Rolls-Royce Phantom III
The Phantom III was the last of the large prewar Rolls-Royces, and its aluminum alloy, twin plug motor was the only V12 produced by the company until 1998. Displacing 447ci and producing 165 horsepower, a total of 727 Phantom III chassis were produced from 1936 to 1939. Each of these were clothed with bespoke coachwork to the customer’s taste, meaning no two were alike.
This car, chassis 3CP38, was ordered in 1937 with a formal limousine body built by the obscure English coachbuilder W.C. Atcherley. Like many great prewar cars, 3CP38 spent the war years in storage. It was purchased in October 1945 by entrepreneur Alfred John Gaul, under whose ownership it experienced a rebirth the likes of which the motoring world had never seen.
Gaul, a successful secondhand car dealer before and after the war, managed to parlay a small fortune into an enviable collection of real estate holdings in several countries. A flamboyant man of the era, he lavished attention on a number of exceptional automobiles, including a half dozen Rolls-Royces. Several of his cars were bodied by Saoutchik, including a fabulous Delahaye 175.
In early 1946, 3CP38 was entrusted to Freestone & Webb to design and construct new coachwork. Their bread was buttered by the production of bodies on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis, and they were responsible for popularizing the “razor-edge” style. Gaul’s directive was, according to his stepson, to produce a body that could “win at any Concours d’Elegance.”
This car was Freestone & Webb’s first postwar Rolls-Royce commission, and the potential for this firm which had lain dormant during the war to stimulate more business for itself certainly conveyed pressure on the designers. Work was completed in August 1946 and the car received the registration number FOY 1, which it still wears today.
And how impressive it was! A review in the English publication The Autocar from September 27, 1946, described the Phantom III as having “very striking lines, which fall gradually from the scuttle towards the rear, giving a very low-built appearance. The paneling displays sharp edges also reproduced in the long sweeping wings which, with the running boards, are in burnished solid copper with a satin finish. In combination with the deep Chianti red paintwork, the copper makes a striking finish, for the radiator, mouldings, lamps, bumpers and other metal work are also copper-plated.”
The resulting Sedanca de Ville wowed audiences with its use of brightwork in copper (rather than chrome on every bit of trim and hardware), canework on the rear doors and the razor-edge styling that was Freestone & Webb’s hallmark. The interior was equally spectacular, appointed with an electrically operated division window, folding tables, heater, radio, bar and clock in the rear compartment. Gaul showed his fabulous Rolls at Concours d’Elegance in Paris, Deauville and Monte Carlo, where it won the Grand Prix; a number of photos exist of the car at various concours events.
In 1954 the Rolls was sold to an L. Zimbler in the UK, then to an owner in South Africa and later made its way to the Netherlands. It was prominently featured in the Fall 1963 issue of The Classic Car, possibly portending its arrival in the United States in 1966.
It was owned in the mid-1970s by Robert Miller and later Richard Sinicki of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in whose ownership the car remained unseen for many years. Though some knew of its existence, no one knew its whereabouts until the early 2000s, when it was acquired by Don Williams of the Blackhawk Collection, who entrusted it to the well-known restorer Mike Fennel for a full restoration to concours standards.
The commitment to a car of this status was not insignificant by any means, and restoring 3CP38 the right way – mainly in terms of getting the copper finish right – took over five years. Bob Lorkowski was entrusted to rebuild the V12 motor, and Phantom III guru Mark Tuttle was one of the several specialists consulted regarding technical details and, of course, the painstaking work of applying the finishes on the copper trim correctly. All pieces were restored true to form, with engine turning on the sides of the fenders and brushed surfaces elsewhere.
The Rolls debuted at the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was awarded First in Class (Rolls-Royce Prewar) and was recipient of the Lucius Beebe Trophy, awarded to the Rolls-Royce considered most in the tradition of Lucius Beebe, a bon vivant who served among the Concours’ early judges.
Its rich history is documented by copies of the original Rolls-Royce Build Sheets, many period photographs and several clippings from throughout its life. Today the restoration remains nearly immaculate and presents as faithfully as it did the first time it was presented to concours crowds in the 1940s. It will surely continue to wow now as it did then.