Coachbuilding the Phantom

The Rolls-Royce Phantom range kept London’s veteran coachbuilders busy, creating a range of subtly different variations on the Phantom V and Phantom VI – including several for The Queen. Words by David Towers

The Rolls-Royce Phantom V was introduced in October 1959 with the new V8 engine of 6,230cc, which was fitted to the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II and the Bentley S2 at the same time. In 1968, the Phantom VI replaced the Phantom V – the two cars were almost identical.

All Phantom V and Phantom VI cars had a similar chassis, complete with a large tube in the middle that allowed extension of the wheelbase, and a propeller shaft that passes through this tube. While the chassis was built at the Rolls-Royce factory in Crewe, the body would be made by a coachbuilder, almost all of which were located around London.

The Phantom V was the “large” Rolls-Royce that replaced the Silver Wraith, a car that was built between 1946 and 1958. The Silver Wraith started with a wheelbase of 10ft 7in, and was later extended to 11ft 1in. Neither version could provide a passenger compartment sufficiently large enough to accommodate seven passengers and a generous boot.

The Phantom V had a 12ft 1in wheelbase (the same as the exclusive Phantom IV, manufactured between 1950 and 1956) and the length was 19ft 10ins. For comparison, the Silver Cloud II had a wheelbase of 10ft 7ins and a length of 17ft 8ins. The chassis of the Phantom V was similar to the Silver Cloud but with a large diameter tube at the cross-over that allowed the increase in wheelbase.

Seven coachbuilders built the bodywork for Phantom V chassis. The two coachbuilders owned by Rolls-Royce were Park Ward (bought by Rolls-Royce in 1939) and H J Mulliner (bought in 1959). In 1962, Park Ward and Mulliner merged to form Mulliner Park Ward and produced coachwork for the Phantom that was based on the more popular Park Ward body. It remained to the end of production of the Phantom VI in 1991. Together, Park Ward and Mulliner produced just over 60 per cent of all Phantom Vs – Park Ward building 156, H J Mulliner building nine and the merged Mulliner Park Ward 150.

The other major coachbuilder was James Young in Bromley, which built 197 Phantom Vs, or just under 40 per cent of the total. Only four bodies were produced by other coachbuilders: Chaperon (which made two), Hooper and Woodall Nicholson (one each).

H J Mulliner was founded in 1900 and supplied bodies for Rolls-Royce cars from the very early days. The Mulliner body on the Phantom V (chassis 5LAS3) has similarities to the Bentley S1 Flying Spur (four-door) body with the swage lines round the wheel arches on the front and rear wings, descending slowly after they reach the peak of the wheel arch. The body has quite a thrusting and accelerating stance, sportier than any other Phantom V body.

The Cathedral tail lights are impressive. The boot is raised above the wing to increase its capacity, although its line is similar to the bottom of the side windows. The edge of the boot and the roof is semi razor-edged. Like the James Young bodies, there’s a slight conflict between these semi-razor-edged features and the curves of the side of the car and front and rear wings. Despite the height of the boot lid, the rear window is generous. The tops of the front and rear wings are almost horizontal after they reach the top of the wheel arch. Sadly, this design only lasted until H J Mulliner and Park Ward were (sensibly) combined into a single brand, Mulliner Park Ward. Perhaps this design had too sporting a feel, rather than the formal design required for a large Phantom V limousine.

Park Ward was established in 1919 by W M Park and C W Ward and operated from High Road, Willesden, north-west London. Their first Rolls-Royce order was in 1921. The company was acquired by Rolls-Royce in 1939, so was well established by the time of the introduction of the Phantom V in October 1959. Park Ward’s first body style on the Phantom V was design number 980.

