October 17, 2007
1912 Ghost owned by the Petersen Museum and driven by Alan and Victoria Campbell of Los Angeles. Click image to enlarge
Story and photos by Jil McIntosh
Hamilton, Ontario – Back in 1907, with great fanfare, Rolls-Royce introduced a new model, with the intention that it would be the best in the world. It was officially called the 40/50 for its horsepower rating, but the twelfth chassis was selected to be a demonstrator. It was given a body finished in aluminum paint, and with silver fittings. That, plus its near-silent six-cylinder engine, earned it the name “Silver Ghost”. From then on, the name was given to every one.
Today, Rolls-Royce says that 7,870 were made between 1907 and 1926, when it was replaced with the Phantom. It’s believed three-quarters of them are still around, and in late September, 33 of them joined up to tour Ontario. Representing the largest number of Silver Ghosts ever gathered in Canada, the event – named the “Wholly Ghost Tour” – was organized by Roger and Eleanor Hadfield of Milton, Ontario, and Bob and Nancie Thompson of Port Elgin, Ontario. I caught up with them at a lunch stop at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario, which opened its huge hanger so the cars could park alongside the historic planes.
Many of the cars came from the U.S., from as far away as Florida, Texas, Mississippi and California, and at least three of them were driven to Ontario, including two from Ohio and one from Kansas.
Snake horns were popular and expensive add-ons to many cars in the early 1900s. Click image to enlarge
“We’re a division of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club, and every year it’s done in a different area of the U.S. by volunteers,” said Nancie Thompson. “We thought it was time to do it in Canada, because they’ve never been here as a group. Everyone drives at their own pace, and the cars average 50 to 60 (mph) quite nicely.”
Although Rolls-Royces are considered the quintessential British motorcar, many of the cars on tour were American-made. To get around high tariffs, Rolls-Royce had a factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, where it produced cars from 1921 to 1931. The American Ghosts are immediately identifiable: unlike the British versions, they have bumpers, and use “drum” headlights instead of the British “bucket” style.
Their owners also say they’re easy to drive, but you have to get the knack of it first. “The biggest thing is the gearshift,” said Garrett Shanklin, who brought his 1913 model from Groton, Massachusetts. “It’s a ‘crash-box’, with no synchro, so you must get the engine at the right speed. The throttle, spark advance and mixture are on the wheel. If you’re starting it from cold, you put the hood up and flood the carburetor to choke it, and then you start it, with an electric start.”
His Ghost is unusual in that it has a body made by the Brewster coachbuilding company in the U.S., but the car was assembled in Britain. Walking among the rows of cars, neatly parked in a hanger at the museum, it’s immediately apparent that each car is unique. Rolls-Royce made the chassis, and the bodies were crafted individually by coachbuilders to the buyer’s specifications. For this reason, no two Ghosts are exactly alike.
1912 Ghost owned by Dr. Morris Franklin, San Antonio, Texas. Click image to enlarge
The oldest car on the tour was a 1912 model, owned by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and driven by Alan and Victoria Campbell. The car had been a non-running display piece, but the couple got it started after only 48 hours of work, and they now estimate that it’s been driven 10,000 miles in the last four years.
It was bought by a British man in the 1950s, when it was wearing a truck body and being used as a bus. He designed its current body and had it built. The Campbells met him this year, when the car was shipped to England for the centenary celebration of the model. “We’d tried to find him for years, and when we were in England for the anniversary, he just came up to us,” Victoria Campbell says. “He’d gone to the show and recognized it.”
1925 Ghost belonging to tour co-organizers Bob and Nancie Thompson of Port Elgin, Ont. Click image to enlarge
That car’s original fate wasn’t unusual; many Ghosts were lost during the wars, when they were sent to scrap drives for their aluminum, or turned into work vehicles or tow trucks because of their heavy frames. Dr. Morris Franklin of San Antonio, Texas believes his 1923 model was spared such a fate only because no one knew where it was. It had been put away in a barn in 1937; he bought it and brought it out in 1977. “We think that’s what saved it from the war effort,” he says.
“I do all the work on it, and it’s been to Canada twice, all over the western and northeastern U.S., and to Australia. The appeal of touring is the friends, enjoying the cars, and doing what the cars were originally designed to do. I’ve been a team captain for judging and I know these cars, but it’s the people I meet and the country I get to see that I’d never get to otherwise. I do all the work myself, but I get technical help from others. We go to each other with problems, and everybody helps everybody else.”
1924 owned by Roger and Eleanor Hadfield, Milton Ont; and 1913 owned by Garrett and Sarah Shanklin of Groton, Massachusetts. Click image to enlarge
What makes tours like this one even more fascinating is that their owners use them: the 12-day tour covered some 1,300 miles, and the cars were driven for the entire length of the trip. Victoria Campbell estimates that 1919 to 1926 Silver Ghosts can range from $250,000 to $500,000, while pre-1914 models start at $600,000 (all prices U.S.). Earlier this year, ten sold at auction in California starting at $1.2 million.
“It’s the look you see on people’s faces when you’re driving, and they want to know all about the car,” says Eleanor Hadfield, whose bright yellow Ghost is a U.S.-built 1924 model. “The guys will be out at 6 a.m. in their coveralls, doing oil checks and prepping them. Everybody does their own work, they know their engines, and they know the number of CAA if necessary. They weren’t built to sit in a garage or a museum. They were built to be driven, and we drive them.”