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small pre-war Rolls Royces


scott12180
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There's a 1939 Wraith on eBay at the moment which looks quite handsome. A friend I and were discussing it, not necessarily to buy but just in general.

The question is, how reliable, easy to service, easy to maintain are these smaller Rolls Royces of the pre-War era? I've heard that the big Silver Ghosts and Phantoms are quite complicated to work on and require enormous expense in parts and labor to keep in good condition. Hardly the sort of car for a shade tree mechanic. An acquaintance who owned a Ghost told of annual servicing somewhere in the mid-west to the tune of $10,000 a year. This was maybe twenty years ago.

But are these smaller Sixes equally demanding of time and money to keep running? Are parts equally stratospherically priced? Could I as a backyard wrench keep one maintained and on the road?

Specifically, any comments on these Wraiths? Their size is "just right" in a Goldilocks fashion if you don't care for the behemothly big cars.

I've owned Packards and other classics, all of which I can maintain myself. But I've no experience with Rolls Royces. Any comments are appreciated.

--Scott

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Guest Phil Cordery

One major problem with the pre war Wraith, they only made approx 700, so spares are difficult, Heads are prone to internal cracks & are impossible to find,

Engine & box rubber mounted & when properly sorted are lovely to drive, Rubber mountings can collapse causing car to jam in gear, Suspension parts are available for the Independant front end, but Expensive.

If the car is running listen out carefully for Hissing noises from within the Exhaust manifold, a sure sign of water ingress & failing head, Exhaust manifolds are also prone to problems. Chassis also can rust badly, these are hollow box section with large round holes for dirt & water to collect in.

As for the coachbuilt body, make sure the wood is sound especially front Door Pillars, & check the Piper Electric windows if fitted,

Also known as the 25/30 Wraith but does not use any parts used on earlier models, if you have any questions or are unsure about any aspect of these cars please ask.

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Anglesey clearly knows of what he speaks. I'd read in an auld English motoring magazine that when the "Small Horsepower" Rolls-Royce 20 junior car debuted in 1922, it "borrowed" much from the existing Buick Six, tho' in the words of one English road tester, was "....not so good."

Another English source, perhaps Autocar magazine, said the R-R 20hp was the basis for the engines in all Rolls-Royce/R-R Bentley products except the Phantom I/II/III until R-R/Bentley introduced their V-8 in the fall of 1959.

Maurice Hendry and others mention the R-R V-8's chief engineer, after a couple drinks at its press debut, blurting out, "It's bloody near as good as the Chrysler."

Since Anglesey has an interesting stable, i'd be interested in his insights comparing/contrasting the small hp Rolls-Royce with the Buick 6, as he owns both. We know the Rolls-Royce is lovingly built--another English motoring journalist back in the early '50s, writing about Classic era R-Rs, described them as "....a triumph of craftsmanship over engineering."

Each year during the late 1930s until the war in Europe broke out, Rolls-Royce disassembled a new Buick Limited for the latest production tips.

Until the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and concurrent Bentley S-Type were introduced autumn, 1955, R-R/Bentley copied the prewar Packard Saf-T-fleX independent front suspension nut for bolt. The Silver Cloud/S-Type went to a conventional i.f.s for the same reason as the 1941-47 Packard Clipper; the lowered floorpan left no reason for Saf-T-fleX's long torque arms.

A fellow who rebuilds Merlins told me the ones built by R-R have nicer cosmetics, hand finishing, but the Merlins Packard produced were better engineered, and the ones Reno Air Racers and others want.

But i always thought the Wraiths were, and are, lovely, agreeing with Scott about their more rational size, and the 200 or so similarly-engined 1938-39 Overdrive Bentley 4 1/4-liters sound nice, even tho' "overdrive" meant final gearing no taller than 3.65:1 or so.

Often wonder what sort of Bentleys we'da seen had Napier outbid R-R in 1931.

I like such Rolls-Royce/Bentleys for their charm and bespoke lines, even tho' another English auto journalist dismissed Rolls-Royce as "....a great confidence trick." They're lovely mobile furniture, at the very least. After viewing their well-enameled engines, i'm always inspired to carefully wipe down my Packard's engine with a kerosene-soaked rag even if it doesn't need it.

