The Epitome of Excellence 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
Article and photography by Richard Butschi and courtesy of the Stickleys
--Part I can be viewed at www.cityrevealed.com/pages/pastissues.html, click on March ‘17 issue.
Sir Henry Royce built his first car in 1904 in Manchester, England. Soon after, he teamed with car dealer Charles Rolls, forming the Rolls-Royce Company. In 1906, Royce debuted his most powerful creation at the Olympia Motor Show in London. It was a 6-cylinder car dubbed a “40/50 h.p.” featuring 2 spark plugs per cylinder, making about 48 horsepower and later improved to about 80 h.p. (As explained in the previous article, horsepower was rated differently then.) The 40/50 became the sole model produced for the next 18 years. Although regular production was halted during WWI (1914-’18), Rolls-Royce continued making their 40/50 chassis as they were used as the basis for armored vehicles.
In 1907, the prestigious publication “Autocar”, called the 40/50 the “best car in the world”. When these hand-made masterpieces rolled out the door, each received an individual name. The 12th car produced, #60551, registered as AX 201, received the name “Silver Ghost” to project its ghost-like quietness. It was originally painted green, but when a decision was made to make it a traveling demonstrator, it was re-done in appropriate aluminum paint. Reporters began to refer to all 40/50s as Silver Ghosts. Although it wasn’t officially recognized by RR, the moniker stuck until 1925, when the company tried to boost sagging sales figures with the introduction of a new model called the New Phantom. All earlier 40/50s were then officially referred to as Silver Ghosts. Sales of the SG had declined from 742 units in 1913 to 430 in 1922. A total of 7,874 Ghosts were produced from 1907 to 1926, including 1,701 from a factory in Springfield, MA, U.S.A.
The original Silver Ghost was later sold to a private customer who vacationed with it in Italy. Regretting the sale, RR recovered it in 1948 and it is now owned by Bentley Motors. In 1984, the Franklin Mint produced it as a die-cast model and was one of their biggest sellers. The AX 201 is called “the most valuable car in the world”, and was insured for $35million in 2005.
Dr. James and Mariann Stickley currently own a 1935 20/25 and a 1921 Silver Ghost. They also owned vintage Ghosts of 1908, ‘14, ‘23 and ‘26. The ‘21 was a 2nd place concours award winner at the 2010 Rolls-Royce meet in Toronto, Canada. Her name is “The Duchess,” and they’ve had her for about 13 years. Their 1914 SG was called “Cookie,” named after Charles Royce’s dog. They acquired the ‘14 in 1984. It received some rewiring, a bit of exhaust work and a set of stainless steel valves, as the Stickleys don’t let these cars sit in the garage gathering dust. This almost 100 year-old car did a voluntary run called the Rocky Mt. Tour, two years ago, running up through mountain passes in the snow!
Another of their former cherished possessions was a very rare Bentley Speed Six – one of only three factory team racing cars produced. They bought it from Carl Mueller, of Wisconsin, in 1974 and adored it for the next ten years, as it is considered to be “the most valuable Bentley in the world” - the “only racing Speed Six to survive in original trim.” It finished 2nd in the 1930 24 Hours of LeMans race, in France and won the Brooklands Double Twelve, endurance race, in England. The Stickleys made a trade in ‘84 with collector Bill Lake for their 1908 Silver Ghost, reputedly, the 7th oldest SG in the world.
Jim and Mariann have seen and experienced much of the world through the windshields of some very exceptional cars. Wrapping things up in their own words, “Between the ‘14 and ‘21 Ghosts, we have driven over 50,000 miles with the Silver Ghost Association tours and considering the car was designed in 1906, it is a testament to their design genius and the quality of their construction. These cars can be driven on modern interstates!”