Cars In Court

A suggestion which I have made more than once in MOTOR SPORT, that someone should write a book about Court cases in which cars or motoring matters were involved, seems about to reach fruition from a well-known author of motor-racing books, although with the emphasis on crime rather than legal battles over technicalities.

That apart, a case which would be entirely suitable for such a book has just concluded, the daughter of the late Amherst Villiers having won against Rolls-Royce Motors for breach of contract, brought by her well-known father back in 1991. It arose because Villiers had asked Rolls-Royce to convert a 1937 Phantom III (DJJ 401), with Gurney Nutting-style saloon body into a turbocharged version of this pre-war V12 model, to become what Amherst saw as the most fabulous R-R of all time, to be "a tribute to his friend Sir Henry Royce". The car was never finished in his lifetime, the engine was never turbocharged and the PIII was restored only to a condition described by the trial-Judge (Judge Prosser, QC, a Bentley owner who had been driven by Villiers in the Royce) as "well below standard". The case against R-R was exacerbated because they had agreed to turn out Villiers's car in perfect working order and "concours" condition free of charge by 1985, in return for the use of it for publicity purposes, a promise apparently made by former R-R Chairman Mr Richard Perry. In fact, R-R told Villiers he would have to pay for the work to be completed.

The case need never have been brought, the Judge said, if R-R had not decided to "brazen it out and fight tooth and nail" an old man who died of cancer during the trial. Amherst Villiers's daughter was awarded damages of £160,000 against Rolls-Royce Motors but the Judge would not be drawn over the suggestion that had the project been completed to Villiers specification the car could have been sold now for £500,000; he put a realistic figure as a possible £200,000 when the Classic Car market was at its peak, and £160,000 today. Not content with winning that sum in damages and interest for 3 1/2years for loss of use of the P111, she is likely to appeal, hoping to get the anticipated £500,000. Rolls-Royce, who were represented by Michael Silverteal, QC, may also appeal. It was said that the friendship with Sir Henry Royce began after Villiers had rather untidily applied a supercharger to a Phantom I R-R in 1926, although at the time a leading motor journal rather poked fun at this experiment as being very noisy and involving a separate engine of Villiers's design sitting on the Royce's running-board. Quite what publicity there would have been for Rolls-Royce from the turbo PIII in 1985 is open to question, unless to promote turbo-Bentleys to be. Mr Michael Dunn, head of R-R engineering, said that turbocharging a PIII was doomed to failure, and the project was of no value to the company In reply to which, Villiers, according to The Times, commented to his daughter that "The pin-striped cowboys have got under the wire at Crewe." The trial lasted 15 days Miss Villiers was represented by Peter Irvin, QC.

Among those who gave evidence or advised were Barry Summerfield, Bob Burrell, who had just won a race with one of his supercharged P111 Bentley-Royces, and Donald Parker, whose PIII engined Bentley Special survives in spite of a 9:1 c r.

Robin Young described Villiers in The Times as "Mr Supercharger", a reference to his association with Cook's TT Vauxhall, Raymond Mays's racing AC, and the blower-4 1/2-litre Bentleys of which W O Bentley disapproved, so one sees why he was keen to have a turbo P111. He also states that Villiers supplied Graham Hill with racing engines, (which is news to me but may refer to a stillborn plan to adapt a two-stroke, sleeve-valve R-R design), developed Sir Malcolm Campbell's LSR "Bluebird" (here there may be confusion with Leo Villa, although Villiers did design the 1927 chassis) and contributed to American space research. Amherst died of cancer on the third day of the trial. W B