Meanwhile, does anyone have any indepth info, detailed photos, maybe an engineering cross-section of the small hp-based Rolls-Royce B-80 346-ci F-head inline 8 introduced in 1950, used in the mere 18 Phantom IVs, as well as Dennis fire engines and military vehicles? Some of us with the inline 356-ci Super-8 Packard produced 1940-50 and Cadillac 346-ci V-8 through '48 would be interested.

Thanks!

Edited by Su8overdrive (see edit history)
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Guest Phil Cordery

In answer to the last message, The pre war wraith cannot be compared to the , other small HP models, they have nothing in common apart from an engine with less HP than the phantoms, The 1922-29 20HP is one of the sweetest imaginable to drive, followed closely by the 20-25 & 25-30, these are are very similar & parts are readily available, My own car is a 1929,20-25, but is unusual in that it is a short 20HP chassis with the larger 20-25 engine fited from new, in fact the third oldest known 25, lovely to drive, but as is the case with all RRs as soon as RR produced a bigger better car the coachbuilders loaded it with an even heavier body, in my humble opinion the best 20HP would be the 1926 -7 model, slightly larger crank, front wheel brakes & the last with Horizontal shutters, As for the Wraith, loads of smooth power, brakes adequate when sorted, but if you have a head problem the car becomes a long term static exhibit, because you wont find a good head anywhere, some new have been made but proved less than acceptable.

As for my master 6, recently bought & undergoing partial restoration of a very sound car, bought on its reputation, comparison will have to wait but I suspect the 20 will have it beat.

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Gullwing Motorcars out of NY has a really handsome small RR right now, supposedly ariginal, a '39. Not sure if this is the ebay car or not but I saw it last week and was impressed.

Correction, it's a '37. RROC & CCCA eligible for under 20 grand! :)

http://www.gullwingmotorcars.com/detail-1937-rolls~royce-25_30-sedan-used-7915773.html

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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I don't know how much the post war Wraith has in common with the prewar Wraith but I have a lot of experience driving one with the larger Bentley engine. It is a wonderful car to drive (with a factory GM automatic) and is unbelievably dependable. Ours has 160k miles from new with nothing but minor maintenance.

post-31305-143138750657_thumb.jpg

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Gullwing Motorcars out of NY has a really handsome small RR right now, supposedly ariginal, a '39. Not sure if this is the ebay car or not but I saw it last week and was impressed.

Steve, I saw that and it is neat. When I was a teenager I helped my uncle restore his 20hp. My recollections was that it was very attractive with nice materials. He sold it before it was done so I never got a chance to ride in it. As a kid I it was also drilled into me by my dad to avoid right hand drive although I've gotten over that in recent years.

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A.J. those postwar Wraith and also the Bently R cars really appeal to me for many of the reasons the poster above notes.

A car I had a chance to buy but passed on was a one year only Austin that basically looked identical to the RR Wraith full flow fenders as pictured in your family car. (most of them are not nearly as attractive, and people stick RR grilles on them but they just don't look right.) - I think it was a '52. Never seen another one. It had an aluminum body, sunroof and big P100 headlamps. As a fan of the unusual, I bet you would have liked that one.

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Guest Phil Cordery

Just checked the Gullwing link above, That shows a late series 20-25 with a catsback carb, not a 25-30, looks like a nice honest car, much better bet than the Pre war wraith mentioned, As for Post war Silver Wraith, a totally new design more in keeping with the Mk 6 & R type cars, with the Rover designed IOE engine,

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Anglesey, not to hijack the thread but any ideas as to the model name of the Austin I described above? Could have bought this from a local collector and long time owner in the early 90s for around $4,000; I do not believe he called it a "Princess" as the later ones were called. This car looked exactly like a Silver Wraith sedan.

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Those small HP cars are good and reliable. There is only one way to purchase one. Join the Roll-Royce Owners Club PRIOR to your purchase. Use the experience of the club members to help deciding on the car you want. I am sure there is an RROC member who can quote the history of WMB35 with familiarity.

The last thing you want to do is buy a Proper Motor Car, show up at a RROC club meeting, and hear someone say "Oh, you bought THAT car."

Bernie

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Guest Phil Cordery

Re the Wraith / Austin look alike , This was probably the Austin Sheerline A125, which had large P100 Headlamps, or could have been a Vanden Plas Princess especially built for the Carriage trade, favourite tool for the Funeral & wedding trade.

