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Automotive aristocracy

With only 18 chassis ever produced and a client list of royalty and heads of state, the Phantom IV is one of the world’s most exclusive motor cars. Words by Martin Bennett, abridged by Philip Hall

Royal cars for state use had traditionally been supplied by Daimler – a role that, by the early post-war period, Rolls-Royce had begun to consider was rightfully theirs. An impediment was the fact that the largest car in the Rolls-Royce range was the 10ft 7in wheelbase Silver Wraith, a chassis best suited to owner-driver coachwork and not nearly large enough for a state limousine. Although seven-seater enclosed limousines were built on this chassis, in the words of Ivan Evernden these suffered from “the ‘heavy back end’ appearance, reminiscent of a short roller skate on a long shoe”! In short, the Silver Wraith chassis simply was not long enough for coachwork of that type.

Developing a solution to this problem had begun in 1937 when the “Rationalised Range” project was initiated to reduce manufacturing costs. This included a straight-eight replacement for the V-12 engined Phantom III. One of four Experimental cars was fitted with a large Park Ward seven-seater limousine body and was officially called “Silver Phantom”, though it soon became known as “Big Bertha”. This was the genesis of the Phantom IV. This proposed replacement for the Phantom III was not expected to be introduced in the difficult post-war economic climate. However, upon receipt of an order from their Royal Highnesses Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1949 for a large, enclosed limousine, the decision was taken to make an exception for this very special order.

Another straight-eight powered Experimental car tested during and after World War II had the official Experimental Department name “Comet”, but its scorching performance earned it the fond epithet “Scalded Cat”. “Scalded Cat” attracted the attention of the Duke of Edinburgh, who was allowed to borrow it. There can be little doubt that the Duke’s obvious enjoyment of “Scalded Cat” influenced the nature of the royal order that followed. He was clearly inclined towards the products of Rolls-Royce Ltd rather than those of Daimler.

The Phantom IV chassis, with its 12ft 1in wheelbase, offered 12 inches more interior space than the current 10ft 7in wheelbase Silver Wraith. The rear compartment of the proposed Phantom IV Park Ward enclosed limousine was 7½ inches longer than that of the equivalent Silver Wraith, the additional legroom being shared equally between the rear seat and the occasional seats.

The longer bonnet, to accommodate the straight-eight engine, also improved the car’s proportions and allowed a sidemount spare wheel to be fitted low enough to keep the top of the spare level with the bonnet waistline – an aesthetic ideal. Luggage space benefitted considerably from this arrangement.

At the time of building the first Phantom IV chassis, 4AF2, it was the only one in production, and there was no certainty that there would be any more. It was therefore hand-built at Clan Foundry, Belper, near the Derby works rather than disrupt chassis production at Crewe where the Car Division had been relocated after the war. Mindful of its first step in supplying royal state cars, the Company board was very keen to ensure that the car was the best there had ever been, and a great deal of hand work was lavished on the construction of the chassis.

Built under the code-name “Nabha”, 4AF2 was fitted with enclosed limousine coachwork by H J Mulliner & Co. Ltd with the characteristically handsome lines for which the coachbuilder was well known, and supplied to the royal couple through Car Mart Ltd in July 1950. The choice of both chassis maker and coachbuilder was itself a break with tradition, as Hooper held the Royal Warrant at the time. The delivery of 4AF2 was accompanied by an announcement that the Phantom IV had been “Designed to the special order of their Royal Highnesses, the Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh”.

After Princess Elizabeth came to the throne in February 1952, 4AF2 was repainted in the sovereign’s colour scheme of Royal Claret and black. Ironically enough, this task was carried out by Hooper, who were responsible for the coachwork upkeep of cars in the Royal Mews. At the same time, the green leather upholstery in the front compartment, which had matched the original Valentine Green paintwork, was changed to dark blue and the number plate fittings were removed as the sovereign’s cars were not required to display registration plates. The Rolls-Royce ousting of Daimlers from the Royal Mews had begun.

A second Phantom IV chassis quickly followed. This was a development chassis, 4AF4, which was bodied by Park Ward as a lorry and used by the Experimental Department garage, then still located at Belper, and as a works delivery lorry. Being capable of quietly and effortlessly exceeding more than three times the speed limit at the time for commercial vehicles in the United Kingdom of 30 miles per hour, this vehicle tended to attract unwanted attention from the police. It must have been easily Britain’s fastest lorry!

