I love attending one-make auto club events, especially national meets that bring together owners and their cars from across the country. There’s simply no better way to immerse yourself in a community that shares a passion for a car brand – or even a model – than by spending a day wandering the grass at a car show. club cars. Talking to the owners can tell more about the nature of the beasts – and the people who love them – than any general competition, cars and café, blog, magazine or rampant auction will ever be able to tell.
What’s remarkable about car clubs is that, like the animals in the zoo, each has its own personality. Some clubs, like those for BMW and Porsche enthusiasts, are huge, with national meetings whose attendance rivals that of a major auto show. Each club has its own customs and idiosyncrasies – dinner at the Morgan +4 Club parades a haggis accompanied by bagpipes and plenty of adult drinks. Gatherings of Corvettes, Ferraris, Mustangs and Jaguars all evoke varying degrees of formality, collegiality and, when the judging begins, brand-specific TOC behavior.
So it was with great anticipation that I drove from Los Angeles to San Diego to spend a few days with the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club (RROC) for their 70th Annual Meeting at the Dana Hotel in Mission Bay. And Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America has brought along a trio of new Ghosts for the enjoyment of club members and to underline the automaker’s connection to the past and present.
Rolls-Royce has 118 years of automotive history behind it, and while a 1906 Silver Ghost and a 2022 Ghost may seem as different as chalk and cheese, the reality is that, in addition to the name, the two automobiles share an almost continuous thread of DNA. In fact, Ghost is the oldest model name in the world, although technically the Rolls-Royce Phantom, with its unbroken line from 1925 to the present day, is the oldest as there were years when the Ghost n was not made.
The San Diego meet offered a bountiful lineup of pre- and post-war Rolls-Royce and Bentley models (remember, the two brands were bedfellows until 1998, and Bentley still owns the rights on historic car parts). The owners of these vintage cars are some of the most enthusiastic and affable car enthusiasts I have ever met. And they really conduct Their cars.
I’ve put thousands of miles on Goodwood Rolls-Royces, the ones made since 2004 at the new UK factory built after parent company BMW acquired the marque, and they remain the quietest, smoothest four-wheelers and the most luxurious in the automotive realm. But while I’ve seen hundreds of classics sporting the Spirit of Ecstasy atop a Pantheon grille, I’ve never seen one powered up. The club meeting offered such an opportunity with two former Silver Ghosts, perfect bookends for the brand new 2022 iterations at hand. Manufactured from 1906 to 1926, a total of 7,874 Silver Ghosts (originally called 40/50) were built.
One was a 1921 Springfield Silver Ghost currently owned by Doug Gates of Poway, California. The Mayfair body is closed at the rear but open at the front, just like cars whose owners were driven by a chauffeur. Remarkably, rear passengers enjoy seats as comfortable as grandma’s couch and have at least two feet more legroom than in any automobile made today. Expansive flat windows provided a panoramic view as we drove down the roads surrounding Mission Bay.
The other example was a 1923 Springfield Silver Ghost, an open-top tourer owned by Doug and Mary White of Raleigh, North Carolina, which put over 10,000 miles on its odometer in 2021 alone. Perched on the rear seat, you enjoy a view of the stadium, elevated above the front occupants, as in today’s Phantom. I accompanied its owner in the left front seat, studying the panoply of gauges and controls as he deftly engaged the dual clutch, shifted gears and operated the huge steering wheel with its hard rubber rim. The whole company called E. Power Biggs back to the bench of his giant pipe organ, employing every end to operate the massive instrument. Like keyboard virtuoso Biggs, White made it look like no work.
Both Silver Ghosts are American Springfield cars, of which 1,701 were made. That is, they were made at the Rolls-Royce factory in Springfield, Mass., back when the company was building cars in the UK. and United States. If ever a car was built to last, it’s a Rolls-Royce. It is claimed that around 70% of all Rolls-Royces ever built still exist. Which is perhaps unsurprising, considering that a Silver Ghost rolling chassis – minus the bodywork – cost $11,750 in 1921. These cars have always been exclusive in terms of comfort and price.
Conjuring up the image of a “brick outbuilding” isn’t very elegant, but it’s easy to imagine that in a showdown between this sturdy edifice and a Silver Ghost, the Rolls-Royce would surely win. One trait common to all contemporary Rolls-Royces – floating silently – struck me instantly when driving the two vintage Silver Ghosts. They were as smooth as they were quiet, the gargantuan engine spinning lazily without jolt or shudder. It’s inconceivable that such an old and primitive car could be so comfortable, and yet, it’s no exaggeration to imagine crossing the country in one. Or maybe 12,000 miles from North Carolina to Alaska, which is what White did in 2010.
Some of that smoothness is down to the engine, a 7.4-litre inline-six that develops around 80bhp at just 2,250rpm. And that allows for seemingly endless reconstructions. The Silver Ghost, equipped only with rear brakes and narrow tires, forces its driver to anticipate long stopping distances. So while it can reach a top speed of 80 mph, a cruising speed of 60 mph is prudent, based on the laws of physics and reason. . The first owners of these Springfield Rolls-Royces would have had drivers whose job it was not just to steer, stop and change the four gears, but to fix the mechanics, grease the Alamite fittings, change the belts and polish, polish, polish. It was a full time job.
Gates, the car’s fourth caretaker, regularly dons his overalls, slips under the mile-high chassis and lubricates as he pleases, meeting the needs of a Rolls-Royce that has provided reliable transport for more than a century. . And the rewards of guarding are great. Gates is careful to emphasize this term, not ownership, acknowledging that the possession of any wonderful thing is transitory.
Hoping these treasured cars will be appreciated 100 years from now, Gates says, “We are just the temporary owners. Some people buy them just to watch them. Some of us take a more active role. Every hour of driving is preceded and followed by many hours of work and maintenance. For the driver hired by the first owner of this car, it was a full-time job of 40 hours a week to properly service one of them. In the present there is much to enjoy, and thanks to the generous members of the club, those of us who otherwise would never have experienced these mechanical marvels have the opportunity to appreciate them first hand.