2 April 2013

The Ghosts of My Past: Rolls-Royce leaves lasting impression

For years I’d heard many people sing the praises of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50hp, and In the late 1990s I had one experience that made a powerful impression on me. I was at a friend’s shop that specialized in prewar European cars and he was servicing a Silver Ghost with a touring body. The bonnet was off and he needed to move the car around the property, so he told me to hop in. With the engine uncovered I was absolutely flabbergasted by how smooth and quiet it was. Flabbergasted to experience it, yes, but not necessary surprised, as the Silver Ghost has long been held up as a standard of excellence — my apologies to Cadillac.

That first and very strong Ghost experience stayed with me for years, but was reinforced some time later when I was driving a modern car along some of the marvelous country roads about 15 miles from my Pennsylvania home. I was gradually gaining on a good sized open touring car that was clearly a Silver Ghost. When I saw the driver’s braid waiving in the 50 mph breeze, I knew it had to be club stalwart Mermie Karger, who demonstrated to me just how usable an early Rolls-Royce could be. Here was an 80-year-old car that you could actually use. Apparently Mermie was on a shakedown run making sure the car was ready for a major tour.

Finally, about five years ago I was in Kansas doing a project at a large auto collection. When the work was done the owner asked “Which two cars do you want to drive?” Floored that he would share his spectacular collection, I paused for a second before I thought of my first choice: His 1913 Silver Ghost. This was my chance to see what all the fuss was about. Was a Rolls-Royce really that good?

With its Roi-des-Belges body, the car looked quite old-fashioned. But the driving experience was surprisingly modern. Compared to the four or five W.O. Bentley’s I’ve driven, the transmission was wonderfully smooth and easy to engage. Yes, if you didn’t get it into gear you had to stop and start all over, but it was a revelation compared to most of the other prewar cars I’ve driven. While the car wasn’t overwhelming powerful, there was a smoothness to the engine, and it felt almost effortless considering the sheer weight of the large body. The brakes still took a little planning, but they were surprisingly good considering the technology of the day and the heft of the car. My lasting impression was that I’d not driven a finer prewar car. True, there were others that were more sporting or faster, but there was a quality to the 40/50hp that came through from the controls, the build quality and the way it drove.

Although that drive was now a few years ago, I’m certainly hoping for other opportunities and I also understand why today so many Silver Ghost owners use them for serious touring.

To learn more about Rolls-Royce (and Bentley) cars, and to connect with more than 7,000 fellow owners and enthusiasts, visit the Rolls-Royce Owners Club at www.rroc.org.

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