Silver Ghosts shimmer into Ye Olde Bell

Rolls Royces at Ye Olde Bell, Barnby Moor.
Rolls Royces at Ye Olde Bell, Barnby Moor.

Ye Olde Bell Hotel was the meeting place for 17 spectacular Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts, all built between 1911 and 1922, some amazing, very rare not to mention extremely valuable cars.

All the cars left the RAC Club on London’s Pall Mall at 6am one Sunday morning to recreate the epic adventure exactly 100 years on from the famous Rolls-Royce London to Edinburgh Top Gear Endurance Trial.

The 1911 stunt, all in top gear, was when Claude Johnson, general managing director of Rolls Royce, took the challenge from rival firm Napier to prove that Rolls Royce produced the best car in the world.

The original ‘Experimental Speed Car’ Chassis No. 1701 he built in 1911 led the cavalcade exactly 100 years later from the Pall Mall Club. It was also the first car to arrive at Ye Olde Bell Hotel near Blyth and held prime position on the line up at the front of the hotel.

The 2011 re-enactment was recreated as accurately as possible, including using only top gear, with gear change gates being authentically sealed to show any use of intermediate gears.

Over the two day journey, they followed as much as possible the original route along the Great North Road. The return journey ended at the home of Rolls Royce in Goodwood with a grand afternoon tea, and on Saturday the cars led the opening parade lap of the Goodwood Revival Festival.

The 1911 RAC-observed trial was a major test for Edwardian cars and no other car at the time could match this Rolls Royce feat.

Chassis 1701 covered all the return 799 miles to Brooklands in top gear with four passengers and luggage at an average of 24.32mpg and a top speed of 78.26 mph.

Driving the whole journey was only achievable because of the huge 7.5 litre low-compression ration engine allowing drivers to slip the oil lubricated, leather-lined clutch enough for the car to pull away smoothly from standstill even on a slight incline. Chassis 1701 later returned to Brooklands with more streamlined bodywork and secured an astonishing speed of 101.816 mph, making it the fastest Rolls-Royce built at the time.

Royal Automobile Club and 20-Ghost Club member, Nick Naismith, said: “1911 was a very important year for Rolls-Royce creating the Silver Ghost’s reputation as ‘the best car in the world’.

“As the oldest Rolls-Royce club in the world, the 20-Ghost Club has been planning the centenary re-enactment of the trials in 2011 for the past two years.

“The 1911 trial nearly came to grief when a donkey and cart got in the way when climbing the hill at the Archway, I think that in 2011 traffic lights rather than donkeys will be the problem.”

A total of 7,874 Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts with a 40/50 horsepower chassis were built from 1907 until they went out of production in 1926. These days Silver Ghosts are sought after as much for the beauty of their copper and brass fitted engines as for their unique bodywork and the fascinating history attached to previous owners – typically well-heeled members of high society traced through meticulous vehicle records.

Photographs Courtesy of Borre Wickstrom Photography