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Longevity in the thirties, Rolls Royce vs American cars


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I saw some extracts from a confidential report by an American Rolls Royce employee in the early thirties. The gist of it was, you could buy an eight cylinder  Cadillac Lincoln or Packard with coachbuilt body for $4000 to $6000 while a six cylinder Rolls Royce didn't offer anything very much better in performance, silence, comfort etc in their $12000 car.

I wonder if this extended to reliability and longevity? Would the American car, if serviced and maintained according to the manufacturer's  recommendations, last for as many years and miles as the Rolls?

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Yes,  the American cars had some advantages and all were cheaper including Duesenberg.    But, I was lucky enough once to inspect a top of the line 31 Packard 845 with a coachbuilt body sitting next to a PII RR with a Brewster body.    The RR was in a different planet with regard to fit/finish/materials.

 

Also,  I know for the PII,  each chassis was individually dyno tested.  The chassis were then test driven 150 of miles prior to installation of the body.   The RREC can give you the build records for  your chassis which will tell you down to the bolt what went in to that instance of the chassis.   See example below.  

 

The RR is completely over engineered and all changes were made gradually and incrementally over 30 years of the Ghost, PI and PII.   

ExampleDynomterReading.jpg

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I can believe if a potential customer crawled underneath both cars and compared the chassis point by point, that he could see why the Rolls cost more. How many bothered to do this, or cared? As for the body the report I referred to, said the mass produced all steel American cars were distinctly tinny compared to the Rolls. But Rolls Royce didn't make the bodies, they were made by specialist coachbuilders, and the same coachbuiders also put bodies on American chassis. As for US vs British the best American bodies were equal to the British if not better. Brewster was among the best, I believe. So Rolls Royce had a difficult time selling their cars for twice or three times what the competition cost.

What was in my mind was whether the hand made Rolls Royce would stand up better or last longer than the mass produced American luxury cars. I am sure for all practical purposes, they would last as long as the typical buyer wanted them to. But here we are 80 years later and I am curious.

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The math on what they chose is easy.   Rolls Royce sold 125 LHD PII chassis over 4 years most of which were for the US and a few more RHD cars.   Even with diminished sales the Caddy V16 easily outsold that.

 

I forgot where I read this or who told me,  but well in to the 50s the PI & PII cars were still running well based on original factory tolerances and maintenance.  Once the backyard guys started messing with them they went to hell.

 

Ed Minnie has a lot of experience with both the American chassis and the RR so he can probably add more color.    But everything about the RR construction was of a higher quality than the American built cars,  which was where the 15-20k price came from when you could buy a Duesenburg for 14k.

Edited by alsancle (see edit history)
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I'm sure Rolls Royce made cars of the highest quality. What I wonder about is whether this gave any practical advantage. I know the American luxury makes outsold Rolls Royce about 1000 to 1. Did the Rolls Royce buyer get anything for his money other than the satisfaction of knowing his car was a work of art?

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I’m guessing they got the rolling art of RR but practically speaking you would’ve been much better off with a Packard or Caddy.

 

These days you tour with a Packard or Caddy and bring the RR to the concours.

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Interesting subject, but is it really any different than their marketing today?  All out of my league but I am sure that an S class Mercedes is a perfectly capable and luxurious car at substantially less cost than a Rolls. I would imagine then as now, the owners/buyers surely had quality in mind but status was more likely the priority.

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Actually I would liken this to fine (and not so fine) shotguns today.  A product I am familiar with that has a parallel in that mass produced and fine handbuilt options exist for buyers today, like cars in the Classic era.

A noticeable, practical quality difference exist between a $300 - 600 gun, Stoeger, etc. or a $2,000 - 4,000 Franchi, Browning, etc.  The difference in performance related build quality is much harder to see going from a mass produced Browning to a Connecticut Shotgun at $10,000 on up.  Handmade, to order.  

Obviously the buyer for such a high end gun doesn't realistically expect the gun to make them a better shot, but they can afford and have an appreciation for a luxury item.  A market exists for this just like it did for RR back in the day.  

 

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I've only spent time on one PI chassis, great to see it again in the Petersen and on the lawn at Pebble Beach 2019. I'm sure a big part of the cost was in nuts and bolts, lots of them, and you better have the square heads all aliened. I would think most Rolls were driven on city streets and not back roads like big American built cars. Bob 

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4 hours ago, Steve_Mack_CT said:

Actually I would liken this to fine (and not so fine) shotguns today.  A product I am familiar with that has a parallel in that mass produced and fine handbuilt options exist for buyers today, like cars in the Classic era.

A noticeable, practical quality difference exist between a $300 - 600 gun, Stoeger, etc. or a $2,000 - 4,000 Franchi, Browning, etc.  The difference in performance related build quality is much harder to see going from a mass produced Browning to a Connecticut Shotgun at $10,000 on up.  Handmade, to order.  

Obviously the buyer for such a high end gun doesn't realistically expect the gun to make them a better shot, but they can afford and have an appreciation for a luxury item.  A market exists for this just like it did for RR back in the day.  

 

 

I think you mean a Winchester to a Holland & Holland...and I'm even from CT!😄

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Quite simply, a PI and a PII are on a different planet than any other offering that was contemporary as far as dates go. They are a different animal......and 99.5 percent of the people looking at them and talking about them have no clue to what’s involved with owning, driving, and maintaining them. We have a PI and a pair of PII’s. In a garage of fantastic works class stuff........my favorite is the PI. That should speak volumes.

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27 minutes ago, prewarnut said:

 

I think you mean a Winchester to a Holland & Holland...and I'm even from CT!😄

Looking to go from Winchester to a CSM Galazan, basic but still...  Holland & Holland is in stratosphere!