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Thanks Anglesey - Google confirmed Sheerline A-125, only one I have ever seen stateside, and I believe he referred to it as an A-125 (vs. a name) which is probably why over the past 18 - 20 years the model name slipped away from me. It's in the half dozen or so "regrets" file folder...

+1 to Bernie's advice on seeking advice, Scott. We have an RR collector in our local AACA region, but the big stuff (Springield cars fairly abundant in New England) - he would gladly spend ALL DAY discussing the technical details of those cars, which do seem to want more tinkering/servicing/adjusting than some typical US contemporaries. But very interesting...

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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  • 8 months later...

They are in a really tough section of Bridgeport, CT A.J. - they have some fantastic stuff in there. Really nice guys, I think even a couple of Classic prewar MB have been through there, really heavy on postwar European sportscars. Our local AACA region did an event there after I met some of the team sharing a lunch table at the Newport Concours a few years ago, and the year before you and your dad came out to our show they brought up some cool stuff. Everything from brass to Classics to sportscars. You should check out the site once in a while. You know this one is simillar to what I would like to find, but not "the car" - maybe Scott likes it though.

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Thanks Cecil, will read it. The car at Blackhorse is reasonable, and local to me, but I would be very concerned about the mechanics, it's being RHD, and now, a restoration that is aged to where it appears to need it all again. A couple of "trusted advisors" suggest moving along, but it could be a good car for someone who really wants a prewar RR. The last concern I would have is if it would be a tad underpowered. If I was to get a CCCA eligible car I would want it tour-ready, and I am not sure if this has more of an early 30s feel than late 30s.

The 52 Silver Dawn is the one I wish I saw a bit earlier, I like everything about it other than the fact it is obviously not CCCA eligible.

BTW - what ever happenned to your possible interest in a MB W111?

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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Guest Bill Miller

I've been following this thread with some interest. I have a 25/30 and my brother has an early Wraith (the 3rd one built) so I'm rather familiar with the small HP R-R's. The car at Blackhorse is a late 20/25 and is a very pretty car. I know nothing about it personally but always one's primary concern with R-R products is the condition of the mechanicals. An engine rebuild on even a small horsepower car can easily run $30K or more, figure $50K+ on a Phantom and even more on a Ghost. There are only 5 sets of people in this country who, in the general wisdom of the R-R people, are competent to work on these cars and the closest to the Blackhorse dealership are Pierce Reid & Bill Cooke at the Vintage Garage in Stowe VT. They really know their business. Anybody seriously interested in this car should hire their services to check it out ahead of time. Other experts I can recommend are Dick Frawley near Philadelphia, Butch Murphy in Cleveland, and Steve Littin near Cleveland. Cosmetics, trim and paint are cheap by comparison, but if the car needs substantial mechanical work be prepared for a significant outlay.

Bill

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Hey Bill -- I see you are from Louisville. If you go to the Lousville Concours at Churchill Downs, stop by and say hello (we'll be taking the Zephyr). Talk about stables, you certainly have a nice set of thoroughbreds there!

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Guest Bill Miller

Hi Cecil,

My wife and I go to the Lou. Concours every year and always display a car. This year we will be there again but will probably not be showing a car which gives us a lot more freedom and I can sleep late. I would love to see your Zephyr. I've long thought the CCCA should qualify them as Classics but they didn't ask my opinion so only the Continentals got admitted. I'll be sure to stop by.

Bill

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Bill, thanks for weighing in. Am I correct in assuming post war RR/Bentley through the Silver Dawn/R-type cars are a little easier on the wallet from a maintenance perspective? These very much seem like a case of buy a very good example and you are ahead of the game in the long run to me (as is generally the case but some cars, more than others.). That said, they seem a tad undervalued to me. Do have any buyer's tips on those cars?

