Vintage postbag, March 1976

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The Only Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost

Sir,

I have seen the recent correspondence in Motor Sport about early R-R cars bearing an AX Index Number and also the query as to which was the first “Silver Ghost”. Taking the AX number first, this is a Monmouthshire registration and it has always been assumed that it was used owing to the fact that the Hon. C. S. Rolls lived at “The Hendre”, which is just outside Monmouth Town. I believe I am correct in saying that the 10 h.p. twin-cylinder now in the Science Museum in London bears the number AX 148. In my book “The RollsRoyce 40/50 h.p.” there’s a photograph of a 30 h.p. six-cylinder which bears the number AX 158 and in my book “The Hyphen in Rolls-Royce” is shown the only picture of a “Legal limit”, with Claude Johnson at the wheel; this car bears the number AX 144, though the number AX did not appear on every early Rolls-Royce car it certainly predominated as long as the Hon. C. S. Rolls was active in the affairs of Rolls-Royce Ltd. Later the most prominent registration numbers started with R, which is a Derby registration.

When the new model came out for the 1906 Motor Show it was not called a “Silver Ghost” but simply “40/50”; the name was given to chassis number 60551, which is reputed to he the 13th 40/50 made. This is the famous car which bears AX 201 and which Claude Johnson used for all his publicity trials and for which he named “The Silver Ghost”. It was the one and only up until 1925, when the “New Phantom” appeared, which was given this name to distinguish it from the 40/50s which had been built in 1908 that Claude Johnson had named “Silver Phantom”.

Strictly speaking, there is only one “Silver Ghost” and that is AX 201; the others are all of “Silver Ghost” type.

The first 40/50 in this series bore the chassis No. 60539 and I was able to obtain very little information on it when I was researching for my book “The Rolls-Royce 40/50”, except it was a long chassis fitted with limousine coachwork.

AX 192 shown in the well-known “Cat and Fiddle” picture is the second 40/50 to he built and it was the Olympia Motor Show demonstrator (chassis no. 60540). Later this car was rebodied as a landaulette and later still the number was transforred to a 1912 chassis, 2013.

Unfortunately, most Rolls-Royce Body Cards do not give the Index no. allocated to a chassis, so it has not been possible to identify which chassis the number AX 205 was mounted on, which is another car that appears in the “Cat and Fiddle” photograph shown in my R-R 40/50 book. But AX 204 was originally on a Barker phaeton de luxe (chassis no. 60552) but this car was exported to America in 1907. Chassis no. 60560 bore the Index No. AX 203, but so much changing around of Index nos. and actual coachwork has always taken place with R-R chassis that it is possible that the number Mr. Winkle refers to in his letter of November 1975, AX 210, was on an earlier 40/50 chassis than 1912, when it was first issued. But I have not seen the photograph, so cannot comment further upon it, nor have I any record of this number, AX 210, amongst my files.

I hope this letter will clear up the reason for the AX Index number being on early R-R cars and also which car was the first “Silver Ghost”. It was chassis no. 60551 Index no. AX 201, the number the car still hears and all others preceding it and afterwards, right up until 1925, were simply Rolls-Royce 40/50s. Incidentally this name 40/50 h.p. went right on until the end of the Phantom III, which was the last 40/50 model.

Jersey

John Oldham