titled with the serial number AMS221.

Reference Number 5761

as of 1/9/2007

Car 1934 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Phantom II Henley Coupe
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