Cecil, been there, we just finished with one in college it is like getting a huge raise!! :)

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Guest Bill Miller

Hi Steve,

Well as with most things automotive, the harder a part is to find the more expensive it is. Mechanical parts are more plentiful on post-war than pre-war R-R cars in general, but they are still much more expensive than, say Ford, GM or Mopar. You can't generally go down to the nearest Pep Boys or NAPA store to find what you need. There's not much competition to hold prices down because demand is so low due to many fewer cars being built. So yes, the mechanical repairs of a post-war R-R product will be somewhat less expensive than pre-war but it will still cost much more than repairing a Cadillac or Lincoln of the same age. I keep telling people over and over who ask me about buying old cars in general, that you are usually much better off in the long run overpaying for a car that is either a top-notch, low-mileage, well-maintained original or a restored car that needs nothing mechanical done to it, than underpaying for a car that needs a lot of work. That advice is especially true when R-R / B's are concerned. The main reason you can find relatively inexpensive postwar cars of this type is the fact that nearly all of the "bargains" have not been well maintained and the buyers and sellers are both aware of the restoration costs involved. There is only one major mechanical component I can think of that can be rebuilt reasonably in this country and that's the post-war automatic transmission. It was a stock GM Cadillac transmission (later on they modified it a bit so the shift linkage would work with an electrical servo) and AAMCO or similar can handle it. For my money, the later standard steel large boot (trunk) R-type Bentleys are the best bargains available, around years 1953-1955. They are solid cars with few faults, although left-hand drives are not that plentiful (if that makes a difference), and they came with a sunroof. The left-hand drive R-type was re-badged as a R-R and called the Silver Dawn which is the same car but it's usually more expensive because of the name. The earlier Mark VI's in the late '40's had a two-piece cylinder liner which wore unevenly and could cause rings to fracture, but this was changed in the R's. And some of the coachbuilt R-types are among the prettiest cars ever built, but expect to pay large money for them since coachbuilt cars by their nature have their own market. The bits and pieces for the body of a coachbuilt car can be next to impossible to find so you want one that is complete. The postwar Silver Wraith (no direct relation to the pre-war Wraith) was a coachbuilt car so they are priced accordingly. Back to the standard steel cars, and this applies to Clouds and S-types also, as with all steel cars, rust can be a problem so inspect areas of potential moisture traps like wheel wells, the areas where the parking lights are located on the front fenders, rocker panels, floor and trunk pans, and make sure the sunroof doesn't leak. If you are a novice pay a professional to inspect the car with you and tell you what it needs (and ballpark what it will cost). By the way I neglected through oversight to mention Tim Jayne of Dennison-Jayne Motors in PA as being one of the handful of experts I would recommend to work on the pre-war cars. He knows his stuff. There are many others who specialize in postwar cars but don't expect a post-war mechanic to necessarily be able to do a competent job on your pre-war car. I would stick with the 5 sets of people I have mentioned.

Bill

Edited by Bill Miller (see edit history)
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Bill, thanks for the thoughtful reply, sorry to take so long in getting back - on the road this week, but most interesting feedback. The '53 - '55 Bentley "R" type really appeals to me, and although the RR version would work also, I really like the Bentley. I totally agree that a car in restored, or good original and sorted condition would be the route to take here. Keeping an eye out, and researching...

Thanks again!

Steve

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  • 4 months later...

Nothing is as expensive as a cheap Rolls-Royce/Bentley. That said, a prewar small HP RR can be reasonably priced touring car. But as with most such cars there are trade-offs. A nice limousine or staid 4 dr saloon will be much more reasonaby priced than an open car--all other things being equal. And it will be slower due to the weight of the coachwork. I have a '38 Wraith Cockshoot limousine that I have driven many thousands of miles on mostly CCCA CARavans but RROC events as well. I (and Ralph Curzon) rebuilt the engine some 10,000 miles ago and it is the one car I have owned for the last 30 years that I know will start eevry time I want to go somewhere. It has been on tours where it was 105 degrees and over 10,000 feet passes in Colorado in the summer without over-heating or slowing down except to pass the Packards and Cadillacs pulled over to cool down. But it is difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to find parts and they tend to be expensive. There were only 492 made, so even with a very high survival rate they are still rare. They are very complex--though not quite so complex as a 12 cyl. P-3. But they have adequate power, a great transmission and are really bulit like a Swiss watch. But remember, if Henry Ford built a component with 10 parts in it Henry Royce built a component to do the same thing with 100 parts in it. If you don't feel competent to fully evaluate such a car before buying, pay a qualified mechanic (several are listed in thisthread) to do so for you. And you should be in the RROC if you own any RR or Bentley. Al Kroemer

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Guest Water Jacket

Hard to believe, at this late date, there are still those long involved with old cars drinking the Derby and Crewe Kool Aid. There are so many other wonderful neglected makes.

