Vintage cars belong to an era where car manufacturers didn’t have the luxury of high tech machinery. But some of the most memorable cars were made during the years before WW1 and WW2, and the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost may be the crown jewel. Labelled the ‘best car in the world’ by Autocar in 1907, the Silver Ghost was a combination of beauty and performance. We take a look at the history of the car and why it became so popular among enthusiasts.
The birth of a legend
The beginnings of the car can be traced back to 1906, when Rolls-Royce produced four chassis to be shown at the Olympia car show. Two were existing models and the other two were new cars called the 40/50 hp. They were so new that the show cars weren’t fully finished.
In 1907, Commercial and Managing Director of Rolls-Royce, Claude Johnson, ordered a 40/50 hp to be made. The car was painted silver and named the ‘Silver Ghost’ because of its ghost-like quietness. Fitted with an open-top Roi-des-Belges body, the car took part in the 1907 Scottish reliability trials.
Rolls-Royce aimed to raise public awareness of the company and showcase the performance of the Silver Ghost. This was risky because cars of the time were unreliable, while the roads were unsafe. Still, the car went on trials and smashed record after record. For the 1907 trial, the car came out of a 15,000 mile journey with high marks. After this, the reputation of the Silver Ghost was established.
The Silver Ghost’s legendary quietness stemmed from its large, seven-main-bearing crankshaft and stiff crankcase. The car had a side-valve, six-cylinder 7036 cc engine, cast in two blocks of three. This eliminated head gaskets and the chance of them blowing.
Other specifications included full-pressure lubrication and a high functioning electrical system. The engine allowed the Ghost to cruise at 50 mph.
When an owner wanted to cut loose, they would go to Brooklands in Surrey. Brooklands’ motto was “the right crowd and no crowding,” which highlighted how expensive the Silver Ghost was. The chassis alone cost £985, meaning only the rich could afford to buy the car.
America and beyond
When WW1 broke out, some Ghosts were fitted with armour and used in the war effort. Others were used as staff cars and ambulances. During the 1920s, Rolls-Royce America was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts. Silver Ghosts were produced in Springfield and at first they retained their English right-hand drive. It wasn’t until 1925 the cars switched to left-hand drive.
In his Illustrated Rolls-Royce and Bentley’s Buyer Guide, Paul Woudenberg wrote the American Silver Ghost had “no glaring weaknesses, and given regular maintenance and lubrication, has nearly unlimited life. The American Ghost has been given much attention in the Flying Lady publication of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club, especially in the years after 1952.”
The Silver Ghost’s beauty has captivated classic car enthusiasts for decades. It’s become the most coveted pre-1930s car in the world, and it’s not hard to see why.