FORMERLY THE PROPERTY OF FRED ASTAIRE
1927 ROLLS-ROYCE PHANTOM I TOWN CAR (SINGLE CABRIOLET)
COACHWORK BY HOOPER OF LONDON AND INSKIP OF NEW YORK
Chassis No. 80 NC
Engine No. XC85
Brewster green with black wings, green cloth and leather interior
Engine: six cylinders in two blocks of three, overhead valves, 7668cc; Gearbox: four speed manual; Suspension: semi-elliptic leaf springs to front beam axle, cantilever leaf springs to live rear axle; Brakes: servo-assisted four wheel drum. Right hand drive.
In the uncertain luxury car market that Rolls-Royce faced after the Armistice that ended the Great War in 1918, they saw no need to hasten into production with a successor to the well-loved Silver Ghost that had served so well since 1906. Indeed, annual production of the type was greater between 1920 and 1924 than it had been before the war. The company took seven years to test and refine their new design and when it appeared in 1925, Rolls-Royce announced that in their view it was the most suitable type possible for the conditions of the time. Conveniently, the new car's chassis was quite like the Silver Ghost's, and the long stroke pushrod overhead six-cylinder engine resembled that of the Rolls-Royce Twenty introduced in 1922, but with twice the swept volume.
The factory declined to state the engine's output, being content merely to inform its customers that power was one-third greater than that of the Silver Ghost. The 100bhp that later enquiries established it to be provided a top speed of some 80mph, even when it was encumbered with bulky formal coachwork. It was a pace exceeded by few of its competitors and was matched by superb four-wheel servo-assisted brakes and suprisingly light steering. Initially titled the New Phantom, the car remained in production until the arrival of the Phantom II in 1929. A total of 3,453 Phantom I's emerged from the two factories in Britain and the USA.
Hooper, with their famous bow-fronted showroom just round the corner from the Palace of St. James and Christie's, were one of the great London coachbuilding houses, proud of a history stretching far back into the carriage era, and of continuing Royal patronage. Their great strength was formal coachwork, fastidiously executed and restrained in detail. According to factory records, this chassis was equipped with one of Hooper's distinguished single cabriolet bodies and delivered in March 1927 in London to Harold C. Drayton Esq., of Newport, RI, who intended it for Continental use
In the 'twenties Fred Astaire and his sister Adele entranced theatre audiences in New York and London with their incandescent performances in a string of smash-hit musicals. With 'Lady be Good', which opened in New York in January 1924, they became the biggest musical stars in Broadway's firmament. In those days the delicious Adele Astaire, witty, elegant, equally at home with slapsick comedy or romantic waltzes, was the big attraction. On stage, Fred was a little overshadowed, but it was his genius which drove their careers forward. Each hit musical was in turn brought to a major theatre in London's West End.
The elegant Astaires were the toast of fashionable society. In 1923, Noel Coward brought Prince George, the Duke of Gloucester, backstage to meet them. They were equally welcome in the drawing rooms of Belgravia during the London season, in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, or on the grouse moors of the greatest families. Adele gracefully parried the attentions of high-born suitors queuing at the stage door of any theatre in which she appeared. She was often seen modeling the new season's fashions by Molyneux in the pages of the glossy weeklies. Fred's casual elegance was influential. His easy double breasted lounge suits, set off by brown suede oxfords, were echoed by His Royal Highness Edward, Prince of Wales.
For the wealthy and well-connected, it was a brilliant time. In London the Astaires took sumptuous suites in the capital's newest, most exclusive hotel - Grosvenor House on Park Lane. Since his early days in burlesque, Fred had developed a liking for the most luxurious automobiles. By the late twenties he had refined his taste. The clamour of a Stutz or Bentley open sporting car was not for him. He preferred the understated magnificence of an enclosed chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce to take him to play golf or to the horse races on non-matinee afternoons. It was luxury and it was earned. Back in 1925, during the sensational New York run of 'Lady Be Good', the Astaires were offered $5000 a week to perform at the Trocadero night club in Manhattan after their nightly theatre performance. Adele, who preferred to party after the show, was not enthusiastic - the night club was after all little more than an exotic speakeasy in those prohibition days - but Fred told his friends he wanted the money to buy a new Rolls-Royce.