Stutz SV16 and DV32, for one, much closer to the car Fred Duesenberg wanted to build.

Not all Delahayes have impractical whore's dream of an automobile coachwork, but do have sturdy medium-duty ohv truck engines, akin to a Gallic GMC six, and several with the Cotal electro-magnetic four-speed transmission completed LeMans, something hard to imagine a Cord doing.

As mentioned in my post from a year ago, #3 above, R-Rs are nice furniture, and i praised their bespoke charm last year in post #3 above, as we're here to enjoy everything on its merits, serve one another autoholics as upbeat support group. But neither should this cordiality make us immune to historic fact.

Nonetheless, a veteran mechanic's mechanic mentioned seeing a '60 R-R or Bentley up on a lift in a friend's shop and thought at first he was looking at a '49 Cadillac, other than the Packard Saf-t-fleX IFS.

Good luck to the above gent, but this Club used to embrace a plethora of interesting old fine cars off the beaten path. What happened?

Meanwhile, an Englishman who for years was a draftsman at the Vincent Motorcycle Works shared this tho' it's about the prewar large R-R: Derby was inundated by troubles with the overly complex 1936-39 Phantom III 445-ci ohv V-12. In exasperation, perhaps noting Railton's success, some of the engineers replaced it with a stock 254-ci Hudson side-valve, inline eight and drove the R-R brass around the works grounds in a Phantom III saloon so fitted.

The R-R executives raved over the car's smoothness and flexibility. The engineers then stopped, raised the bonnet, revealing the prosaic American straight eight buried in the vast engine bay.

I'd like to attach a couple wonderful articles from 40 or 45 years ago by the respected, much missed and never surpassed Maurice Hendry, both engineer and historian, who knew what he was about, to entertain and illuminate on the above matter, but can't figure out how to attach them. Will try at the office tomorrow in the presence of the computer literate.

Edited by Water Jacket (see edit history)
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I don't know where to begin in replying to your post. I don't consider that I have been "drinking the Derbey and Crewe Kool Aide." But I do recognize the finer--and lesser--points of their products. Someone asked about a Wraith and I gave them a balanced assessment. I did not say the were the best Full Classic ever made though one can certainly argue the P-3 is worthy of consideration. And I did not put down any other Full Classic--though I did enjoy SLOWLY driving past the Packards and Cadillacs that overheated in the Rockies last summer. And you can put a Chevy or Hudson or any other engine in a Rolls or Jaguar or Whizbang or whatever and claim that it is a better car, but that doesn't make it so. At the end of the day, most of our Full Classics have their strengths and weaknesses. Rolls is no exception. Two wheel brakes in the mid-20s and mechanical brakes in the late 30s on Sir Henry's products show they were often behind the times. If a Rolls-Royce is funtiture it is because it was not properly maintained. The fact that I regularly drive mine a couple thousand miles a year is testament to the fact they they can be reliable tour cars. As much so as the Stutzs you mention (and which I readily admit I often lust after). There are many attractive and many unattractive RRs as there are of most the Full Classics. My recent purchase of a 1931 Chrysler was made primarily bacause I think it is one of the perttiest closed cars of the era. And as I get it sorted out I expect it to take its place as a worthy touring car, next to my Wraith. But that bdoesn't detract from my appreciation of the good points of the Rolls and their are many. And I am confident it is an easier car to drive than the trucks made by Duesenburg, no matter how impressive they are otherwise.

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Al, thanks for your insight from an owner's perspective. I am not sure where the original poster of this thread is on a potential RR product. I can tell you a postwar Bentley or maybe the right RR Wraith is on my short list as a nice all around old car. Like I did with my Packard and SL, will be looking for a very good car, as the advice on a "cheap RR/Bentley, etc." can be applied to lots of cars indeed. After a year as a CCCA member, I have changed my focus from a car that fits the CCCA criteria, to a car that fits my criteria, it really does not matter to me if the car is a Full Classic or not so I find that I am doing more research off this forum now but it was certainly interesting to see this thread pop back up.

Hope to see more of your posts here - the AACA site overall has a lot of good content and knowledeable members.

Regards,

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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