This is a similar style to the Silver Cloud, although the wing line from the front wheel to the rear wheel arch is higher. It is a very conservative design, although there are highlights of brightwork around the quarter-light of the front door and the window behind the rear door. There is no brightwork around the front and rear door windows. The front door is hinged at the front and the rear door hinged at the rear, making the rear door what has become known as a “suicide door”. The front and rear door handles are together, an elegant solution and convenient for the chauffeur and his front-seat passenger to open the rear doors for the rear passengers. This provides easier entry and exit for the rear-seat passengers. This body provided generous accommodation for the chauffeur, rear-seat passengers and those on the “occasional” rear seats. It also had a generous-sized boot.

When H J Mulliner and Park Ward merged in autumn 1962 they produced the Mulliner Park Ward (MPW) design 2003, based on the earlier Park Ward 980 design. At the same time the Phantom V acquired four headlamps, like the Silver Cloud III. The curved rear quarter design and rear boot lid are similar to the James Young bodies, with the boot lid raised above the rear wing. These changes and the brightwork around the front and rear door windows are improvements. The two-tone colours are also very attractive.

James Young of Bromley was founded in 1863. On the Phantom V chassis the company’s outstanding stylist A F McNeil designed the seven-passenger limousine (PV15) and the Touring Limousine (PV22). The seven-passenger limousine provides the maximum space in the back with the two occasional seats facing forward. At 19ft 10ins, the Phantom V is probably the longest production car. This allowed A F McNeil to produce smooth and elegant curves. The seven-passenger limousine can be identified by the larger side window behind the rear passenger door.

The body is very stylish, with the top of the front wing slowly descending into the rear wing and the slow descent of the rear wing into the tail lights and bumper. Originally, this car was a “plain” PV15 style. No original seven-passenger limousines had a Sedanca body. This car was converted to a Sedanca (with a stowable roof above the chauffeur) by Rod Jolley Coachworks of Lymington, Hampshire, England. A Sedanca body makes the car look more elegant, but the loss of the roof makes it structurally less strong, often with problems of fitting the doors.

From late 1965, bodies acquired a “Hooper-style” rear-side window (concave on the rear face), with the designation PV16 (from PV15). The car looks even more elegant. The Touring Limousine (style PV22) had a slightly reduced length to the rear compartment that allowed a smoother and more elegant style to the rear of the car (compared to the seven-passenger limousine PV15 style). On sales, the Touring Limousine proved to be three times more popular than the seven-passenger body. It might be the most elegant Rolls-Royce body of all time – note the incredibly stylish wing lines and swage lines, the curve of the roof line back to the rear bumper and how the rear side window line matches the descending roof line. There’s a slight difficulty in matching the curved rear wing line to the semi-razor-edged descending roof line and boot line. However, this does give a generous boot.

As explained, from late 1965 James Young produced a “Hooper” variation of the rear-side window. About a quarter of JY bodies had this feature. Osmond Rivers of Hoopers styled this rear side window, principally for Daimlers, but also to Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. Freestone & Webb used this and other Hooper features on its bodies (which could be even more elegant than the Hooper ones).

James Young produced Sedanca-de-Ville bodies on Touring Limousines, seven with the earlier PV22 rear side window and three on the later Hooper-style (PV23) rear side window. The letters SD are added to the body style for Sedanca bodies. James Young’s leading stylist A F McNeil died in November 1965 and James Young ceased production at the end of 1967, so they only produced bodies for the Phantom V. Of the 197 Phantom Vs it coachbuilt, James Young produced 51 seven-passenger limousines, 13 of these with a Hooper rear side window. It also produced 142 touring limousines, 31 of these with a Hooper rear side window.

When it came to the Phantom VI, Rolls-Royce had initially wanted to produce a completely new model, but this was not possible. At this stage, the company didn’t have the manpower, finance or future sales to justify it. As a result, the Phantom VI was virtually identical to the Phantom V, but with some updates from the Silver Shadow. The Phantom VI had the revised cylinder heads that allowed better access to the sparking plugs. A new fascia provided separate fresh air vents, and a new heating and air conditioning system. The heater air intake was moved in front of the front windscreen, rather than low down at the front behind the front bumper. In 1971, for safety reasons, the rear doors became front hinged (non-suicide).

