1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Ascot Phaeton by Brewster
Sold For $385,000Inclusive of applicable buyer's fee.
- One of the sportiest Springfield Rolls-Royces
- Built for A.E. Bell Sr., developer of Bel Air Estates
- Formerly the property of TV and radio personality Dave Garroway, of NBC fame
- Well-maintained example
40/50 hp, 468 cu. in. OHV inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, live rear axle with cantilever leaf-spring platform suspension, and four-wheel servo-assisted brakes. Wheelbase: 146.5 in.
Alphonzo E. Bell Sr. was a sportsman, which, in the 1920s, was a term that suggested a certain something: an all-round athlete, whose aggressive pursuit and mastery of all manner of sports was afforded by a competitive streak a mile wide and a vast spendable income.
The skills of foresight that Bell learned playing tennis—he double-medaled at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis—came in handy later in life, after his family made their fortune in the oil industry. Bell looked around him in Southern California and saw a vast paradise that would, as he accurately predicted, soon be packed with residents made wealthy by the burgeoning energy and film industries. Accordingly, he began to develop exclusive neighborhoods out of the orange groves, most famously known as his namesake Bel Air Estates, a Los Angeles enclave that remains one of the most prestigious addresses in America.
People like Bell were who Rolls-Royce of America, the British company’s U.S. factory at Springfield, Massachusetts, depended on to stay afloat during the rough times of the Great Depression. To attract buyers, the company had continued to expand its line of catalogue custom body styles with ever more flamboyant and graceful offerings, produced by coachbuilders that included Brewster, which Rolls-Royce eventually owned, and others of New England’s finest.
The factory had sent an example of the Ascot Phaeton to the Los Angeles dealer for use as a “trials” (demonstrator) car. Refined by a nearly horizontal, continuous, concave accent at the beltline, a raked single-piece windshield, and artfully flowing fenders, the Ascot’s sporting air and superb proportions made it one of the most attractive of all open Springfield Rolls-Royces. It was exactly the kind of light, sporty, and free-spirited style that wealthy Californians appreciated.
Sportsman though he was, A.E. Bell Sr. was also careful with his money, which perhaps explains why he chose to buy the “trials” car on February 28, 1930, after its service was at an end.
In 1946, the Rolls-Royce factory received note of Mr. Bell’s former Ascot Phaeton having a new owner. David C. Garroway gave his address as “National Broadcasting Co., Inc., Merchandise Mart, Chicago 54, Ill.” Then one of NBC’s most popular radio hosts, Garroway would continue to build nationwide fame as the original host of Today, beginning in 1952 and holding the position until 1961.
Long before Jay Leno, Garroway was NBC’s famous hobby motorist; he owned and raced a Jaguar SS100, among other interesting vehicles, and was a member of various antique and sports car clubs. Writing in a 1957 newspaper column, he recounted that a Rolls-Royce had been the car that sparked his interest in collecting, which explains why his garage eventually housed five Flying Ladies. It is unlikely that his competition spirit ever showed itself behind the wheel of this particular stately Rolls, which he owned for six years, but its sporty style did fit his personality nicely.
After Garroway’s ownership, the Rolls-Royce has remained in the hands of enthusiasts to the present day, residing most prominently for many years in the ownership of respected Detroit-area collectors, Richard and Linda Kughn. Restored some time ago, and well-maintained cosmetically and mechanically ever since, it displays an appropriate but attractive level of patina, with attentive care that remains evident today.
Finished in black with a polished aluminum beltline molding, the car sports chrome wire wheels with wide whitewall tires, dual side-mounted spares with black metal enclosures with chrome bands and side-view mirrors, and a pair of Pilot-Ray driving lamps mounted above the chrome-plated flat front bumper. The raked, single-pane windshields are both fitted with wind wings, and a black cloth-covered luggage trunk is also fitted.
In summary, this is a car that is as appropriate to luxe locales today as it was back in 1930, when it looked right at home carrying a Bell through Bel Air Estates. It is an example of both a sporty and rare Springfield Rolls-Royce, and it is a part of California history. Its presentation at Monterey could not be a more fitting conclusion to its story.