The third consecutive and greatest truimph for the pair was 'Funny Face', which ran for a year in New York before they brought it to London's West End. It opened at The Prince's Theatre on 8th November 1928 to ecstatic reviews and excellent advance bookings. A week later, just as soon as he was certain his stay in London would last until at least the following summer, Astaire confirmed his order, for immediate delivery, with Rolls-Royce for this Phantom single cabriolet open drive town car, its Hooper coachwork finished in green and black. An intriguing entry on the order sheets states, 'charge for heraldry and loose covers to follow to F. Astaire ex-Hooper and Co.'
On the final night of 'Funny Face', Prince Aly Khan, himself a Rolls-Royce owner, brought Lord Charles Arthur Cavendish, second son of the ninth Duke of Devonshire, to pay court to Adele. She and Charles were later married in the private chapel at Chatsworth House in 1932.
At the end of the 'Funny Face' season, Fred Astaire returned to New York, taking his Phantom with him. His liking for the Derby marque was enduring, and by 1932, very much the eligible bachelor about Manhattan, he was, according to one New York society reporter, regularly seen being driven around in a $22,000 Rolls-Royce.
Subsequently, as was accepted practice, he instructed that the car was to be updated to the contemporary style, and commissioned Inskip, the fashionable New York agents renowned for their own individual coachwork on Rolls-Royce to carry out the work. They incorporated many bespoke 'thirties features which the car still retains such as the scalloped wood door fillets also repeated on the dash, in the rear compartment and even on the front scuttle cover. It also features the special Inskip stylised door handles and more enveloping front fenders. The art deco rear finned arrowed indicators are also typical of the special order styling incorporated into the car.
The Phantom was purchased by its next owner in 1950. In the present ownership, this elegant Phantom has been meticulously refurbished, restoring it to the period style that would have befitted its refined celebrity owner.
The chauffeur's compartment is upholstered in dark green leather, whilst for the passengers, sumptuous green brocade adorns the seating, with a matching pair of cushions. Every need is catered for, with 'his and hers' English Silver vanity units, tumblers and flask, and clothes brushes. Furthermore the rear compartment is appointed with silver posy holders and two unusual walking sticks, one fitted with a single telescope (Fred Astaire was a noted horse race goer), the other fitted with opera glasses. The latter are fitted vertically on the division, which also houses two disappearing occasional seats. Passengers also benefit from a full-width footrest and a rear window blind again with the distinctive scallop. A sliding glass partition, as well as speaking tube, enables contact with the driver. The wood cappings throughout the car are ebonised lacquered wood, and the interior is completed by exquisite silver plated fittings.
The exterior paintwork is finished in the original Brewster Green livery with black wings and a black leather roof. An 'A' monogram on the passenger doors, front scuttle and trunk identifies its former owner. The period theme is continued by the well-equipped and extremely rare Louis Vuitton motoring trunk which carries Top hat, white bow tie and leather gloves, together with a black cane with silver cigarette lighter, cuff and collar boxes and a Turnbull & Asser silk scarf for evening use, a leather covered flask, a 'tea-for-two' picnic set, plus, of course, both dancing and the inevitable tap shoes. In the lid of the trunk, reflecting Fred Astaire's sporting pursuits, are a period tennis racket, cricket bat and shooting sticks whilst a secret locker reveals a full set of period golf clubs. Beneath the trunk is yet another compartment which opens to reveal a fully equipped fitted tool drawer.
Recently completed to first class show standard, this exceptional Rolls-Royce Phantom Town Car encapsulates the Roaring 'Twenties and perhaps Fred Astaire could indeed have been seen in the back 'tying up his white tie, brushing off his tails...' Certainly the level of detail in every respect has, as he sang, an 'atmosphere which simply reeks with class'.