The Wraith, the Cloud, and the Shadow
Rolls Royce coachbuilt exclusivity
Rolls Royce motorcars stand alone as an uncompromising collage of beauty, comfort, with exemplary fit & finish. The traditional Rolls Royce commitment to perfection combined with the coachbuilder’s legendary sense of achievement results in a strikingly individual motorcar of unsurpassed luxury and elegance. In a world gone plastic, hand-crafted motorcars such as the Silver Wraith, the Silver Cloud, and the Silver Shadow are iconic and unforgettable…they are reminiscent of an illustrious era in motoring. They are among the last masterworks from master craftsmen. When time and money is no object, the epitome of bespoke opulence is a Rolls Royce with custom coachcrafting.
The Silver Wraith was the finale; it is the last model to be delivered in chassis-only form to the coachbuilder to be fitted with a custom body. It is the first post-war model made at the Crewe facility. The Silver Wraith was built from 1946 until 1959. Only 1,883 were made including 639 long wheelbase saloons. Many of the Silver Wraith body configurations were built as formal limousines. There was a variety of coachbuilt styles.
1953 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Limousine by Hooper
The first models built were using the 127” wheelbase platform. They had independent coil springs fitted to the front suspension and semi-elliptic springs fitted to the rear with a live axle. They were equipped with a 4-speed manual gearbox. New for the 1952 model year, a GM Hydra-Matic was available as an option. The long 133” wheelbase was introduced for the 1951 model year. The final 127” wheelbase versions were built for the 1953 model year.
The Silver Wraith is considered to be one of the most technologically advanced Rolls Royce models in the history of the brand. They are also exceptionally elegant and luxurious. The braking system is a hybrid hydro-mechanical system with hydraulic front brakes and mechanical rear brakes which use a mechanical servo from pre-war cars. It is a system patented by Hispano-Suiza and built by Rolls Royce under license.
1939 Wraith Sports Saloon with Park Ward Coachcrafting
The power was provided by the engine of the Rolls Royce Wraith. The refined versions of this In-line 6-cylinder engine included a new cylinder head with overhead inlet valves. The 4.3 litre version was used in the earlier cars. From 1951 on, the displacement was increased to 4.6 litres. From 1954 on, the In-line 6-cylinder engine was bore out to 4.9 litres.
1959 Silver Wraith Touring LWB Limo by Henri Chapron
The 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith shown has coachwork by Henri Chapron. His elegantly refined style was renowned. The press and enthusiasts world-wide raved about the Silver Wraith. Rolls Royce carried on a relentless pursuit for engineering excellence. These magnificent motorcars were the best Rolls Royce had ever offered at the time. The Silver Wraith is an automotive masterwork fit for the connoisseur’s collection. The Sliver Wraith is a pristine example of the Rolls Royce philosophy; which was a reliable car with components easily maintained.
Henri Chapron (1886-1978) was a prominent French coachbuilder. His atelier was established in 1919 and located in Levallois-Perret, which is a suburb of Paris. His expertise for custom coachbuilding includes Talbot, Delage, and Delahaye in the 1920s. When vehicles of this caliber ceased, he turned his interests to Citroen, and Rolls Royce.
1958 Silver Cloud I Honeymoon Express
An avant-garde styling tour de force is the 1958 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud I coachbuilt by Freestone & Web. It was nicknamed the “Honeymoon Express” by automotive journalists because of the intimate two-seat cabin and a trunk large enough to carry any bride’s luggage. The car premiered at the October 1957 Earl’s Court Motor Show in London. The Silver Cloud underwent a dramatic transformation.
It is one of the most beautiful Rolls Royce coachbuilt creations ever made. To look at it, no one would ever believe it was a Silver Cloud; the stock version had vanished without a trace. The car’s understatement makes it provocative. There were only two of these built and badged as a Rolls Royce and one as a Bentley. It is exquisitely detailed. All of those curves and contours are expedited in a manner of which relied upon the hand and the eye. (Computer design…what’s that?)
Finny, unusually curvy, and remarkably sophisticated, is the look conveyed by its creator. Freestone & Webb had been in business since 1923. They were coachbuilders on Brentfield Road in Stonebridge Park, North London. The company created bespoke bodies. While custom-bodying Rolls Royce and Bentley motorcars they introduced a style known as “Top Hat.” A razor-edge style evolved that became popular in the automotive industry. Freestone & Web showcased their superlatives at the London Motor Shows garnering the Gold Medal in the custom coachbuilding segment for nine years in a row.
The novelty of being a two-seat Rolls Royce augments the Silver Cloud I transformation. Its deep scarlet Connolly leather trimmed cabin is a startling contrast to the two-toned Lugano Blue and silver Chalice exterior. The matching 100% wool carpet is Wilton hand-tufted broadloom. It is elegantly trimmed with hand-crafted Burled Circassian walnut veneers throughout. The coachwork neatly conceals a power fully automatic fabric in-ward folding roof. It is completely hidden under the electrically operated metal cover. It’s equipped with a “Radiomobile” medium and long wave radio with a power antenna. It is referred to as “His master’s voice” which is a primitive CB radio. This unique beauty has power windows and power assisted steering.
