The Epitome of Excellence (Part I) - 1935 Rolls Royce 20/25

Article and photography by Richard Butschi

“Rolls Royce” is synonymous with “excellence,” whether referencing people, places or things. A “Rolls-Roycer” can describe an outstanding athlete, academic student or someone excelling in any occupation. It can reference anything produced at the highest level of quality. There is nothing better.

This was the goal of Sir Henry Royce, of Manchester, England, who started an electrical and mechanical business in 1884 and built his first car, the 2-cylinder Royce 10, in 1904. Later that year, he was introduced to Charles Rolls, owner of C.S. Rolls & Co., a car dealership in Fulham. An agreement was reached where Rolls would be the exclusive dealer of all the cars Royce could provide and would be sold as Rolls-Royces. There would be four models with 2, 3, 4 and 6 cylinders, with rated horsepower of 10, 15, 20 and 30, respectively. (Hp ratings in England, at this time, were set by the Royal Automobile Club based on the engine specifications. They were used for setting taxes on autos and not truly indicative of measured power.) Royce was also working on a more powerful 6-cylinder model he called the Silver Ghost with 50 hp. It debuted at the Olympia Motor Show in London in 1906 and was a tremendous success. RR ended production of all other models for the next 18 years. The reputation of RR quality grew quickly and the Silver Ghost was used as the basis for armored cars in both world wars.

With the waning economy of the 1920s, RR introduced a still elegant, but less powerful model dubbed the 20/25. It debuted at the Olympia Motor Show in 1929 and is credited for saving RR during the Great Depression. Between 1929 and 1936, 3,827 units of the 20/25 were produced. This solid sales record allowed RR to buy Bentley Motor Ltd in 1931.

“It’s one of the cheaper cars,” quips Dr. James Stickley of his beautifully two-toned blue 1935 20/25, originally costing $625, 1/3 to 1/5 of a Silver Ghost. He and his wife, Mariann, also own a 1921 Rolls, and formerly owned a 1908, ‘14, ‘23 and a ‘25 – all Silver Ghosts. The ‘08 was sold at auction recently at the Pebble Beach Concourse d’ Elegance, and is reputed to be the 7th oldest Silver Ghost in the world. They are also former owners of a very rare Bentley race car, (1 of 3) which placed 2nd in the 24-hour race at LeMans, France, in 1930. (Note - Next month’s article, Part II, will feature some of these cars.)

When the Stickleys took ownership of the ‘35 in 2012, it wasn’t the pristine beauty of today. The first thing Mariann wanted changed was the color of the fenders. They were a bit bright and needed toning down. It was also in need of some rewiring, along with a new dashboard, which is not a simple thing in a Rolls-Royce. An auto restorer in Hayesville, KS, used burled Honduran mahogany leftover from a Pebble Beach winner, with absolutely gorgeous results.

The RR drivetrain consists of an in-line 6-cylinder, with overhead pushrods and a compresssion ratio of 5.75:1. It’s teamed with a 4-speed transmission, synchromeshed in 3rd and 4th gear (new in ‘32). The gearbox shifter is at the driver’s right hand, which sounds normal until you remember that the British Rolls has right-hand drive. Cooling comes from the louvered radiator adorned with the iconic “Flying Lady.” The louvers open variably, controlled originally by a dash-mounted lever until 1931 when they became thermostatically controlled. Zero-to-60 acceleration is about 31.4 seconds, cruises nicely at 55-65 mph with a max speed of 76 mph. Not bad for something with a 132” wheelbase and a good 15’ long. James says it’s a pleasure to drive, thanks to high-geared steering. That’s Rolls-Royce engineering for you!

(Thanks to Bill Cary for his connection to Dr. & Mrs. Stickley, and setting up this interview.)

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