Rolls-Royce Light Twenty 1906 No 40520
By Stewart Skilbeck: Bonhams' motoring specialist www.bonhams.com
A History of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Volume 1 1903-7 , C W Morton, GT Foulis 1964
The Edwardian Rolls-Royce John Fasal & Bryan Goodman, 1994. See Volume 1 - A Reflection on the pre-40/ 50hp Cars: by Tom Clarke
There were forty Twentys built: twenty-one "Heavy" and nineteen "Light" - the latter adopting a shorter wheelbase than the standard model and all importantly a four speed gearbox with direct drive on third and overdrive top gear. This proved invaluable in the Tourist Trophy Race which Rolls was to win in 1906. Distinguished owners/ drivers of the Light Twenty included Percy Northey, CS Rolls himself and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. The Light Twenty was arguably the Company's finest model before the emergence of the one-model policy with the 40/ 50hp 'Silver Ghost'.
No 40520 has a continuous history and is certainly one of an elite and exceptionally small group of pre-'Silver Ghost' era Rolls-Royce motor cars surviving. Its history begins on 7 November 1905 when factory records show that a £50 deposit was paid. The Company's order number was 444 and it appears that the new car was destined for Midland Counties Motor Garage of Alfred Place, Granby Street, Leicester - believed to have been Rolls-Royce agents at the time. Rolls-Royce's favoured coachbuilders, Barker & Co Ltd of South Audley Street, London were commissioned to erect the coachwork; the style ordered being a Roi des Belge (sic). The order was dated 25 October 1905 and numbered 189. On 26 March 1906 the complete chassis was delivered to the coachbuilders and the chosen colour was specified as Rolls-Royce green – 'the same as the six-cylinder Trials Car'. The finished car was delivered to 14 & 15 Conduit Street, London, on 3 May 1906, the total manufacturing cost amounting at that stage to £518/6s/11d (£518 six shillings and eleven pence - or £518:34.6p in modern money Ed), including coachwork, paint and trim which amounted to £103/10s/0d (£103:50p Ed). The finished car was invoiced at £665 Nett.
Its precise movements from Midland Counties are not recorded: perhaps it was retained by them as a demonstrator – (curiously the factory guarantee book lists the body as being a tourer by WH Johnson of Kings Lynn); however on 24 June 1907 40520 was registered AF 274 with Cornwall County Council, its recorded owner being Charles Williams of Caerhays Castle, near St Austell. It is thought that this car remained in the ownership of Charles Williams for some years: perhaps it was relegated to the back of the motor house when Williams' father acquired a 40/ 50hp Silver Ghost on 31 March 1909. Cornish registration records show that this car was transferred into the ownership of County Coach and Motor Works on 22 October 1912. This company operated from Lemon Quay, Truro, and was headed (we believe) by one J Sherman.
In 1922 the car was run into a bank about two miles from Truro on a return journey from London – quite a trip in a 16 year old motor car. The nearside front spring was broken and the car was retrieved and taken back to Lemon Quay where it was placed on the top floor by the lift. The car was not used again and certain parts, including the body, were removed. When the garage lift was subsequently taken out, the survival of this car was assured as it could not easily be removed. It was in August 1939 that Rolls-Royce aficionado and Veteran Car Club stalwart the late Stanley Sears found the car, its final rescue being deferred until March 1946 when hostilities had ceased. Its rescue involved the removal of an upper window frame and careful lowering onto a platform lorry below.
Stanley Sears was to own this car and we think the only other surviving Light 20hp Car no 26350 (see elsewhere on the website "The Early Cars 1904-1906" Ed) at the same time. He chose to restore 26350, equipping it with replica coachwork in the style of the Tourist Trophy cars. This car survives in England in the hands of a Rolls-Royce enthusiast. It is recorded that some parts from 40520 were 'borrowed' to complete that restoration.
Major items re-made to original pattern included, front springs, radiator core, lubricator box, distributor, inlet manifold, water manifolds, water pump, coil box, silencer and pipe, crown and bevel gears, brake drums, tappets, nearside axle tube, track rod and drag link. Much work was carried out in Thomas's own workshop, but specialist skills were drawn upon from the likes of Cecil Bendall at Brentclass, Ashley-Carter & Co, Hofmann & Mountfort Ltd and Andrew Smith in Cheshire.
Some twelve years after acquisition, 40520 was almost ready for the road and it was registered with its original Cornish number in September 1995. In May 2003 it was officially dated by the Veteran Car Services Ltd Dating Panel, enabling it to participate in events for members of the Veteran Car Club. As past President (1991-1993) of that institution it gave Thomas enormous pleasure to participate in at least one such event in this highly significant motor car, which by his own great efforts he had restored to the road – surely what membership of that Club is all about. On that event it wore what Thomas amusingly described as its "MFI coachwork" – strangely not dissimilar to Rolls-Royce's own 'on test' bodies.
The car was auctioned by Bonhams in December 2009