A Passion for Elegance | Lot 111
1920 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Pall Mall Tourer by Merrimac
CHF342,500 | Sold
| Eschen, Liechtenstein
19 June 2021
- An American-delivery, Derby-built Silver Ghost chassis
- Owned for nearly 40 years by Warner Brothers; featured in Giant
- Rakish Springfield coachwork in a most desirable style
- Well-preserved older restoration in very charming condition
- Accompanied by copies of its build documentation
One of the most intriguing Rolls-Royces in the collection, Silver Ghost chassis number 80EE was built at the main factory in Derby, England, but exported new to Rolls-Royce of America. Rolls-Royce of America was the company’s newly established United States arm in Springfield, Massachusetts, and would soon begin producing Silver Ghosts for the American market. Surely this must have been among the very final Derby-built Ghosts sent stateside. The right-hand drive chassis was set up to receive a “5-passenger inside drive” or saloon body, though the builder is not referenced.
The customer is mentioned both on the original order record and on a subsequent ownership card as Arthur Letts, likely the founder of the prominent California department store, The Broadway; his family would be serial Rolls-Royce customers in the years to come. That the car likely went to the West Coast of the United States and remained there is evident by the next step in its story.
A STAR IS BORN
Within a decade of its birth, the Silver Ghost had been mounted with the current body, a Pall Mall Tourer built by coachbuilders Merrimac for Springfield Silver Ghost chassis number S262PK; this body’s movement to chassis number 80EE is noted in John Webb de Campi’s Rolls-Royce in America. In its new guise, chassis number 80EE was acquired on 18 February 1931 by the famed Warner Brothers film studios in Hollywood, as noted in a “Motor Vehicle” inventory sheet on file that lists a “1920 Rolls-Royce Touring,” serial number L239—actually the original and current engine number.
Surely the Silver Ghost made numerous appearances in film, though its most famous star turn was as one of several vintage automobiles to appear alongside James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor in the classic 1956 picture, Giant. This was notably the last of Dean’s three films as a leading actor, and it was actually released after his untimely passing. He was famously photographed in the backseat of the Pall Mall, lean and brooding in typical fashion with his feet propped on the front seat, on the set of the film in Marfa, Texas.
In 1969 the Rolls-Royce was sold by Warner Brothers to Paul A. Kettenburg, of the famous family of boat-builders, who set about restoring it in a cream color. He later sold the Silver Ghost around 1976 to Brad Zemcik, a longtime Rolls-Royce enthusiast in San Diego, California.
In a recent conversation, Mr. Zemcik noted that the automobile had gained a plate bearing chassis number 55RE, apparently a replacement; it is believed that the Silver Ghost was acquired from Warner Brothers missing its original plate, hence its listing on their inventory sheet by engine number. Nonetheless, the original number 80EE was found on the chassis, confirming the Rolls-Royce’s original identity; it remains visible today. After Mr. Zemcik sold the Pall Mall in the early 1980s to Michael Wilkinson of Rancho Santa Fe, California, a correctly numbered chassis plate was installed.
Afterward the Silver Ghost returned to its home country, where it remained until 2009. It was then returned to the United States and refinished in black, with horizontal radiator shutters, before its acquisition for the collection. Today it remains in very nice overall condition, with the bodywork in excellent order, a charming older interior, and a hood that may hail from the original restoration. With its imposing Bausch & Lomb headlamps, it looks quite capable of ferrying about a film star or two... exactly as it did for so many years on the sites of Warner Brothers productions.