Rebuilding & Running a Rolls Royce Phantom 1

Published on Thu, 27 May 2010 01:30

Late last year I acquired a Rolls Royce Phantom 1.  The Derby built car is really nothing more than a Silver Ghost chassis with a more modern engine mounted in it, but at the time was a quantum leap forward replacing the Ghost engine that had been in production for a couple of decades. The good part was its original drop dead body by noted coach builders Thrupp & Maberly, in dual cowl phaeton format.  The bad part was a tired old clanking engine that sounded like shaking a box full of nails (and rusty ones at that) when the engine was run.  Thus the decision was made to strip the engine & make it right.  No light undertaking on a Phantom 1.

Accordingly we took the engine down & ordered a pair of new cylinder blocks, 6 pistons & assorted other requisites from the good folks at Fiennes Engineering.  We removed the crank & measured the wear which turned out to be relatively minor.  Thus rather than going through the whole white metalling & line boring rigmarole, we were able to machine down the spacer shims located between the top & bottom halves of the con rod big ends, & get a close to perfect fit.

The engine was then gradually reassembled with assorted delays due to various suppliers promising items but failing to deliver on time.  I will not name & shame you here, but you know who you are and you should cover yourselves in sack cloth & ashes.  When rebuilding an 80 year old engine & retaining various assorted original components, one never knows quite how smooth & quiet or otherwise the finished result is going to be.  Thus it was with great trepidation that we put fuel into the beast & fired it up for the first time.  Our worries were unfounded however, as the engine started easily & ran like a proverbial sewing machine in utter silence & with a smoothness that was uncanny.

Pistons in these cars are large but quite delicate, & a careful running in programme must be followed.  If not adhered to, one risks picking up a piston or worse with the resulting mechanical mayhem meaning an expensive return to square one.  A customer had been avidly following the progress of the rebuild with a view to buying the car.  Having then completed the the sale, I undertook to do the running in prior to shipping the car to Germany.

The car was thus driven to my home & became my daily hack for a couple of weeks whilst we put a thousand or so running in miles on the new engine.  It was used for picnics in the countryside, one upping the continental GT boys at the better class of restaurant, mundane trips to Tesco where it never failed to raise an eyebrow & was also my steed of choice for the Henley Regatta where it was in its natural element.  A Phantom 1, or “New Phantom” as they were known at the time is a truly splendid car to experience.  It is massive, giving it huge presence on the road.

The engine, when in proper condition like this one, simply wafts one down the road, whilst remaining imperceptible.  At traffic lights one gets in the habit of blipping the throttle as it is easy to imagine the engine has stopped, so silent is it at standstill.  The gears are straight cut & require double de-clutching both when changing down & up.  New owners make a few horrible noises in the first week of ownership, but generally master silent changes quite quickly.  Selecting top gear is quite notchy, so a much quicker change is required compared to the other 3 gears.  Once there however, the engine has such vast torque that one rarely ever changes down to third.

One never needs to lock the car as the average thief would never get it started.  The steps are as follows, (would be thieves take note):  Ensure fuel is in on position at autovac, put starting carburettor to “on”, set mixture lever to full rich, retard ignition to “Early” position, place ignition switch to “Both” (IE magneto & coil), place hand throttle governor to fully closed, push starting button mounted to firewall with foot.  With any luck the engine will now start.  It is important to catch the engine on the hand throttle & turn off the starting carb’ as quickly as possible, as an over rich mixture has a tendency to bore wash the cylinder walls, removing their protective film of oil & resulting in premature engine wear.  Being a pilot gives one a certain mechanical sympathy for such things, as an engine stopping when on short finals to land is simply not an option to contemplate.

Once running & up to temperature the mixture may be reduced in strength & the governor set to a barely audible idle.  For a hot start one omits the starting carb’ & instead advances the hand throttle about half way up its quadrant.  All this seems quite daunting to a person not familiar with the cars.  After a week or so of ownership  it becomes second nature and one does the steps almost without thinking.  An aviation style check list is not a bad idea for new owners.  Once in a while even those of  us who are familiar with the cars tend to get caught out.  It usually goes along the lines of:  Hurriedly do all usual steps.  Crank engine ad infinitum whilst wondering why it will not start.  Go back to basics & start checking things, followed by a loud exclamation of: “Who turned the b@£$%^y  autovac off” or similar.

It is difficult to convey in words what a special experience it is to drive an open Phantom on rural B roads on a summer’s day.  The view down the bonnet is one of true splendour as the Spirit of Ecstasy mounted on the prow leads one down the road by the nose.  The car moves as though a total lack of mechanical propulsion is being used; in effect it feels as if an invisible hand is pushing the car along. A vintage Rolls-Royce  engenders a deference in other road users that one rarely finds on the roads of England.  Even the reddest of rednecks in a go faster hatchback will wave you out at junctions & smile whilst doing it.

