Motor City

The Inn at St. John's
26 July 2014
Lot 146

1953 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn Drophead Coupe by Park Ward


$352,000 USD | Sold

United States | Plymouth, Michigan



Chassis No.
Engine No.
Body No.
  • Built for pharmaceutical baron Eli Lilly Jr.
  • One of a dozen built in this coachbuilt body style
  • An original U.S.-delivery example
  • Rare “big” engine and automatic transmission

Body Style 322. Est. 128 bhp, 4,566 cc F-head inline six-cylinder automatic transmission, independent front suspension with helical springs and hydraulic dampers, semi-elliptic rear springs with hydraulic dampers, and hydraulic front and mechanical rear brakes with mechanical servo assist. Wheelbase: 120 in.

With its standardized, all-steel factory body and mechanicals being largely shared with the Bentley Mark VI, the Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn pointed clearly at the future of “The Best Car in the World.” Yet, the Works was also very careful to notice that a market remained open for individually commissioned, bespoke automobiles on the same chassis, and so the Silver Dawn could be had without bodywork. In addition, the factory actually catalogued two different styles of drophead coupes on the chassis, with both being produced by the respected firm of Park Ward, of Willesden.

Cars with body style 322 featured the “dipped” fenders, which were a signature of early post-war Park Ward designs. These fenders curved to envelope the front fenders, faded down into the sides of the body, and then expanded again to cover the rear wheels with a “spat.” The well-proportioned design, with its neatly folding convertible top, could accommodate four adults, yet it also had the sporty pretensions of an open roadster. Only a dozen Silver Dawns were built to this style, of which only six were delivered to the United States.

This Rolls-Royce is on a desirable later Silver Dawn chassis, number LSLE43, which by this point was utilizing the larger, more powerful 128-horsepower engine. It is recorded as having been built for Eli Lilly Jr., of the Eli Lilly Company in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mr. Lilly, the grandson of the founder and namesake of the pharmaceutical giant, was serving the company as chairman of the board when he took delivery of this Rolls-Royce. Off of the road and out of the boardroom, he was also an active philanthropist who founded the massive Lilly Endowment, which continues to benefit many charitable causes in the Hoosier State. He was a passionate archaeologist who worked to preserve historic landmark buildings, and he was one of the United States’ foremost collectors of Chinese art.

Several generations of Lilly family members were customers in good standing of the Rolls-Royce factory, and Eli Jr. was no exception. Copies of the build specifications for the car, supplied by the Rolls-Royce Foundation and on file, detail numerous special features. The car was outfitted with an automatic transmission, high-frequency horns, a medium-wave radio, sealed beam headlamps, and wide whitewall tires, and it also came with “blinker” turn signals, to be fitted in the United States.

The Silver Dawn left England for the United States on March 20, 1953, via the SS American Banker. On September 18, 1953, it was delivered to distributor S.H. Arnolt in Chicago, from whom it was sent to Auto Imports Company, of Indianapolis, Mr. Lilly’s dealer of choice. The pleased customer presumably took actual delivery of the car while vacationing in Palm Beach, Florida, as it was then sent on to Foreign Motors there.

Following Mr. Lilly’s care, the Rolls-Royce was purchased by Sexton W. Phelps, of New York City and Connecticut, then Charles D. Lane, of St. Louis, Missouri, and later Paul Rizzo, of East Meadow, New York. It was acquired by the current owner several years ago from the estate of Sam Garrett, a well-known Pebble Beach, California, businessman who had made a fortune by developing the small brush used to apply mascara. Mr. Garrett assembled a small, select, and carefully chosen automobile collection, which included this Silver Dawn, among several other fine Rolls-Royces.

This car is subtly finished in black and red and comes with a corresponding two-tone leather interior. It shows great patina throughout and appears as a wonderful driver. Typical of Park Ward bodies, it is filled with fine details throughout, including beautiful inlaid wood trim that decorates the interior. With its powerful “big” engine and automatic transmission, it would be an excellent, easy-to-use tour car for Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club rallies and events.

Factory-bodied Silver Dawns can be readily found, but seldom is one of the coachbuilt variants made available. This is one of those wonderful opportunities, which is made even more important by its fascinating history and desirable specifications.