1932 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Phantom II Henley Roadster SOLD

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

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ESTIMATE: $650,000 - $850,000

$770,000 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 Most Original and Well-Preserved of the Seven Henley Roadsters

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"

A Henley, first of all, isn ’ t a roadster, but a convertible coupe with roll-up windows. No matter - everybody calls it a roadster and it looks like a roadster, so a roadster it shall always be. There were eight Henley roadsters and one coupe. Seven roadsters exist and one Henley is known to have been removed for a Bohman & Schwartz sedan body and that Henley is presumed to have been lost.

The New York Auto Show of 1931 was the first showing of the new left-drive Phantom II and three cars were on display, including a Henley roadster, priced at $21,500 – the second most expensive car in the show, after another Brewster-bodied Rolls-Royce. The Henley attracted a number of prominent buyers, including A. G. Vanderbilt and Tommy Manville.

Francis Fleury Prentiss had lived the American dream. Born in Vermont, he was moderately successful making locks in Cleveland as Davis & Prentiss. He saw the need for drill bits to serve the industrial needs of America, so with J. D. Cox he founded Cox and Prentiss, which would later be renamed the Cleveland Twist Drill Co.

Mr. Prentiss was successful, wealthy and at 73 years of age, he was enjoying life to the fullest. Thus, he felt it fitting to order a new Rolls-Royce Phantom II Keswick town car, which was delivered to his home on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights on August 17, 1931. It was chassis number 224AJS and one of the first dozen left- drive Phantoms II delivered. Mr. Prentiss liked the car but used it sparingly and kept it for five years.

In 1936, the Keswick was offered by the Boston dealer, R. E. Clark, Inc., who found a possible buyer in M. J. Curran, Jr., of Andover, Massachusetts. However, Mr. Curran had no desire for a town car, but wanted a limousine. Clark arranged for 224AJS to return to Brewster and for the front to be sealed and the body converted into a Huntington limousine. Delivered in October 1936, Mr. Curran enjoyed the car but offered it for sale again in 1938.

Dr. Frederick George Keyes was a Canadian from Kingston, Ontario, who was educated in the USA at Rhode Island College and Brown University and had a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. Dr. Keyes was very bright, perhaps even brilliant, teaching at Brown University for a while and then moving on to MIT where, by 1922, he was the head of the MIT Chemistry Department. During the summer of 1938 he heard about 224AJS being for sale, but the limousine body didn ’ t suit him. Another left-drive Phantom II, 217AMS, with a lovely Henley body was also for sale but the condition of the chassis was nowhere near as good as 224AJS. R. E. Clark arranged for the bodies to be swapped and Keyes bought 224AJS, the lovely Henley roadster. Dr. Keyes loved the car!

The Henley body number was B7416 and coincidently, the original Keswick-cum-Huntington body number was B7316. The Huntington body found a home on a new 1939 Packard chassis. Chassis 217AMS was bodied with a convertible sedan from a Phantom I and resold. In those days body changes were very common, and Brewster and Rolls-Royce often changed bodies to meet clients ’ needs and sell cars.

It is entirely likely that Dr. Keyes and a physicist at Vanderbilt University by the name of Dr. Sam Shoup knew each other. Dr. Shoup was a founder and the first President of the Rolls-Royce Owners ’ Club. It is also likely that Dr. Keyes received a letter from Sam inviting him to join the new Club being formed in 1951. He did join and went to the first RROC Meet in Springfield, Massachusetts in June 1952. He won second prize for his Phantom II.

A year or so later, Dr Keyes decided he wanted the car put in new condition - not just good condition. 224AJS was crated and shipped to Britain where the Rolls-Royce service depot at Hythe Road, London still retained some aging craftsmen that had built the car at Derby and were quite capable of making the car new again. Once more, the car crossed the ocean and Dr. Keyes was entirely pleased with the returning Phantom II.

The next year, the RROC 1956 National Meet was in Cobleskill, New York, a pleasant drive from Boston. Dr. Keyes entered 224AJS and this time it was the hit of the show, for here was a Phantom II that was brand new. He easily won Best of Show.

By about 1969, Dr. Keyes was into his 80s and spending much of his time in France where he kept a 1934 Hispano-Suiza. A Cambridge, Massachusetts neighbor, Mark Gibbons, an eager young enthusiast with an engaging manner, approached Dr. Keyes about relinquishing the car. Deciding that Mark would give the car a good home, a deal was done. Mr. Gibbons was a renaissance man and world traveler, whose autobiography, Beyond the Beaten Path is highly recommended (if you can find a copy). Mark had many wonderful cars, among them a 1928 S Mercedes Benz tourer, a 1938 Bugatti type 57C Gangloff Coupe, 1939 Talbot-Lago 150SS Pourtout Coupe, 1932 Alfa-Romeo Zagato roadster, a 1938 Delage D-8 with Van Vooren 3-position cabriolet, and more. Of his collection, 224AJS was the last to be sold, not without lingering pangs of regret.

During Mr. Gibbons ’ ownership, the car was carefully preserved, but other than a new top and some re-chroming, the car required very little to maintain in top condition. When Mark sold the car it showed only 11,250 miles on the odometer.

The vendor bought 224AJS from Mark via RM, and reluctantly offers this spectacular Henley roadster for only the second time since Dr. Keyes took delivery of it from Rolls-Royce – the first time!

It will score well in any competition and is a delight to drive, with light steering, powerful brakes, smooth clutch and precise gearbox. The original leather is as soft as the day it was installed. The deep green paint is wonderfully preserved and very attractive.

Accompanying the sale is an extensive file of documentation, including Dr. Keyes ’ exhaustive, handwritten leather covered journals describing every trip and service operation.

All seven remaining Henleys are desirable cars but 224AJS is certainly one of the most original, with just two long-term, knowledgeable owners. There is nothing quite like a car that has never required restoration – and none more beautiful than the lovely Henley roadster offered here.

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 as a 1931.

Reference Number 5762

as of 1/9/2007

Car 1932 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Phantom II Henley Roadster
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