Its construction meant that Rolls-Royce must by then have been at least considering, if not making the Phantom IV part of the generally available model range, at least making it available to the special order of certain customers. In fact, it became clear that the orders had been taken behind the scenes, as further Phantom IVs were delivered over the following few months.

The third Phantom IV, in chassis number order if not delivery date, was 4AF6. This car, for the Shah of Persia (Iran), was bodied by H J Mulliner with unconventionally styled drophead coupé coachwork. It was the only two-door Phantom IV and the only one not to be fitted with the large, free-standing Lucas R100 headlamps. It was finished in light metallic blue with white leather upholstery and black mohair hood. Problems with flexing were experienced and the coachwork took rather longer than usual to complete. It was eventually delivered to the shippers on 3 December 1951. Though this is the only Phantom IV chassis ever to be scrapped (in 1959), the unusual body survives on a Phantom III chassis fitted with a B80 engine, which is the less refined commercial/military version of the Phantom IV straight-eight.

4AF8 was built for the Emir of Kuwait. H J Mulliner built the saloon coachwork, which was unusual in that it was not fitted with a division and in its colour scheme of Orange Biscuit over Royal Blue. It was delivered in September 1951. The Emir subsequently took delivery of two further Phantom IVs.

Also in September 1951, the first Phantom IV (other than the works lorry) to have coachwork by a firm other than H J Mulliner was delivered to the Duke of Gloucester. This was a rather severe looking limousine by Hooper on chassis 4AF10. The Duke’s predilection for satin-finish black paintwork (for the side panels between the waistline and the wings) and rather plain interior furnishings added to the somewhat sombre appearance of this car.

4AF12 was also a Hooper limousine, a razor-edge body of particularly attractive lines. It was built for the use of Rolls-Royce Ltd Managing Director, Lord (Ernest) Hives upon his elevation to the peerage. He is said to have used the Phantom very little, apparently preferring his Bentley R-Type. In late 1953, 4AF12 was sent to Hythe Road to be fitted with an automatic gearbox, then to Hooper’s Acton works for an extensive re-fit, and sold to the Duchess of Kent (later Princess Marina).

Three Rolls-Royce cars – two heavily armour-plated limousines and a cabriolet – were ordered at the end of 1948 by the Government of Spain, for the use of General Franco. Advice from the Foreign Office suggested that the order could not be refused, so the decision was taken to build them as Phantom IVs rather than over-burden the Silver Wraith chassis. The coachbuilder recommended by Rolls-Royce Ltd for this order was H J Mulliner. The cabriolet, chassis 4AF18, was delivered in March 1952 and the two limousines, 4AF14 and 4AF16, followed in June and July 1952.

4AF20 was bodied by Hooper as a sedanca de ville – the only body of that type on a Phantom IV chassis – for Aga Khan III. The coachwork, perhaps one of the best looking of all the Phantom IVs, was finished in two shades of green and upholstered in red Connolly (a long-established British firm of curriers that provided upholstery leather to the coachbuilding trade) hide with red cloth headlining and red carpets. The completed car was shipped to France on 6 April 1952 and delivered by Franco-Britannic Autos of Paris.

The third Phantom IV to have open coachwork , and the only one bodied by a foreign coachbuilder, was 4AF22, the last “A” series chassis. Though sometimes listed as a sedanca de ville, it is in fact a cabriolet, or ‘all-weather’. Design and construction of the four-door, six-seater open coachwork was entrusted to Franay of Paris, who incorporated some rather innovative features, such as hydraulically-operated swivelling seats. It was built for Prince Talal al Saud Ryal of Saudi Arabia and delivered by Franco-Britannic Autos for use in France.

The “B” series Phantom IV differed in having wider eight-inch wheel rims. The first “B” chassis were 4BP1 and 4BP3, which were fitted with Hooper touring limousine coachwork for King Faisal II and the Prince Regent of Iraq, respectively. Both chassis left for the coachbuilder in November 1952 and the completed cars were delivered to the shippers on 31 March 1953.

