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Rolls-Royce Phantom Brougham DeVille from 1926: a rolling museum

This Rolls-Royce Phantom represents the absolute zenith of bodybuilder craftsmanship in the 1920s, boasting a bold Rococo interior that is nothing short of lavish. It dates back to a time when almost all quality car manufacturers supplied only the running chassis, leaving the customer to order the body of their choice from one of the many specialist body companies. In this case, Rolls-Royce's customer was Clarence Warren Gasque, an American businessman of French descent living in London, who chose the latest high-end model from the prestigious British automaker, the New Phantom, which had was introduced in 1925 as a replacement for the Silver Ghost 40/50 hp.

For years, Rolls-Royce has been a master in Coachbuilding, the art of customizing a car to the wishes of its (rich) clientele. This department was established by the brand for customers "who wish to go beyond existing constraints and explore the almost limitless possibilities available to them. "

“After seven years of experimentation and testing, during which no promising device remained on trial, the 45/50 hp Phantom chassis has emerged and is offered to the public as the most suitable type possible for a mechanically powered cart under current conditions, ”Rolls-Royce announced.

Known in retrospect as the Phantom I, the newcomer boasted an all-new 7,688cc pushrod, overhead valve six-cylinder engine with removable cylinder head, a unit considerably more powerful than that of its Edwardian predecessor. . The new Phantom, like the contemporary 20 hp Rolls-Royce, adopted a disc clutch and adjustable radiator flaps; its chassis, however, remained essentially the same as that of the later four-wheel braked 'Ghost and would continue basically unchanged until the arrival of the Phantom II in 1929 brought with it an entirely new frame. A total of 2,212 Phantom I chassis had left the UK Rolls-Royce plant by the time production ceased. Clarence Gasque was CFO of the UK division of US retail company F W Woolworth, which was one of the original pioneers of the "five and dime" store.

The company's UK subsidiary had contracted for the construction and supply of several engine bodies from longtime Wolverhampton-based bodybuilder Charles Clark & ​​Son Ltd, and this is to Clark's owner, Mr. JH Barnett, formerly at Austin, whom Clarence Gasque turned to when he needed bodywork for his new Rolls-Royce. In fact, Gasque did not want the car for himself, but for his wife Maude, a Woolworth heiress; he also wanted it to outperform the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts bodyworked by Clark for fellow American and Woolworth colleague Surefire Snow, a dynamic New Yorker who had been instrumental in setting up the British operation of Woolworth. A connoisseur of French antique furniture, Gasque commissioned the coachbuilder to build a miniature salon in a style appropriate to the interior of the Brougham body.

As JH Barnett later recalled, “As I believe is often the case with Americans, this gentleman wanted a car for his wife that must be different from anything else, and also better. He didn't say what he wanted, except that the design had to be French, and let me do everything, including the price.

Seeking inspiration for this loosely specified commission, Barnett visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the world's largest museum dedicated to art and design. He saw there "a very delicious little sedan chair which had once belonged to Marie-Antoinette, and which had a painted ceiling." Barnett recalls: “I only had a very small staff, but a good foreman who was working, and I did the sketches and plans he needed ... All of the interior woodwork was done here (in Wolverhampton). , but part of the sculpture was made in London. The panels and cabinets we made entirely, but the painting was done by a Frenchman in London, whom I have lost track of.

“The metal interior fittings were made by Elkingtons to our design. The tapestry was made in Aubusson, and I well remember it was a very dangerous job to make patterns for this before the work really started, but since it took over nine months to do it, we have had to get it in hand at an early date. This tapestry cost me over £ 500. In 1926, £ 500 would have bought you the average British house.

Looking more like the throne room at Versailles than the interior of an automobile, Barnett's design featured highly polished satin wood veneer panels, with painted decoration and oval medallions.

Designed like a sofa, the back seat only served to reinforce this effect, being covered with fine tapestries from Aubusson in central France, which depicted scenes executed in the flamboyant and romantic style of the late 19th century. the rococo period.

