Using a Rolls Royce Phantom 1 as a daily driver for a year & a half. My first Rolls Royce!

Published on Thu, 28 Jan 2010 15:00

When I was a young man a few decades ago I was driving one day through Winchester in Hampshire.  As I drove along the road by St Cross I came upon a magnificent blue/black  Phantom 1 Tourer sitting outside a church pressed into wedding duties, chauffeur waiting expectantly at the wheel.  I stopped & mused upon the beauty of the car & vowed to myself that I would one day earn enough money to buy such a car.

Many years later whilst living in the USA I had founded a successful business & amassed a pile of cash & decided to seek such a car.  I made an assortment of enquiries & decided to come to the UK, collecting my late mother en route to inspect & possibly purchase a Phantom II limousine being sold in Hampshire.  Upon arrival at the vendor’s garage I was stunned to see not just the Phantom 2 I had come to see, but also the Phantom 1 I had seen all those years ago.  Needless to say I ended up purchasing both, leaving the Phantom 2 in the UK for my regular European visits & shipping the Phantom 1 to the USA.

After a month or so I received a call from the shipping agents telling me that my shipment had arrived.  I duly leaped in my pickup truck & drove the 300 or so miles to Seattle closely followed by an 18ft covered trailer.  After filling in numerous forms in triplicate for officious customs officers, we were finally ushered to the container & broke the seals on the doors.  I climbed into the car somewhat awkwardly, having first connected the battery, & she fired up on the second turn of the crank.  The rest of the day we spent motoring round Seattle coming slowly to grips with the lovely thing we had bought prior to trailering it home to Idaho the following day.

Having got the car home I became so enamored of it that I started to use it virtually as my daily drive in summer, winter, spring & fall, with the only exception being when heavy salt was applied to the roads.  For 4 months of the year we drove on packed snow that was compressed to black ice with no effort being made to remove the accretions. During winter months I ran it with the radiator shutters fully closed in temperatures down to minus 20.  We are talking Fahrenheit here, with freezing being plus 32, so it was actually in 52 degrees of frost.

I remember on Christmas Day starting the car in its heated barn, dressing up along with a friend until we resembled the retreat from Moscow & driving the Phantom 80 miles up into British Columbia & then back down, al fresco the whole way.  In Idaho they say there is no such thing as bad weather but it is possible to have inadequate clothing!!!  The US border agents, normally the most officious in the world barely asked us to stop, figuring anyone crazy enough to be driving a vintage car with the roof down in such weather on Christmas Day clearly had a right to be going wherever they were going to.

We regularly used the car maharajah style for hunting trips & also winter fly fishing trips which we named cast & blast as we never left shore without a shot gun in the boat for any unwary migratory ducks coming past.  After one such trip we pulled into the local Montana town of Libby & uncorked a bottle of champagne to celebrate a good day in the outdoors.  A highway patrolman in a black & white sidled up next to us at the only traffic light in town & rolled his eyes when we raised a toast to him.  No law against drinking & driving out there in the far west; the only requirement being sobriety.

We also used the car as our ski hack when heading up to the slopes.  Being heavy & with thin profile tyres the Rolls would chuff up the hill in the most slippery of conditions much to the amazement of fat tyred modern cars which would simply sit still spinning their wheels as soon as the gradient became steep.  The ski resort would reserve a bollarded space right next to the main lift as the car provided a welcome distraction to people waiting in line for the lift.  One could thus run up to the assigned space, toss one’s skis out on the ground, pull on ski boots & step off the running board straight into one’s skis, & off we went.  Gentleman’s skiing at its finest.

What 52 degrees of frost looks like.

For summer use the car was in its element, with the roof almost never being put up.  I ran the car over 15,000 miles in the course of a year & a half, with no major mechanical maladies whatsoever.  Living in the middle of no where meant that one had to do the maintenance oneself as best one could, with occasional telephonic reference to experts.  The car came fortunately with a full original instruction manual.  These books are fantastic references, clearly written & designed in such a manner that a chauffeur in say India could, by following step by step instructions, attend to the maintenance of the car for all but the most major of calamities.

I took great pleasure in jacking the car up on a ramp every thousand miles or so & squirting oil with the brass Enots gun into the 40 or so lubrication orifices located round the chassis at various strategic points. (Enots being the guns inventors name spelled backwards; one Mr Stone.) It gives one a much better understanding of the car one is driving if one has the time to get one’s hands dirty lubricating it & making minor adjustments to brakes, carburettor & assorted linkages etc etc.  I have always been of the opinion that it is hard to over lubricate a Roll- Royce, but easy to under lubricate it.  My motto with regards to maintenance is little & often.

I also made it a practice to start the car regularly on the starting handle.  Pulling 7.4 Litres though sorts out the men from the boys until one discovers that starting a large engine by hand has nothing to do with strength & everything to do with technique.  The trick is to turn it over a few times to prime the carb’ & then get the engine just to the point where it is close to a firing stroke.  Then with a straight back & straight arms, grasp the starting handle, being careful to keep one’s thumbs tucked in next to one’s fingers, & simply in one smooth motion use the strength in one’s legs to easily pull the engine through, & cross one’s fingers that it fires right away.

Alas, like all love affairs (in this case well requited)  time came when the Rolls Royce Phantom & I needed to part ways.  I arranged to sell the car in San Francisco 900 miles away & did a last sort of no expenses spared Gatsbyesque fling in the car driving it over to the Washington Coast & thence down Hwy 1 on through Oregon & into California.  A friend of  mine accompanied me part of the way & we spent enjoyable days touring wineries & weekending at the Bohemian Grove on the Russian river.

At the better class of gated winery that did not admit visitors we would stop at the forbidding gates & lean upon the bell.  A CCTV camera would swivel round & peer at the Phantom for a moment & then as if by magic the gates would open, & we would be greeted by the wine maker or similar with open arms.  Likewise when valet parking at a Hilton Hotel the uniformed doorman stepped up & said “would you mind waiting just a moment sir whilst I clear away some of this modern rubbish” as he gestured to a recent model Ferrari & Jaguar duo, prior to giving the Phantom pride of place at the front.  Halcyon days from the Elysian fields dear boy, Halcyon days.

Den Hague, The end of the Affair.

A German collector bought the car & shipped it to Rotterdam, but was having difficulty in extracting it from customs having told them he had bought it for about 1/5 of what he actually paid me.  As I was passing through Holland at  the time on my motorcycle, I listened to his impassioned pleas for help & went to his assistance.  By removing several of plugs on the car on the side of the engine not being viewed we were able to convince the officials that it was due a £60K rebuild & hence the lowness of price.  The German gentleman was good enough to leave me with the car for one last day-long fling in Den Hague before I handed it  over to him, & I  last saw the car lumbering down the autobahn bound for central Deutschland.

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