1932 Rolls-Royce

From the blog post for Arthur Letts

Originally posted at rmauctions.com

LOT: 151
Estimate: $300,000-$450,000 US

Thursday, January 20, 2011 - Friday, January 21, 2011
1932 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Newmarket Sport Sedan by Brewster

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $440,000

120 bhp 7,668 cc in-line six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle with leaf spring suspension, live rear axle with longitudinal leaf springs, and four-wheel servo-assisted drum brakes. Wheelbase: 150"

- From the Estate of John O'Quinn
- One of just three examples originally bodied in this style by Brewster & Co.
- One of the 122 improved US-specification Phantom IIs built
- Fascinating early ownership history

The Brewster Phantoms

The early history of Rolls-Royce in America is inextricably intertwined with that of the Brewster & Co. coachworks, which contributed some of the most elegant, sporting and attractively proportioned bodies fitted to any Rolls-Royce chassis. At the turn of the 20th Century, Willie Brewster was the pre-eminent American coachbuilder, and by 1914, he became a Rolls-Royce agent, importing chassis from England and building bodies for his well-established and discerning clientele.

Then in 1925, Rolls-Royce bought the company, making Brewster its primary supplier of coachwork in America. Eventually, well over 400 Springfield-built Rolls-Royces were Brewster-bodied. Phantom I production continued in Springfield, Massachusetts after the Phantom II was introduced in England in 1929, but the Springfield Phantom I was then phased out in 1931 in favor of the Derby-built, left-hand drive Phantom II. The Phantom II offered a more refined, updated chassis and an improved engine with an improved cross-flow cylinder head, with the engine now mounted in unit with the transmission. Chassis improvements included hydraulic shock absorbers and semi-elliptic springs front and rear. A considerable reduction in ride-height resulted, lending itself to sleeker and more modern body designs.

In 1930, the Rolls-Royce of America operation in Springfield knew it was in trouble. The magnitude of the Depression was becoming obvious, and the Springfield manufacturing operation was closed, with Brewster now becoming an importer-distributor for Rolls-Royce in the US. The problem was that the new Phantom II, as introduced in Britain, was not considered suitable for the US market, because it lacked many of the advanced features of the final Springfield-built Phantom Is. For example, the Springfield Phantom I was left-hand drive, had thermostatic radiator shutters, a complete “one-shot” chassis lubrication system, easier to maintain chrome brightwork, smaller and more stylish 20-inch wheels, a carburetor air cleaner and a silenced intake system.

Springfield agreed to buy 200 left-drive Phantom IIs if the British factory would make all the improvements considered necessary for the US market. Derby agreed and went through a full experimental program to develop the improved Phantom II for the American market. Two experimental chassis were built at Derby – 24EX and 25EX. Both were first tested in France, and then Ernest Hives, head of the Experimental Department, took 25EX to the US for evaluation, arriving there in October 1930.

The result of the development program was a delightful car with an improved top speed, a lower chassis and quieter operation than the sophisticated Springfield-built Phantom I. In fact, the improvements inspired Derby to incorporate all of them (except left-hand drive) into all Phantom IIs, commencing with chassis JS1. The first deliveries of the left-hand drive Phantom II chassis began in the spring of 1931.

The Brewster coachworks was ready with its designs for the new Phantom II chassis when it arrived. While some of the designs were warmed-over Phantom I body styles, some were indeed fresh. The Newport Town Car for traditional chauffeur-driven use and the Henley Roadster for the owner-driver represented the first of the new designs. Ultimately, the contract for 200 left-drive cars from Derby was never fulfilled, but 116 were sold in North America and six more in Europe. While sales were limited, this group of cars is recognized nonetheless among the most desirable of all Classic Era Rolls-Royces.

Chassis no. 301AJS

The unusual name of this body style, the “Newmarket Permanent,” derives from a Phantom I convertible sedan body style called the Newmarket. While the true open convertible sedan was not popular on the Phantom II, the closed Newmarket Permanent was certainly an aesthetic success.

There are three of this Newmarket Permanent body style known to have been built, and all three are believed to exist today. At least two other slightly different bodies were called Newmarket Permanents, but both are believed to have been destroyed. At least one of these two is thought to be a similar and somewhat less attractive body.

In 1933, Gladys Letts Janss was a charming young woman who had recently [divorced] Harold Janss. Her father was Arthur Letts, a wealthy retailer who had been farsighted enough to buy the 3000-acre Wolfskill Farm, which covered the area that is now known as Westwood West Los Angeles, California. When Gladys needed a new car, this Rolls-Royce Phantom II Permanent Newmarket sedan, AJS301, caught her eye. She could be driven in it or, when she wished, take the wheel herself. It was ever so stylish – the perfect motor car. It was delivered to her Beverly Hills home on November 3, 1933.

She may have kept the car for quite a long time, as the next reported owner is Naval Lieutenant Vasmer L. Flint of San Diego who, in 1946, wrote a letter to J.S. Inskip in New York asking for an instruction book. George Steinmeyer, the parts manager there, responded by offering the desired handbook to him.

Lt. Flint is not heard from again, but he probably mustered out of the service and drove the Phantom II back to New England to pursue his civilian career. The car next appears in the hands of Theodore Kain of Waltham, Massachusetts early in 1952. Intervening owners, if any, are unknown, but the car returned to California, and in March 1986, it was listed in the hands of Robert F. Goodwin of Hayward. Prior owners include Mark Smith and John Mozart, who acquired the car at auction in 2004. Mark Smith sold the car to California collector Dennis Gibbs in 2006. 301AJS was acquired by the late John M O'Quinn from whose collection it is now offered in January 2007.

Today, 301AJS continues to benefit from a comprehensive professional restoration. Although the exact age of the work is unknown, the car remains in high-point condition, showing only minor evidence of aging, primarily in the form of minor paint defects. The interior is strikingly finished in rich red leather, and the woodwork glows under nearly flawless lacquer. The car has been regularly maintained under its prior owner, and while in the care of its current collection, it has benefited from proper storage and has covered few, if any, miles since acquisition.

Considered by many to be the ultimate closed bodywork on any prewar Rolls-Royce chassis, these Sports Sedans are also among the rarest, with just three examples known. Cars of this caliber transcend the normal considerations of body style, chassis and condition, becoming works of art appreciated for their beauty and rarity.

Please note this Rolls-Royce was restored in California in the 1990s, before being taken to Pebble Beach, where it won most Elegant Closed Car. According to information provided by a prior owner, it was an absolutely straight, perfectly preserved and unmolested vehicle at the time of restoration.

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