Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Mystery of the Round Door Rolls

Few things pull me away from architecture, development, and politics, particularly where Philadelphia is concerned. But if you regularly read Philly Bricks, you know one thing that can tear me away is a fine ass automobile.

It's actually kind of ironic. Even though my dad was a mechanic and I grew up in a house full of spare engine parts, I landed in an insanely walkable city and don't own a car. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate engineering, design, and panache. 

If you've never heard of the Round Door Rolls, just take a look...

I challenge any architecture geek to question that this work of art is not a worthy topic of discussion. 

This one-of-a-kind 1925 Rolls Royce, formally known as the Phantom 1 Jonckheere Coupe, is an unrivaled piece of automotive history. But that history is also as bizarre and unique as the car's appearance. 

In 1925, most automobiles still looked like the horseless carriages that they were. At best, stock models looked like small boxy rail cars. The sportiest looked like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang without the wings. 

But for the elite, particularly throughout the Gilded Age of the 1920s, cars were much more than they are today, especially for the 21st Century's wealthiest. 

Today, a bespoke Rolls Royce will get you custom finishes, leather, and chrome. But in the 1920s, bespoke engineering meant something else and it would get you an entirely unique car. The 1925 Phantom 1 was a fine automobile, and plenty of industrialists enjoyed it on its own. But Rolls Royce offered its refined chassis to be redesigned for for a select few. And the Round Door Rolls is inarguably its most unique incarnation. 

The Round Door Rolls began its life as an original Phantom sold to a couple in Detroit, but the couple backed out and it never left England. After that it was shipped to the Raja of Nanpara where it was entrusted to the Belgian coach builder, Jonckheere Carrossiers. This is where the Round Door Rolls became what it is today.

In addition to a new streamlined body, the engine and transmission were swapped out for more power capable of more than 100 miles per hour. 

But like all good Cinderella stories, the Round Door Rolls was never fully appreciated in its time. It continued to change hands throughout the 1940s and 50s until its beat down carcass was finally bought by an American, Max Obie, who covered in six pounds of gold paint and used it in a traveling show. 

In 1991, the Round Door Rolls resurfaced in an international auction where it was bought by an unnamed Japanese collector who put it in storage until it was purchased again by the esteemed Peterson Museum in Los Angeles.

The Round Door Rolls was restored to its former glory, and in 2005 entered into the Concours d' Elegance, a premier auto show for only the best of the best. But because of its unscrupulous past, and namely its long lost documentation, it could never, and will never be named Best in Show. 


Take one more look. This is a piece of art - and history - that deserves and exception.

No comments:

Post a Comment