Worthy of a car that would later become known as the "Phantom of Love," naked cherubs featured prominently in the exotic interior, appearing in painted scenes on the ceiling and as light brackets at rear corners. . Additional lighting was concealed behind the carved and gilded cornice of the ceiling. A front beverage cabinet, reminiscent of an antique chest of drawers or a chiffonier, was mounted on the internal division, concealing occasional folding and inward-facing seats - also upholstered in tapestry - in cupboards on either side. Above this elaborate division was a small French Ormulu clock and two French porcelain vases containing flowers in gilded metal and enamel. In honor of the French origins of the Gasque family, Barnett designed a false coat of arms at the request of his client, which was applied to the rear doors.

Clark's bodywork on chassis number '76TC' was completed in April 1927, with the ten-month commission timeframe about three times that of quality bodies of similar size. Gasque was billed for some £ 4,500 making 'The Phantom of Love' by far the most expensive Rolls-Royce of its time. Unfortunately, the Gasques' enjoyment of their expensive love token would be cut short after just 18 months when Clarence died in October 1928 at the relatively young age of 54. His widow then spent the rest of her life promoting the causes of vegetarianism and animal welfare, eventually becoming president of the International Vegetarian Union and vice-president of the Vegetarian Society. She died on December 23, 1959.

In 1937, Mrs. Gasque had stored "The Phantom of Love".

Barnett noted: “The last time the car came to us for repainting, the interior fittings and veneered panels were in poor condition due to the car being kept in an unheated garage, and it didn't appear to be. not worry them when I pointed it out to them. "

In 1952, "The Phantom of Love" was purchased by the famous Rolls-Royce collector, Stanley

Sears. Although he said he had "paid through the nose" for it, Sears nonetheless felt compelled to try and improve on J H Barnett's masterpiece. Fearing that the car's understated exterior might not match the opulence of the interior, he had the rear flanks redone by simulating cane work, significantly lightening its appearance. He also had the wheels painted a straw color and had coach lines applied to the hood.

Sears then moved to Spain and in 1983 sold most of its collection, although the Phantom was

preserved. In 1986, a Japanese collector named Takihana bought the Rolls-Royce from Stanley Sears, parting with £ 1,000,000 to secure it. The car passed through the hands of various Japanese collectors before Akira Takei sold it to the Edward Fallon dealer of Cave Creek Classics in Phoenix, Arizona, in December 2001. Quickly sold to prominent collector Jack Rich of Pennsylvania, " The Phantom of Love ”became a regular on the US competition circuit and won numerous awards, including the Lucius Beebe Trophy at Pebble Beach in 2002. Rich then sold the car to English dealer Charles Howard.

In his autobiography, Howard recalls: “I first saw and coveted (76TC) in June 1975 at Kensington Gardens on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Twenty Ghost Club.

At that time the car was owned by Stanley Sears who had a superb collection of Rolls-Royces and whose fortune came from multiple retailing.

“I was very surprised in 2002 when the car resurfaced in America, after being discovered in a Japanese used car fleet by a shrewd Japanese dealer with a California partner. I was able to purchase the Phantom in one of my most complicated transactions and was delighted when I brought it home to England. "

After refurbishing the Phantom, including installing black wheel discs, Howard sold it to Rolls-Royce P&A Wood specialists in Great Easton, Essex, who exhibited the car at Rétromobile, Paris in February 2004 .

The Rolls-Royce subsequently found a new owner: Penny Brook Ltd of Brook Street, London W1, which acquired it in October 2004. The current custodians again purchased the Rolls-Royce in 2012 via P&A Wood. The latter performed service and other work in January 2016 (see invoices on file totaling around £ 5,000), and the Rolls-Royce now runs and drives well.

Widely illustrated and described in numerous books and magazine articles on the Rolls-Royce brand, "The Phantom of Love" is arguably the most famous surviving Rolls-Royce after "AX 201".

Unique and well documented, it is without doubt one of the finest examples of the art and craftsmanship applied to an automobile. The accompanying documentation includes a photograph taken of the Gasques and their Phantom when new; a later from J H Barnett to Stanley Sears, written in 1958; a valid UK V5C registration certificate; and the usual Rolls-Royce factory records. Of the highest quality and in largely intact original condition, "The Phantom of Love" would adorn any significant private collection or make a wonderful display for the museum display or the competition lawn.


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