Rolls-Royce 40/50 hp Silver Ghost

Rolls-Royce vehicles are known as the “best cars in the world”. But hardly anyone knows where this expression comes from these days. It dates back to 1907 and originally described only a single car. A year earlier, Rolls-Royce presented the new 40/50 hp series with a seven-liter inline six-cylinder engine under the hood. This produced 35 kW/48 hp, which reached the rear wheels via a manual three-speed gearbox. Compared to competitor models of the time, the Rolls-Royce offered much better and more comfortable handling. A British journalist for Autocar magazine therefore created the term “waftability” in 1906, which was intended to express the unconstrained nature of the movement and quickly became a protected word mark.

Silver paint and smooth running lead to the name

In our headline an additional name for the Rolls-Royce 40/50 hp already appears, which this model didn’t have from the beginning: Silver Ghost. In 1907 the twelfth car of the series with the shorter of the two orderable wheelbases was built with the chassis number 60551. A “Semi-Roi des Belges” body was built at Barker & Co. in London. This is basically an open touring car in which the front seats are lower mounted than the rear seats, thus dispensing with large front doors. To match the silver paint, Rolls-Royce ordered silver-plated lights and fittings. These were otherwise typically made of brass. Inside, the teak used in other luxury cars was dispensed with and the dashboard was made of aluminium instead. The rear bench seat could be replaced with a luggage box in just a few easy steps.

Participation in endurance races

Claude Johnson, then sales manager and managing director of Rolls-Royce, proved his good sense for luxury and elegance when he ordered this 40/50 hp as a factory demonstration car. Due to the silver color scheme in combination with the almost silent engine running Rolls-Royce gave this 40/50 hp the nickname “Silver Ghost”. This name was engraved on a metal plaque which was mounted below the windscreen. This special vehicle first attracted attention at the Olympia Motor Show in London in November 1906. A year later, it competed in a reliability contest in Scotland. This was immediately followed by an endurance test covering 15,000 miles, which included completing the route from London to Glasgow 27 times. Why this effort? The brands C.S. Rolls & Co. and Royce Ltd. had only formed a joint automobile company since March 15, 1906. Accordingly, positive publicity was important, which at that time was achieved primarily through extreme reliability of the vehicles.

Unknown brand gained good reputation

On many of these endurance drives, Rolls-Royce put journalists in the passenger seats so that they could write field reports. The press representatives were particularly impressed not only by the reliability but also by the low maintenance costs of the Silver Ghost. Through the many articles, Rolls-Royce developed a reputation for making the best cars in the world. The unique Silver Ghost eventually led to the entire 40/50 hp series being given this epithet. The car with the official registration AX201 was sold in 1908 to a British customer who often drove it to his Italian vacation home. Forty years later Rolls-Royce bought back the Silver Ghost. Franklin Mint, a model car manufacturer from the USA, produced a miniature of the unique car in 1984, which became a bestseller. In 1991, Rolls-Royce commissioned the companies SC Gordon Coachbuilders Luton and P&A Wood to carry out an extensive restoration.

One of the most expensive cars in the world

When the merged brands Rolls-Royce and Bentley were split between BMW and Volkswagen in 1998, the Silver Ghost went to Bentley. Since then, the silver one-off hasn’t appeared at any public event. Nevertheless, a value appraisal for car insurance in 2005 made the headlines, valuing the Rolls-Royce at 35 million US dollars. This makes this British classic one of the most expensive automobiles in the world. In 2020, Sir Michael Kadoorie of Hong Kong purchased the Silver Ghost along with another early Rolls-Royce. However, as both cars have been classified as national treasures, they must remain within British national borders. At the Hampton Court Concours of Elegance in September, this particular car will be on public display for the first time in more than 20 years.

Images: Concours of Elegance, Tim Scott