- One-off coachwork for American playwright and socialite C. Blevins Davis
- Among the most dramatic and modern bodies on the Silver Wraith
- Dual-cowl design with a fully disappearing top
- Documented by Rolls-Royce Foundation build and history records
The Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith was the world’s most popular coachbuilt automobile in the early post-war era, with the 1,783 chassis produced between 1946 and 1958 supporting bodywork built by virtually every surviving famous shop. Many of these bodies were rather imposing, stately sedans and limousines, dignified and conservative in the mold one would expect. There were, however, exceptions to the rule, among the most prominent being this all-weather tourer, crafted by Freestone & Webb of London.
This grand design was commissioned for the Silver Wraith of C. Blevins Davis, an American playwright and theatrical producer from Independence, Missouri, where he maintained a lifelong friendship with neighbor Harry Truman. In 1946, Davis had married Marguerite Sawyer Hill, daughter-in-law and heiress of Great Northern Railway tycoon James J. Hill, and upon her sudden passing two years later inherited her $9 million fortune. Thereafter he lived splendidly on estates in both Independence and Colorado Springs; his 1971 obituary noted no survivors but mentioned that he had spent $10 million in “high living.”
Mr. Davis’s Silver Wraith featured the voluptuous rounded curves typical of Rolls-Royce coachwork in this era. The influence of other coachbuilders was clearly evident, however, with a modern power-operated, fully disappearing convertible top, hidden under a rear tonneau, which effectively eliminated the bulky top “stack” necessitated by a large four-door convertible. Silver Dawn-specification headlamps blended into the front fenders recall Pinin Farina’s designs on Bentley chassis, as seen elsewhere in this collection. There were also charming throwbacks to the Classic Era, such as the second cowl and windshield provided for rear seat passengers; yet, rather than the bulky cowl of old, this unit folded away, providing access to the handsome burled walnut cabinetry with its folding writing tables. Even the sidemounted spares were concealed beneath streamlined covers.
The Silver Wraith, formally referred to in the ungainly British fashion as a “four door four light Concealed Head,” was originally finished in two-tone royal blue and black and supplied to Mr. Davis at his palatial Glendale Farm in Independence in the autumn of 1954. Within a year, for reasons unknown, its coachwork was moved from its original chassis, number LCLW9, to chassis number WLE27, on which it remains today.
Chassis number WLE27 was subsequently owned by Patrick Murlowski of Minnesota, who advertised it for sale in 1967, and by the renowned expert in American antiques, David Stockwell of Delaware, in whose ownership it was pictured in Lawrence Dalton’s The Elegance Continues in 1971. In the late 1980s or early 1990s, it was restored in a bright scarlet with inserts of striped “canework,” a Classic Era flourish appropriate to its brassy personality. The interior features complementary cream and scarlet leather upholstery, which shows minor age and use but is overall highly attractive, as are the finishes of the engine compartment and chassis. The original chassis number can still be found on the frame rail and firewall plate, the Freestone & Webb body plate remains in place, and the numbers-matching engine for this chassis is still fitted.
There are few other coachbuilt Rolls-Royces of its era with this car’s style and character—it is a one-of-a-kind, just like the world-traveling auteur for whom it was produced.