The first Phantom IV built new with the automatic gearbox was 4BP5, which was code-named “Jubilee”. This chassis was stiffened by the Experimental Department to overcome the flexing problems experienced with the open coachwork of 4AF6. The chassis was despatched to Hooper & Co. on 9 November 1953, to be fitted with landaulette coachwork, a body type with little more inherent stiffness than fully open coachwork. It was finished in the royal colours of Royal Claret and black and completed in April 1954 for the exclusive use of The Queen who, despite having acquired the first Phantom IV as Princess Elizabeth, had remained loyal to Daimlers as state cars after becoming Queen. Rolls-Royce Ltd remained determined to change this. It was specified that 4BP5’s landaulette coachwork was to be identical in the internal dimensions to the similar Hooper coachwork of the straight-eight Daimlers.

Large bumpers and overriders of a design then being fitted to a Bentley Continental, and which later became standard on all models, were originally fitted to 4BP5. However, in late 1958 the car was despatched to the Rolls-Royce Service Depot in Hythe Road, Willesden, to be prepared for permanent handover to the Royal Mews, and as part of the preparation the bumper overriders were exchanged for the old pattern, in order to match those of 4AF2. At the same time, the number-plate fittings, being no longer required, were removed. On 30 January 1959, 4BP5 was formally delivered to The Queen. The Rolls-Royce ousting of Daimlers from the Royal Mews was now all but complete.

The last “B” Series car was 4BP7, which was fitted with seven-passenger limousine coachwork by H J Mulliner for Princess Margaret. In order to disguise the identity of the customer, cars for British royalty were always built under code-names, in this instance “Baron Montagine”. The particularly handsome coachwork, finished in black, differed from the Queen’s Mulliner limousine 4AF2 in having the coachbuilder’s later, higher front wingline and the later pattern bumpers and overriders. The automatic gearbox was fitted, and because Princess Margaret sometimes preferred to drive herself, an “owner driver” steering column, one inch shorter than standard, was specified. It was delivered in July 1954.

The final (“C” series) Phantom IVs have wider front brake drums, the 3¾ inch bore, 6,515 cc (Mk V) version of the straight-eight engine and automatic transmission as standard. The first of these, 4CS2, was despatched to H J Mulliner on 1 February 1955 to be fitted with saloon coachwork with refrigerated air conditioning, in Light Green over Opaline Green, for the Emir of Kuwait. It was delivered to the shippers in November 1955. A week later, another chassis, 4CS4, arrived at Mulliner to be fitted with similar coachwork, but finished in Snow Shadow over Golden Beige, for the same owner. This was delivered to the shippers in January 1956, making a total of three Phantom IVs for the Emir.

The last Phantom IV was 4CS6, which was fitted with Hooper coachwork very similar to that of 4BP1 and shipped on 11 December 1956 to the Shah of Persia (Iran).

Eighteen chassis were built in all, of which 15 were initially delivered to customers outside of the Company. Orders were not accepted from any customers other than royalty and foreign heads of state. Even two of the three examples supplied by Rolls-Royce Ltd to themselves ultimately came into the ownership of members of the British royal family. With the exception of 4AF4, the works delivery lorry, and 4AF22, which was bodied by Franay, the French coachbuilder then favoured by the Saudi royal family, the Phantom IV coachwork was the exclusive domain of two coachbuilders: H J Mulliner (nine) and Hooper (seven).

It is not known exactly when the “royalty and heads of state only” policy was decided, nor indeed whether in fact there was such an explicit Company policy. It is known, though, that a boardroom decision was reached that it would be impractical and disruptive to production of standard models to attempt to build more than three Phantom IVs per year. It is also clear that no private customer other than royalty or heads of state ever took delivery of a Phantom IV. Nevertheless, a considerable number of coachbuilder’s drawings exist of proposed Phantom IVs that were never built.

Just how, or if, the news was broken to those customers that the Company would not supply a chassis for their proposed cars, or how they were talked around to other models, is open to conjecture.

H J Mulliner & Co. was particularly prolific in designing Phantom IV coachwork, only a small proportion of which ever came to fruition. In fact, the number of Phantom IVs designed by the coachbuilder that were not built is equal to the total number of Phantom IVs that were built!

This article is taken from the Phantom IV chapter of “Rolls-Royce: The Post-war Phantoms” by Martin Bennett, published by Dalton Watson in 2008. Abridged, with agreement of the author, by Philip Hall