Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Most Valuable Automobile in the World

A Rolls-Royce Motor Car, of course.

Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost, 1907
Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost, 1907

From the Rolls-Royce Owners Club:

Ambassador Extraordinary

A History of "The Silver Ghost"
Reprinted from "Queste", The Rolls-Royce Magazine, 1990
In 1907 The Silver Ghost was built specifically to publicise the new Rolls-Royce 40/50 h.p. six-cylinder model and in doing so established the Rolls-Royce reputation for reliability and engineering excellence. In this article, reproduced from Queste with kind permission of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd, Warren Allport traces the history of the most famous Veteran motor car, which since returning to Rolls-Royce in 1948 continued its ambassadorial role.
The 40/50 models exhibited at the 1906 Olympia Motor Show had attracted much Interest and favourable comment. Managing Director Claude Johnson saw that excellent though the new model was, it needed to be brought to a wider public if the newly floated Rolls-Royce Ltd was to succeed. Proper production of the 40/50 h.p. at Cooke Street, Manchester had not started until early 1907 after all the effort of preparing the first four motor cars for Olympia and the Paris show which followed. The fifth chassis was numbered 60544 - for some reason 60543 was never built.

Claude Johnson selected the 12th chassis, 60551, on the short 135 inch wheelbase as his publicity vehicle and ordered a semi-Roi des Belges open body from Barker & Co. on March 6th 1907. It was specified that the coachwork would be painted silver and that upholstery would be in green leather. Lamps and other external fittings were to be silver plated. Price of the body was �110-14-0 and the chassis retailed at �950 plus �7-l0s for the aluminium dashboard fitted as an alternative to the usual polished teak.

It was a striking ensemble and Claude Johnson, who had an Edwardian penchant for naming cars, called it The Silver Ghost by virtue of its appearance and 'extraordinary stealthiness'. The name was carried on a special repousse' plaque on the scuttle. Although after the arrival of the 40/50 h.p. New Phantom in 1925 earlier 40/50 h.p. models were known as Silver Ghosts to avoid confusion, there was only one motor car entitled to the name - 60551, registered AX-201.

Factory records preserved by the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation show that the chassis was tested for 80 miles by chief tester Eric Platford and was despatched by "road, Mr Johnson" on April 13th 1907. Back in London no time was lost in arranging trial runs for the Press and The Autocar of April 20th recorded: "The running of this car at slow speeds is the smoothest thing we have ever experienced, while for silence the motor beneath the bonnet might be a silent sewing machine..." On the day that report appeared the first private customer - William Arkright of Chesterfield - took delivery of a 40/50 h.p., 60544. None of the earlier 40/50 h.p. chassis was sold until 1908.

On May 3rd, 60551 was driven to Bexhill then north to Glasgow, accompanied from Hatfield by a White steam car, both cars being under RAC observation. They went on to cover the tough route proposed for the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trial before returning to London. Between May 3rd and 14th The Silver Ghost completed 2,000 miles under official observation, recording a best fuel consumption of 23 mpg for one section. On the route north Claude Johnson had driven the 518� miles to Glasgow using third and fourth gears only. At the conclusion of the trial, performance was measured on Bexhill track - there was a 20mph overall speed limit - with 54.94 mph recorded in the direct third gear, in which 3.4 mph was possible. Such flexibility was important to Edwardian motorists, many of whom were incapable of changing gear on the move. Apart from punctures, adjustments during the twelve days had amounted to only 1 hour 28 minutes....MUCH MORE
From Cars at Large:
...The Silver Ghost got its name because it was largely unpainted, revealing it polished aluminum body, and was 'quiet as a ghost,' a often noted sentiment by passer-byers who were amazed by who silent the car was. The name became so famous, in fact, that every Rolls-Royce 40/50 came to include the tag 'Silver Ghost' despite the fact that there is only one real Silver Ghost.

The history of the car is intriguing beyond its important reliability trials. After completing those tests, the car was purchased by an employee of Rolls-Royce who drove the car a subsequent 500,000 miles before returning the car to the factory for 'minor servicing.' Unfortunately, he died while the car was in the shop, but his family decided to donate the car to the Rolls-Royce company. The car recently changed hands, but not on its own, as part of the break-up of Rolls-Royce and Bentley following the 1998 fiasco that took place between BMW and VW. In the end, the VW, the owner of Bentley, ended up with the car but displays the car at many Rolls-Royce events.

As for the value of this famous car, lets just say VW claims that it is insured for somewhere north of $50 million.*

Let's see, sold used for £750 in 1908. My UK inflation calculator only goes up to 2009:

£58,100.00 using the retail price index
£305,000.00 using average earnings

Or going the other way around, the USD exchange rate was fixed at $4.80.
So $3600 x 23 (U.S. CPI lowball) = $82,800.
To $50 million.
A nice ride and a fine investment.

*Wikipedia says it is valued at $57 million.