1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Henley Roadster by Brewster
RM | Sotheby's - AMELIA ISLAND 2017 - A Gentleman's Collection: The Pride & Passion of Orin Smith
- The 250 GTO of the Springfield Rolls-Royce world
- One of just two original examples built on Phantom I chassis
- Formerly owned by Dr. George Bitgood and Prestley Blake
- The only Henley Roadster known presently available for sale
- A remarkable opportunity to acquire a crown jewel
THE HENLEY ROADSTER
With “Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work” cataloguing numerous attractive styles for the American Rolls-Royce chassis, arguments over which is the most beautiful has become something of a pastime for enthusiasts. It usually comes down, however, to the Henley Roadster, with its distinctive “dipped” door lines, low vee’d windshield, and svelte tail, concealing a rumble seat that has its own pair of tiny doors. The Henley was that rare design where the designer struck a home run on every point; there is, quite simply, not a bad view or angle to the entire car. It managed to make a large Phantom I or Phantom II look positively racy.
Brewster built 11 copies of the Henley Roadster between 1929 and 1933, for a client list that read like a society “who’s who.” Of the 11 original cars built, 10 have survived, and these have, fittingly and justifiably, become priceless. Occupying the same rarefied position in their niche as the ne plus ultra and ultimate examples of their type, they can safely be considered the 250 GTO of the American Rolls-Royce world, as the whereabouts of all are known, and they are all part of significant private collections. They seldom become available for sale, especially at public auction, and when they do, it is a significant occasion. Indeed, the car offered here, from the collection of Orin Smith, is the only original Henley Roadster likely to become available in the foreseeable future.
CHASSIS NUMBER S303LR
The Henley Roadster was designed and intended for the Phantom II chassis, but that did not stop a pair of owners from ordering the sexy new style mounted to their Phantom Is. One of the two Henley Roadsters built for Phantom Is was this body, number 6003, which was originally mounted to chassis number S140FR for New York jeweler A.V. Frost. It was subsequently moved in July of 1940 to this chassis, number S303LR, for M.D. Whalen, as is documented in the Rolls-Royce of America records, copies of which are on file.
The car passed in the summer of 1944 to Dr. George E. Bitgood, the Connecticut veterinarian famous for his collection of Mercedes-Benz 540Ks; it undoubtedly looked right at home alongside his pair of Special Roadsters. It next passed to a Mrs. Maria Shrady, who traded it back to New York Rolls-Royce dealer J.S. Inskip; the car was then sold by Inskip to Henry McNevin Jones of New York City, later in 1949.
According to the research of Rolls-Royce historian, André Blaize, the car was subsequently acquired in 1957 by James M. Wareham of New York. Its next known owner, in the early 1980s, was William Mayberry of Connecticut, who sold the car in 1982 to S. Prestley Blake. Co-founder of the famous Friendly’s chain of ice cream parlors with his brother, Curtis. “Pres” Blake has been a member of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club since its earliest days and has for decades been one of the most avid American collectors of the company’s automobiles. The Henley Roadster became one of the most famous cars in his fleet, and it remained in his ownership until 1999.
The Rolls was later acquired in 2003 by Wayne Kay of Mississauga, Ontario, who sold it several years later to a prominent Western collection. In 2010 it joined the well-known Off Brothers Collection in Richland, Michigan, where it was exhibited proudly for several years before its addition to the Orin Smith stable.
Because of its beautiful lines, great rarity, and subtly elegant color scheme, the Henley Roadster was one of the Smith’s favorite cars in their collection; it was given a place of prominence in their museum, and the livery inspired similar finishes on their Phantom I Ascot Tourer. They maintained the car to the same high standard in which it had been preserved by previous owners, and today, while both paint and interior are older, both remain solid and largely unmarred, although the top shows considerable age. Panel fit is very good throughout, with the exception of the right-hand door, which is “proud” slightly at the bottom edge. Importantly, the original body number is still stamped into the wooden floorboards.
The dashboard is correct late Phantom I, with a “cubby box” on either side. The wheels are dressed with polished wheel discs and whitewall tires, while the body is accessorized with dual spotlights, correct double flat bar bumpers, and a correct Trilin tail lamp. Under the hood, all is tidy, with very nice finishes aside from some unusual aftermarket radiator hose fittings.
An interesting and most charming feature is that the car retains its original set of keys, which will accompany it to a new owner. The keys are hung on a modern loop with two original “fobs,” both brass, one of which is stamped “S303LR Hen,” and the other bearing the legend “Rolls-Royce of America Chassis No. S303LR.”
Lovely to behold and a pleasure to drive, this Henley Roadster represents more than just an exciting opportunity. It marks a rare occasion to acquire an instant centerpiece and immediate bragging rights to one of the scarcest “Springfield” Phantoms, and to join a roster of great names that have been fortunate to possess S303LR over the last 80 years.