The Phantom VI retained the separate chassis, coachbuilt body, the four-speed hydramatic automatic gearbox with a fluid coupling and the 6.23 litre V8 engine.

All but eight of the 374 Phantom VI chassis had a Mulliner Park Ward body. MPW produced 346 limousines, one touring limousine, five specially protected limousines, 12 landaulettes and two saloons with no division. The other coachbuilders were Frua (which produced one drophead coupe and one cabriolet), Simpson & Slater, Woodall Nicholson and Wilcox (who produced six hearses between them).

Production of the Phantom VI declined with 374 bodies being produced in 23 years (16.2 a year) compared with 516 Phantom V bodies in nine years (57.3 a year). In the last 10 years only 33 bodies were produced (3.3 a year). The penultimate Phantom VI (chassis LWH10425) was delivered to the furniture manufacturer and philanthropist George Moore CBE in June 1991. Rolls-Royce planned to retain the last Phantom VI (chassis LWH10426), but it was sold to the Sultan of Brunei in 1993.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has owned several Phantom cars over the years. Two identical and unique early Phantom V cars were made for her shortly after their introduction – chassis 5AS33 was delivered in March 1960 and 5AT34 in February 1961. This is the Park Ward 980 design with the roof line raised by five inches and a plastic “bubble” over and behind the rear seats. A cover can be fitted over the rear “bubble” for greater privacy for the rear-seat passengers, with a small letter-box aperture covering the rear Perspex window, which makes it totally inadequate as a rear window. It also has rear-hinged rear doors. When The Queen is in the car, the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot is replaced with a mascot of St George slaying the dragon and there is no number plate, as the car has no registration.

For The Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, Rolls-Royce produced a revised version of the Phantom VI. It had the larger 6,750cc engine and General Motors hydramatic three-speed automatic gearbox with a torque converter (rather than the earlier four-speed gearbox with a fluid coupling). The gear lever on the steering column became electrically operated rather than the mechanical connection to the nearside of the gearbox. The braking system used the high-pressure pumps of the Silver Shadow. However, drum brakes were retained, so the high pressure from the engine pumps was reduced by push rods to the lower pressure for the drum brakes.

The Queen’s car, PGH101, should have been delivered in 1977, the year of her Silver Jubilee, but it was delayed to March 1978 because of a strike at MPW. This car introduced the PGH chassis designation, replacing the earlier PRH designation. The Queen had a further Phantom VI in July 1987 (chassis HWH10415), which was a “normal” Phantom VI and not one with the roof raised by five inches.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom V was introduced in October 1959, essentially a very long wheelbase version of the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II. It had the famous Rolls-Royce V8 engine (which lasted a further 61 years to 2020). However, in other respects, the car was old-fashioned in 1959, with a separate chassis, drum brakes with a mechanical servo, live rear axle on leaf springs, an automatic gearbox with a fluid coupling that was used by General Motors pre-Second World War, and a coachbuilt body. In 32 years of production there were few updates.

The coachbuilt body allowed a number of variations by different coachbuilders. The length of the car allowed elegant styling, particularly the James Young bodies and its Touring Limousine with Hooper-style rear-side window. The original Mulliner body is interesting – it doesn’t look like a large limousine and has a somewhat sporting look. The Phantom V and VI models are well-known but rare, with 563 Phantom V cars produced in nine years and only 375 Phantom VI cars produced in 23 years. In the end, Rolls-Royce was producing only three cars a year. It is a true Rolls-Royce car – exceptional quality, luxury and status. The end of production in 1991 was the end of an era.

Thanks to Bernard King for providing the chassis numbers, and to Martin Bennett’s book “Rolls-Royce: The Post-War Phantoms IV, V, VI”, published by Dalton Watson in 2008