9 March 2013
1926 Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost Playboy Convertible Coupe by Brewster
- Chassis no. S400RK
- Engine no. 28004
- Body no. B-5781
Sold for $313,500
- Extensive, recent mechanical rebuild
- Formerly owned by theater magnate Walter Reade
Rolls-Royce came early to America. In 1906, C.S. Rolls himself brought three cars to race at New York’s Empire City track. An exhibit at the annual auto show followed, where three cars were sold. In 1913, a New York depot was set up with coachbuilders Brewster & Co., who bodied the majority of the imported chassis. In 1919, Rolls acquired a factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, and began to manufacture the Silver Ghost. In addition to Brewster, American Rolls were bodied by many other prestige coachbuilders, a number of them under the hallmark of Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work. Included in this bevy of eastern craftsmanship were such companies as Biddle & Smart, Willoughby, Merrimac, and Holbrook. In order to have cars ready for customers who wished to buy “off the showroom floor,” a range of standard designs was prepared, to be built by the aforementioned firms. Included were the Pall Mall tourer, the Oxford seven-passenger tourer, the Piccadilly roadster, and the Mayfair and Riviera town cars.
Initially the same as its British counterpart, the Springfield Silver Ghost chassis evolved over the years to adapt to its adopted country. First were component substitutions: American Bosch ignition in place of the Watford magneto, American wheels replacing Dunlops, and eventually all electrical equipment was of local manufacture. By 1924, six-volt electrics had been adopted, and the following year, the chassis was reconfigured for left-hand drive. At the same time, the four-speed, right-hand-shifted gearbox gave way to an American-style three-speed with center change. Subtle changes were also made to the suspension to soften the ride.
Chassis S400RK was delivered March 11, 1926, to a Mr. D. Armstrong, of Greenwich, Connecticut. At that time, it was clothed with a Willoughby-built Mayfair town car body. At some point, it was traded back to Rolls-Royce of America, joining an inventory of “pre-owned” cars that the factory maintained for sale. Many of these were enclosed styles: limousines, town cars, and sedans. When the supplies of these models grew too large, the company would sometimes remove their bodies and substitute sportier coachwork. A good example is the Playboy Convertible Coupe built by Brewster.
Just 28 were built, 15 retro-fitted onto Silver Ghost chassis, S400RK among them, and the remainder to Phantom Is. The Playboy had a jaunty look and a snug cockpit with roll-up side windows. Less lavishly appointed than the well-known Picadilly roadster, however, they lacked some amenities, like a side door to the rumble seat.
Rolls-Royce records show S400RK was sold to Walter Reade, with the Playboy body, by successor company J.S. Inskip on June 9, 1934. At that time, the Mayfair body remained “undisposed of.” Walter Reade Sr. (1884–1952), the “Showman of the Shore,” was a New Jersey theater owner who built up a chain of movie houses in the greater New York area. After his death, the company was taken over by his son, Walter Reade Jr., who expanded the Walter Reade Organization into distribution of foreign-made films. The Walter Reade Theater at New York’s Lincoln Center is named in his memory. In June 1959, S400RK was purchased by Bob Wilhelm, of Flint, Michigan.
Imported into Belgium several decades ago, it resided in a little-known private collection before being purchased by the immediately preceding owner. Within the last few years, substantial mechanical renewal has been undertaken by British marque specialists Taylor’s, of Chichester, West Sussex. This included an engine rebuild involving new cylinder blocks, valves, high-compression pistons, an exhaust manifold, and a reground crankshaft. Invoices totaling in excess of £75,000 for the period of 2007–2012 are on file.
A fine example of the Playboy Convertible, with celebrity provenance, this Springfield Silver Ghost is ready to be enjoyed by a new owner.
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