Special options for this example include an outside temperature thermometer and an altimeter. A tachometer is included on the dash, which is rarely seen on a Rolls Royce. A pair of cocktail cabinets is on either side of the rear storage area, complete with cocktail requisites. The Honeymoon Express is without conjecture, a bold design statement for its day. It is unlike any Rolls Royce. This is one of the rarest and most famous post-war milestone vehicles in existence.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever. A Rolls Royce is a motorcar of distinction. A coachbuilt Rolls Royce is a one-of-a-kind masterwork. The Silver Cloud I was refined into an elegant open tourer. It took three months to build the highly bespoke coachwork. Its silhouette is like no other. From the classic radiator grille and Spirit of Ecstasy Flying Goddess…to the gently sculpted and graceful curves of the body, and its unique tail fins…it is a breathtaking example of British coachcrafting at its finest.
1959 Silver Cloud II Mulliner Drophead
The Rolls Royce Silver Cloud was produced in a variety of different models during its tenure from 1955 until 1966. The HJ Mulliner Drophead coupe is another rare gem. It is rumored that there are less than 25 built, 11 of which were left hand drive. The Silver Cloud Series is extremely popular in the US. The Mulliner-bodied Silver Cloud is hand-crafted made from aluminium. It is a timeless masterwork cherished world-wide. Only one percent of all Silver Clouds have bespoke coachcrafting, which makes them an attractive collectible.
1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud Drophead coupé III
The eminent coachbuilder, HJ Mulliner operated from Bedford Park, Chiswick, in London’s West end. It was formed in 1897. He created custom-bodied Rolls Royce Fixedhead and Drophead models for the brand. Rolls Royce’s specialty is a ‘four-door saloon while Mulliner specialized in the two-door models. (Hope I don’t rain on your parade but British Leyland built the Silver Shadows and Pressed Steel built the Silver Clouds!) The Mulliner hand-crafted models are viewed as automotive art. To prove the point, this example auctioned at RM Auctions for an astounding $577,500! Mulliner is among the last of the independent coachbuilders. They are now an in-house design department for Bentley UK.
Photos courtesy RM Auctions
1966 Silver Cloud III with aluminium bodywork by HJ Mulliner
1959 Phantom V with Park Ward Coachwork
Another successful coachbuilder was Park Ward. The firm was founded in 1919 by William MacDonald Park and Charles Ward. They became associated with WO Bentley in the 1920s. Park Ward was commissioned to make bodies for Rolls Royce in 1922. Park Ward developed all-steel and custom coachwork saloons for the brand. The unique feature of these bodies, was the use of rubber bushings at strategic locations between body and chassis. This isolated road noise and cancelled vibration before it reached the cabin.
As you can see from the photos, Park Ward also created limousines of the highest quality. The elegant forward opening coach doors were a Park Ward Signature. They built a version the Phantom V series from 1959-1962.
Rolls Royce took over Bentley in 1931 and purchased Park Ward in 1939. Park Ward was merged with HJ Mulliner in 1961 as Mulliner Park Ward.
There are only 328 coachbuilt models built on the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III chassis. James Young, and Mulliner Park Ward were two of the coach crafters that created rolling masterpieces. There is nothing hurried. Every craftsman took pride in refining the best car in the world. Building a Rolls Royce coachbuilt masterwork was a true labor of love. There were distinctively different versions and their bespoke elegance was limited only by the client’s imagination. The lovely Silver Cloud III commands in excess of six figures today on the auction block…that is if you should be lucky enough to find one for sale –
1966 James Young Silver Shadow Two-door coupe
James Young worked his genius on the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. He transformed this elegant four-door saloon into a luxurious two-door coupe. The front and rear styling of the original Silver Shadow is retained. The transformation takes place with larger doors and fixed rear quarter panels. The roof received wider “C” pillars. There were only 35 Silver Shadow James Young two-door saloons built. The example shown is a 1966 model fitted with the later model impact absorbing front and rear bumpers.
Silver Shadow four-door saloon
Photos courtesy Daniel Schmitt Classic Cars
A coachbuilt Rolls Royce is the epitome of luxury. Rolls Royce put certain contingencies on alterations. The iconic radiator grille and mascot dimensions should remain the same. It must also retain ‘family’ resemblance and the established character which are Rolls Royce hallmarks. Eminent coach builders such as Freestone & Webb, HJ Mulliner, Park Ward, and James Young, were available to design highly bespoke vehicles of distinction.
The Silver Wraith, The Silver Cloud, and the Silver Shadow are all milestone vehicles. Each was refined by the coachbuilders escalating them to new heights in exclusivity and supremacy. Bespoke motorcars such as these are valued like fine art that grows more valuable as time ticks on. A classic automobile is an excellent investment. The coachbuilt version guaranteed its place in Rolls Royce history.
Special thanks to Concept Carz and Mad 4 Wheels
Symbol is a lifestyle…
Classic Exotic Luxury, Editorials, Extreme Luxury, Rolls Royce
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