One can leave the car anywhere unattended & have no worries about its safety.  During the running in period I left the car in a less then salubrious part of London whilst I ran an errand for an hour.  Upon my return the local hoodies & ne’re do wells were standing in a throng round the car enjoining their offspring not to touch it as it was valuable & off limits.  Had I parked there in a modern Phantom, the mascot would have been gone, keys would have been used to disfigure the sides & the car would have been up on bricks with the wheels stolen!!  Yet here the Phantom 1 was left untouched. I duly filled the car with the local kids & not so yummy mummies & took them for a loop round their estate; a trip they will remember all their lives.

I always encourage new owners of these cars to share them with as many people as they possibly can.  We never own these cars, but  rather are custodians of them for future generations whilst we enjoy the privilege of paying their bills & improving them.  There is a hot place in hell reserved for those owners who lock the cars away in secretive garages & neither share their cars with others nor use them regularly as their makers intended. You have been warned!!!  The new owner of the car is a workaholic businessman in Germany.  He bought the car specifically to offer it as a free wedding car to would be Deutsche Fraulein brides with their grooms being required to make a donation to a charity for use of the car.  The owner’s rationale is that every time he does a wedding it will force him  not to be in the office on a Saturday & as a result he will take time in life to stop & smell the roses rather then rushing blindly past as he did before.  I applaud the man for his motives!!!

Postscript from the new owner Entertaining Polish Tourists etc!!!

Hi Folks
I thought that this Richard Biddulph blog might be of interest to you. (Well not to Richard as he wrote it).
If for any reason it doesn’t open then go into his website, (Vintage and Prestige), and click onto blogs, scroll down and the blog over Rebuilding a Phantom 1 is Miss Daisy, as The Kraut has now christened her.

I can only confirm what Richard writes in his blog. The joy of driving an open vintage RR with a perfectly tuned engine, (running as Messer’s Rolls & Royce, and later Mr. Carl Ford, intended it to), down a country lane is beyond description. It quite simply has to be experienced. Unfortunately due to the problems with the fuel system I was not able to raise any money for charity by taking the odd German bride or two to church, however we were able to introduce most of the neighbours and some other vintage Rolls Royce virgins into the joys of this transport experience. I cannot put my finger on what it is about this particular car, but every body who experiences it, passenger and driver alike, agrees that it is quite electrifying. Another sensation that has to be experienced, as the driver, is that other drivers, (of modern vehicles), freely and willingly give you right of way for no other reason than to have the opportunity to admire this magnificent example of bygone engineering pass majestically before them. It is few who can resist the desire to wave and generally express signs of approval.
On a recent summer excursion we were forced, (due to taking a wrong turn), to introduce Miss Daisy to the German Autobahn system. We found ourselves following a not too new Polish registered coach which became slower and slower and slower until we decided to overtake, being convinced that it was about to breakdown and probably cover us in black oily smoke which would imminently be discharged from its exhaust pipe. On commencing to overtake, the coach was seen to visibly tip to the left as a barrage of cameras and flash guns photographed us as we passed. On drawing level with the driver he wound down his window gave us the thumbs up and yelled ´´thank you“ We pulled back in front of the coach which then pulled out, tipping this time rather alarmingly to the right, and then overtook us with a second barrage of flash guns recording the continuance of our onward journey to the obvious delight of an abundance of Polish citizens.

The situation on the car at the moment is that it is having the front seat altered to change the driving position which will hopefully cure the problem of my eyes, (and any one else of average height), being at exactly the same height as the windscreen cross bar. If you look at the picture of Richard driving the car you will see that as he is about 6 foot 4, he looks over the screen. (I bet he couldn’t drive the car with the hood up!.) After these alterations have been made we will make a decision as to whether to have the windscreen just refurbished or raised by about 2 inches.

I have tracked down and purchased 2 fully reconditioned Lucas P100 Bulls Eye head lamps. We have also managed to track down one universal joint used to attach the headlamps to the mountings, or pillars as it turns out they are correctly referred to. So from the one joint we are having a second manufactured. Having done that new head lamp support pillars will have to be manufactured, weld those to the joints and the car will be back as Messer’s Thrupp & Maberly intended it to be before our colonial friends got their hands on it! Furthermore granddad will be able to return to his position of peace and tranquillity in his grave in Pitford Street cemetery Birmingham.

The current Carl Zeiss head lamps, (which caused granddad to turn in his grave in the first place), complete with mountings and pillars, are then going off for a full restoration job and will be up for sale at the next Techno Classica in Essen for 7 to 8000.- (It turns out that they are quite rare).
The brakes have been checked and found to be in good working order albeit that they needed greasing. Also the brake servo is being overhauled. The electric fuel pump, (also fitted by our colonial friends), has been removed and the original AutoVac fuel pump overhauled and put back into service.
Straps are being fitted to the rear doors to stop Richards, and any other kids, opening these and denting the rear wing!
Also a new stainless steel exhaust pipe is being fitted and the clock repaired.
I think that is about it for now.
Best regards and see you around some time. (Some sooner than others).

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