To mark the 70th anniversary of the 40/50 Rolls-Royce, the Editor makes the acquaintance of Mr. S. R. Southall’s second-owner 1920 tourer.
As we remind you in last month’s Editorial, this year is the 70th Anniversary of the Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce. To celebrate this we could have given you a long history of this famous R-R model, which was anounced at the end of 1906, although it was not until 1907 that it sealed its fame with that RACobserved, 15,000-mile test and began to be delivered to the first private-owners. However, the Ghost’s illustrious history has been exceptionally well documented, by authors like Harold Nockolds, the late Anthony Bird, John Oldham and others, as well as in the fascinating magazines of the 20/Ghost Club, RREC, etc. So instead, I decided that a better approach would be to outline the history of this Rolls-Royce model (more properly referred to, apart from the celebrated 1906/07 demonstration car which was literally called “The Silver Ghost” as a 40/50) and try to make the acquaintance of, and secure performance figures from, a representative example of this now immortal breed.
It is well known that the Ghost followed a rather less successful 30 It.p. six-cylinder Rolls-Royce, as a 114 x 114 mm. six-cylinder side-valve motor-car, which after a startling failure in the 1912 Austrian Alpine Trial was quickly improved for the 1913 event, which a team of four cars dominated. Other successes of this kind had fallen to the pre-war 40/50 model, which down the years underwent various changes, notably to its transmission and rear suspension. In 1909 an extra }-in. was added to the cylinder stroke, bringing the capacity to 71-litres. The car earned for Rolls-Royce the title of “Best in the World” and by the outbreak of war was in great demand. A streamlined racing version had attained 101 m.p.h. on Brooklands in 1911
and the standard cars had the reputation of being near-silent, remarkably refined, almost 100% reliable touring cars and dignified closed carriages.
After the Armistice the demand continued, fostered by the prestige gained by war-time R-R aero-engines and Ghost armoured-cars, and by the time this model was superseded by the overhead-valve New Phantom in 1926, a total of 6,173 Derby-built Ghosts had been produced. They were not intended in any way to be sporting cars but one amateur ran his at Brooklands, winning one race and finishing third in another, eventually lapping at 87.38 m.p.h. I was extremely fortunate in being offered Mr. Stephen R. Southall’s 40/50 tourer to sample, or perhaps, as it is a splendid vintage motor-car, taste or imbibe would be a better way of expressing his generous co-operation. Ile is the second owner of this well-known Ghost. It is a 1920 model, engine and chassis no. 89AF., which was supplied to a Birmingham surgeon, Dr. Lewis Graham, after he had returned from military service. He collected the chassis from Derby on August 15th, 1920, at a time when less fortunate people were willing to pay premium prices for pre-war Rolls-Royce motor-cars. He required a touring body able to carry an operating table, his anaesthetist, and a nurse, as veil as himself (shades of how even privatemedical-practice has changed!) and this Flewitt’s of Birmingham constructed for him, using a high-backed front bench seat and a spacious back compartment, with detachable back seat. The car was christened “Wendy”, a name inscribed below the mascot, on the radiator filler-cap. Thus was she known at Derby and Hythe Road, as she is today at Crewe and in many parts of the World.
The good doctor was a close friend of Eric Milner of Benton & Stone Ltd., who had just introduced his now well-known Enot greasenipples and was trying to interest motor manufacturers in them. Dr. Graham had some fitted and these were approved by R-R when the body had been fitted and it went back to Derby in December 1920 for final approval. She was the first car to have grease-gun lubrication.
Dr. Graham is said to have been the only owner permitted to enter the sacred Hythe Road premises and work on his Rolls-Royce alongside the mechanics. He took it in once a year for routine attention, which he referred to as it having “a dusting”. As modifications were introduced they were incorporated—a thermostat in 1922, 700x 21 tyres in 1928, Paddon radiator-shutters (which Mr. Southall has removed, as inappropriate to a Ghost) in 1933. A Phantom steering-wheel was fitted in 1933. This enthusiastic first owner never had another car, seldom erected the hood, drove 89AF. only once on a Motorway, and was still running her when he died in 1968 at the age of 87—he used her for 70 miles the previous day. He and his wife, who were childless, regarded the Rolls as part of the family. When he retired to Scotland around 1934 they lived in a tent while a motor-house was built for “Wendy”, before they would even think of a house for themselves! During all this time, with 400,000 miles behind her, the car had been re-bored once, in 1945, and had given very little trouble, although she did require seven magnetos.