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50 minutes ago, hidden_hunter said:

Interesting on that sheet is appears consumption of 1 pint of oil is considered acceptable


one quart of oil per thousand miles was a standard acceptable burn rate on Cadillac, Packard, and Pierce back in the early 30’s. That’s why they had service stations for so many years. Today we have gas stations. When was the last time anyone checked their tires air pressure? 

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2 hours ago, hidden_hunter said:

Interesting on that sheet is appears consumption of 1 pint of oil is considered acceptable

I had a 1928 Buick owner's manual whose oil consumption standard amuses me to this day (almost a direct quote):  "A properly broken-in engine in good condition can be expected to consume one gallon of oil in a thousand miles."  (Italics mine)  Remember that oil control rings were not installed in cars until the mid-1920s:  my 1922 Paige 6-66 had four compression rings but no oil control rings.  The owner before me consulted with the late Paul Weaver and substituted oil controls rings for the bottom compression ring.

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21 hours ago, Rusty_OToole said:

I can believe if a potential customer crawled underneath both cars and compared the chassis point by point, that he could see why the Rolls cost more. How many bothered to do this, or cared? As for the body the report I referred to, said the mass produced all steel American cars were distinctly tinny compared to the Rolls. But Rolls Royce didn't make the bodies, they were made by specialist coachbuilders, and the same coachbuilders also put bodies on American chassis. As for US vs British the best American bodies were equal to the British if not better. Brewster was among the best, I believe. So Rolls Royce had a difficult time selling their cars for twice or three times what the competition cost.

What was in my mind was whether the hand made Rolls Royce would stand up better or last longer than the mass produced American luxury cars. I am sure for all practical purposes, they would last as long as the typical buyer wanted them to. But here we are 80 years later and I am curious.

The majority of these cars were pampered throughout their lifetime; even as second and third-hand pre-owned units, which explains their high survival rate.  And the value of them does make them worthwhile to restore when a rough one is found.  To my knowledge, Rolls-Royce had no inherent engine or other running gear faults that compromised their longevity.  That factor allowed them to serve their owners to the point they became 'collectible'; selling for more money than the the second or third owner paid for it in the first place provided they kept it for over a decade or two, and it was well maintained throughout that time.  And other factors which contributed to longevity was in the northern climates, many of these cars would remain parked over the winter, and where they were driven in snow, road salt was not in use much back then which helped preserve their bodies.  

 

Craig

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So the answer seems to be, the beautifully made Rolls Royce won't last 5 minutes longer in hard service than the crude Cadillac Packard or Lincoln but the individual parts are prettier? And this was enough to induce 1 luxury car buyer out of 1000 to pay double or triple for a Rolls?

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55 minutes ago, Rusty_OToole said:

So the answer seems to be, the beautifully made Rolls Royce won't last 5 minutes longer in hard service than the crude Cadillac Packard or Lincoln but the individual parts are prettier? And this was enough to induce 1 luxury car buyer out of 1000 to pay double or triple for a Rolls?

 

 And  folks STILL  do the same . See how much money I have?   Pebble beach, anyone?

 

  Ben

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Here is some post war anecdotal data for you.   On Monday I put 40 miles on the 53 Packard which was top of the line that year and retailed around $6,000.00.    Today I put the exact same 40 miles on the 59 RR which is admittedly coachbuilt which pushed the price to $29,000.00 in 1959.    It is basically a 1948 chassis and 59 was the end of the line, although it got the biggest engine of the run.

 

The Packard has had 3 owners from new and is right around 40k miles.   It smokes just a tiny bit and a little bit of lifer noise.   Has never broken down to my knowledge.

 

The Rolls has had 2 owners from new is is just over 180k miles.   Engine/Tranny/Rear never out of the car and just usual service from new.

 

Forgetting about the fit/finish/materials which isn't fair to the Packard at 1/5 the price,  the RR is a much better car to drive.    It just rides nicer,  stops and accelerates better.   Just better.

 

Just a single data point,  but a RR properly maintained seems to last a long long time.   How many 50s cars would make it to 180k without at least a valve job?

 

 

IMG_8084.jpg

AJ443.jpg

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Marble House is the place that has class........

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No that's Elms, not on the water's side. The Breakers is bigger. This was truly one family's home for some time. A distant cousin of mine was the mayor of Newport years ago. His place Playhouse at the end of Belleview was torn down for a new McMansion last I checked. Anyone who's a fan of classical music should buy tickets for one of the Newport Music Festival's venues held every summer. Proceeds helps the arts and historic preservation I believe. It is great seeing world class students and young (and old) professionals play for 90 minutes and then walking around one of these magnificent grounds. Then there's overpriced tea and sandwiches. It's stuffy but it's supposed to be.

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16 minutes ago, prewarnut said:

No that's Elms, not on the water's side. The Breakers is bigger. This was truly one family's home for some time. A distant cousin of mine was the mayor of Newport years ago. His place Playhouse at the end of Belleview was torn down for a new McMansion last I checked. Anyone who's a fan of classical music should buy tickets for one of the Newport Music Festival's venues held every summer. Proceeds helps the arts and historic preservation I believe. It is great seeing world class students and young (and old) professionals play for 90 minutes and then walking around one of these magnificent grounds. Then there's overpriced tea and sandwiches. It's stuffy but it's supposed to be.

 

You are right!  Thanks.   As a kid I always remember that show as being at the Breakers.   First show after my dad unfortunately changed the color of that car from black.

AJ430.jpg

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Prewar, Newport is also getting to be a hotspot for the hobby as well.  We are longtime NHS members, cause, you know, they need the money... 🤔😁

 

Not a RR but here is a shot from the Audrain, worth a visit anytime one happens to be in Newport.  If memory serves this is a Model A PA? 

20170429_101136.jpg

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