Sunday, 15 January 2012

Unique Rolls-Royce

This 1911 Rolls-Royce "Titanic Ghost" was made to order for the chairman of Harland and Wolff, and it returns to Northern Ireland for the first time in eighty-five years later this month.

The car was built for Lord Pirrie before RMS Titanic's maiden voyage in April, 1912. It will be the main attraction at a vintage car show in County Down.

"This car has a unique link to a special time and place in our history and we are thrilled to be able to bring it back to Northern Ireland in the year when so much attention is focused on the Titanic," said the organiser of the Newcastle Vintage, Classic and Sports Car Show, Martin Cromwell.

There is a cast metal plate on the scuttle under the centre of the windscreen proclaimed it to be the “Titanic Ghost”.  

The chassis (each owner had the body made and fitted separately) was ordered from Rolls-Royce in November 1909 by the Rt. Hon. Lord Pirrie KP PC, of Witley Park, Godalming, Surrey.  

The chassis was delivered to Morgan and Co Ltd of Long Acre, London in May 1910 to be fitted with “ceremonial double phaeton” coachwork. 

On Pirrie’s death in 1924, the car was passed to his brother-in-law, the Hon Alexander Montgomery Carlisle, who was chief designer at the shipyard and who represented the company at the Board of Trade enquiry into the sinking of RMS Titanic in April 1912. Carlisle had the phaeton body removed and a cabriolet body substituted.

  • When the Carlisle died in 1926 the car was sold for £35 and fitted with an ambulance body.
  •  In 1932 the body was removed and the car used as a breakdown truck and subsequently as the prime mover for a set of gang mowers on a Surrey golf club.
  • It was again for sale in 1950 in a breaker’s yard on the main London to Maidstone road for the derisory sum of £3 10s (£3.50).
  • It was then purchased to continue its life as a breakdown truck; but in 1955 when recognition had set in that these old cars might become more valuable.
The car’s fortunes changed for the better.

The, by now, very well used Rolls-Royce breakdown truck came into the hands of London Rolls-Royce agents Jack Barclay, who had a period style body built on this very early example of the marque for use as a sales promotional vehicle.

The rejuvenated old car served them well for thirty years until it was sold to an American owner in June, 1985.

As has happened with quite a lot of these cars that made their way over to the USA, the car was “repatriated” in 2000 and became the subject of a four-year restoration to return the car to as near original as possible.

The work included the construction of a replica of the double phaeton coachwork, made possible by the discovery of contemporary photographs.

The result is magnificent and one would need to be a RR expert of world class to know that it is not totally authentic; in fact it might well be better (or more polished) in some respects than when Lord Pirrie first took delivery 100 years ago.

A former Lord Mayor of Belfast, the 1st and last Viscount Pirrie was chairman of Harland and Wolff until his death in 1924 and was instrumental in ensuring Titanic and its sister ships were built in Belfast.

His lordship was one of the last recipients of the most illustrious Order of St Patrick.

His bespoke car was sold shortly after he died at sea off the coast of Cuba and was converted into an ambulance. It later became a breakdown truck before being renovated in the 1950s and sold to an American owner in the 1980s.

It was brought back to the UK in 2000 and painstakingly restored over four years, and is now kept by a collector in Lincolnshire.

The car still bears its Titanic Ghost nameplate and Lord Pirrie's family crest.

William James Pirrie was born in Canada but moved to Conlig, County Down, at the age of two. He was educated at Belfast Royal Academy and joined Harland and Wolff aged 15 as a 'gentleman apprentice'.

He was appointed chairman of the shipbuilding firm in 1874; Lord Mayor of Belfast, 1896-97.


Anonymous said...

I suspect this was its first visit to N.I.


Timothy Belmont said...

Indeed, I'm inclined to agree, given the Witley Park residence.