Mr. Southall had been brought up as a boy amongst cars of the right kind, which emitted the correct noises, for his Father had a succession of the better sort of Humbers. He had a 12/20 Lagonda before he was old enough to get a driving-licence, graduated to a Riley Gamecock which would do 84 m.p.h. and which he drove in trials, and during the War, while in the Fleet Air Arm, he put into storage for subsequent use a Morgan 4/4 drop-head. Thus he enhanced his motoring experience, up to recent Ownership of a DB6 Aston Martin, his present road car being a BMW 3.0Si. He had always wanted the Doctor’s Rolls-Royce (R-487I as it had been registered in Derby) and had put in many requests. The owner said that he might consider this “when he had no further use for her”. It is rumoured that after his death 86 people applied but his widow remembered Mr. Southall’s requests and he was able to buy R-4871. There was the exciting journey up to Scotland from Herefordshire to collect her, and a simply magnificent run down the West Coast road, taken in easy stages, in perfect weather, which Mr. Southall still recalls with nostalgia.
He had a unique motor-car, for “Wendy” is the only Rolls-Royce to have remained in its original owner’s hands for anything like 48 years and she is still 100, Royce. Few modifications have been made and those that there are were done by R-R even down to the brake stop-lights. For this reason Mr. Southall refuses to “restore” her. He uses her regularly, not simply as a rally or concours car. One day, he muses, she may need a re-paint, eventually it may seem advisable to replace the upholstery. For the present she remains, most commendably, a working, near-perfect example of the 1920 Ghost, used almost daily, and as original as they come. Now you will see why Motor Sport was so gratified to be sampling this particular 40/50…. Continuing in the former tradition, after bringing ‘”Wendy” home in September 1968, she was checked over with the help of Mr. Fisher, who used to be R-R’s Midland Service Engineer, who stayed with the Southalls and took charge. The following spring the car went on the FIVA Rally in Sardinia, covering 2,500 very pleasant miles through France, Switzerland and Italy. She has since done other rallies of this kind, including the Swiss FIVA Rally and this year’s FIVA Rally in Yorkshire. “Wendy” must be an absolutely delightful car for such Continental tours, which have comprised many of the 20,000 miles she has covered in the hands of her present owner. Very little trouble has been experienced. For a time there was intermittent rough running, caused by fine sediment which had formed in the petrol tank getting into the jets. More alarming was finding bits of broken split-pins in the sumpoil, during an overhaul. They were from the gudgeon-pin retaining bolts. The blocks were lifted, to reveal aluminium pistons, as a photograph shows, these having been standardised in 1919. New rings were obtained from R-R and the engine reassembled, the anxiety while the heavy blocks were being lowered over the pistons being considerable.
Today, with well over 400,000 miles behind her, this splendid Rolls-Royce may soon require relined brakes, as they are on the last three adjustment notches, and Southall says he may have to reline the clutch, as unless the pedal is depressed right to the floor, it drags. But there is no clutch slip if the linings of the cone are oiled, but, of course, the pedal has to be jacked so that the clutch is disengaged when the car is not in use, to avoid seizure of the cone. The outstanding aspects of the car, says its owner, are the incredible reliability, the good ride, which is superior to that of a Twenty or 20/25, and the very smooth running, from a 71-litre engine that peaks at about 2,300 r.p.m. and has a compression-ratio in the region of 3.7 to 1. To get really quiet running the tappets are set close, but for Continental touring they are opened up a bit, to prevent the possiblity of exhaust-valve burning. Two-star petrol is consumed at the rate of about 13 m.p.g., but on long runs across France 15 m.p.g. has been recorded, an improvement on the 11 m.p.g. Southall was getting before R-R supplied new carburetter jets. The owner has no interest in maximum speed, not belonging to the “Wattle-she-do ? Club”, but he gets 65 m.p.h. on a speedometer that reads “slow”, so the true top speed is no doubt over 70 m.p.h. A nice cruising pace is between 50 and 60 m.p.h.—just right for prevailing British speed-limits.
The engine is run on straight-30 oil, or 40 on the Continent, usually Newton’s Notwen, which is consumed at the rate of about 400 m.p.g. The sump capacity was originally 8-pints but by raising the off-take pipe this has been increased to an effective 14-pints.
This was the car I had selected as a representative 40/50 Rolls-Royce for the purposes of this Anniversary article. I drove over in the Editorial BMW to make its acquaintance on a dull showery day in the midst of the drought. After lunch I was taken out to Mr. Southall’s motor-house where “Wendy” is stabled with Mrs. Southall’s very smart 1930 Humber 16 saloon, her veteran Benz that had spent all its active life in Llandrindod Wells, and a fearsome 1904 Lagonda Forecar with the prototype air-cooled vee-twin engine (later models were water-cooled) which Southall found and drove while he was a student at Birmingham University, on Brighton Runs.
The big grey Rolls-Royce tourer towered over these other vehicles, a magnificent Ghost of the early 1920s, disc-wheeled, back-braked, and with a single-pane windscreen and a tonneau cover as the only concessions, apart from the hood, to bad-weather protection. I was now shown the starting procedure—by he chauffeur’s method. Later Ghosts had the R-R starting-carburetter but this 1920 model relies on the injection of neat petrol into the cylinders. Pressure is pumped-up in the tank with the dashboard hand-pressure-pump, the cylinders being primed by opening a valve. A penny—it has, of course, to be the correct 1920 penny—which is kept on the car, is inserted under the high-speed jet. The floatchamber is flooded once. The starting handle is then used to pull the engine over eight compressions. The ignition lever above the steering-wheel is then flicked, and away she should go, ticking over with hardly a sound. The penny is removed, and stowed. A tap is opened to momentarily feed oil to each of the six cylinders, a belt-and-braces method of ensuring that there is no piston-slap. This, and a certain amount of leakage, accounts for the somewhat high oil thirst of a pint per 50 miles or so. Should this starting procedure fail, there is always the electric-starter.
Looking around this fine touring-car, prior to Setting off to Shobdon aerodrome to take performance figures, I saw that she is, naturally, Dunlop-shod, that the lamps and all the electrics are Lucas, with the side-lamps on the scuttle, and a single Lucas spot-lamp (Southall would like to find a matching one, to be able to fit a pair), and that the screen is wiped by the original electric wiper. Indeed, with the car came not only the original instruction-book, but separate instruction-books for this wiper, the original hydraulic-jack and the electrical equipment, as well as the small red book in which Dr. Graham had recorded every happening and every piece of work ever done on the car. From the latter it is evident that only Rolls-Royce and the Doctor ever drove or worked on her.
From the front seat you look down on the typical bonnet with its rows of rivets, ahead of which is the famous radiator and the “Spirit of Ecstasy” mascot. The bonnet does not look unduly long. The dashboard is well, but not over-stocked. There is, from l to r., a Smiths clock, a big 90 m.p.h. Smiths speedometer with total mileage recorder, an ammeter, the Lucas switch panel, a vertical quadrant for the now-absent radiator shutters, a water thermometer normally reading 75″C., the oil-gauge that for some unexplained reason goes to 18 lb./sq. in. when the engine is first started from cold but soon settles down to reach 20 lb./sq. in., the pressure gauge for the fuel-feed system, which is mechanically maintained at 2 lb./sq. in., with, below it, the plated hand air-pump. To the left of this there is a former dip-switch, now serving the spot-lamp, since the headlamps have been converted to double-filament bulbs. Incidentally, although the car used to consume magnetos and Southall has had to have the seventh overhauled, the correct Watford EO6 instrument is in use. Audible warning of “Wendy’s” ghostly approach can be provided by a Klaxon, an electric horn, and a bulb-horn.
I have been in R-R Ghosts before but this one surpassed them all. In the front there is just a hint of subdued machinery functioning as Henry Royce intended, and an occasional very faint “plop” Irons the small exhaust-pipe fan-tail. In the sternsheets you hear nothing but the rush of the wind, as the car winds up towards 65 m.p.h. or more. Southall changed the-gears without a sound; as he says, you cats either do it all in top, or have fun by making use of the gearbox. The ride is fully in-keeping with the effortless, quiet manner of running. In the back you can feel the cantilever springs coping with road irregularities but no shocks or even much movement reach the occupants. These substantial cantilevers are damped by Hanlon’s, the front elliptic springs by R-R shock-absorbers, and all the springs are protected by the original leather gaiters. The brakes are thought to be metal-to-metal and ,the way in which Mr. Southall conducted us along the winding and narrow Herefordshire lanes proclaimed his confidence in them, and in the car’s controllability, there being surprisingly little roll even when it was cornered quickly. The o/s running-board carries a big tool-box, Shell and Pratts one-gallon petrol cans used to take oil when “Wendy” goes abroad, and a box forming a step for rear-seat users, in which is accomodated the hydraulic lifting-jack.
There is no need to describe the typical R-R minor controls with their individual markings, clear and to the point, that form the “tower” above the small-diameter steering-wheel.
I will conclude by remarking again on the superb running of this 1920 Ghost, which enabled me to at last understand why they were so often purchased as new cars in prefrence to other makes, and why present-day owners are so enthusiastic. To ride but briefly in this Rolls-Royce motor-car was most. enjoyable and enlightening—on post-Armistice roads it must have been way out above the common run of even so-called luxury ears. Appended are a few acceleration figures. obtained after the car’s speedometer had been checked by Our electric speedometer. , Remember that the clutch had to be treated with respect and that this was a 56-year-old everyday Rolls-Royce, driven normally by its owner, not by a professional tear-away, and study them with respect. They were recorded on a dry road, two up.—W.B.