1953 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn Drophead Coupe by H.J. Mulliner
Amelia Island - A Gentleman's Collection: The Pride & Passion of Orin Smith
- One-off bodywork commissioned by Rolls-Royce connoisseur Howard Kizer
- An original U.S.-delivery, factory left-hand-drive example
- High-quality, award-winning concours restoration
- Featured on the cover of the March–April 2006 issue of The Flying Lady
- One of very few examples of bespoke coachwork on the Silver Dawn chassis
The Silver Dawn is most famous as the first Rolls-Royce to be offered with factory “Standard Steel Saloon” coachwork and was tailored to a new generation of owners who wanted the convenience of buying a complete new automobile, then driving it themselves, rather than employing a coachbuilder and a chauffeur. Nonetheless, in typical Rolls-Royce fashion, a customer who desired a Silver Dawn for custom bodywork could still buy a chassis.
Of the 761 Silver Dawns built between 1949 and 1955, just 64 received unique coachwork. The example offered here is even more special as a one-off design, number 7297, drawn by the respected London coachbuilders H.J. Mulliner and somewhat reminiscent of the drophead coupes on the Bentley Mark VI chassis. The design was distinguished by its especially sporting nature, incorporating a raked and vee’d split windshield and deeply skirted and curved front fenders, “fading” into the rear of the car before, forming sensual “hips” over the rear wheels.
The design was presented to Howard W. Kizer of Montclair, New Jersey, an attorney and fleet executive for Texaco. Mr. Kizer was a Rolls-Royce and Bentley client of long standing, who commissioned numerous coachbuilt cars for himself over the years, while also collecting vintage automobiles such as Mercedes-Benz and Isotta Fraschini. He happily agreed to order a Silver Dawn with Mulliner’s coachwork, specifying an automatic transmission, power windows and top, front seat armrests, locks to both doors, roller-type sun visors, turn signals, and whitewall tires. Delivery of the completed car was made in June 1953 by New York dealer J.S. Inskip.
The Rolls-Royce remained with Mr. Kizer until 1959, when it passed to Leonard J. Wehrle of Hackensack, New Jersey. An interesting notation in the Rolls-Royce Foundation documents is that Mr. Kizer was again the owner in 1970, now at his retirement estate in Arizona, indicating that he actually bought his old car back! It was sold again in 1971 to L.Wayne Beal of Phoenix, Arizona, after whom it was acquired by Albert Milstein of Chicago in 1982. The Rolls remained in original and solid overall condition until 2003, when it was purchased by longtime Rolls-Royce and Bentley collector, Gene Epstein of Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Known for his concours restorations, Mr. Epstein had a nut-and-bolt restoration performed on the Silver Dawn, to finish it to a modern show standard in a glistening silver with red leather interior. The interior was properly finished with flat seat cushions and pleated backrests, and red carpets with matching mouton overlays. The original medium-wave radio remains in place, as do the Lucas side and fog lamps specified by Mr. Kizer; the G.E. headlamps, while unusual, are proper to an American-export Silver Dawn. Tidily finished, the engine compartment is largely correct aside from porcelainized exhaust manifolds, which are not strictly correct but much improve the engine’s overall appearance. The only major cosmetic change from original specification was the subtle installation of modern air conditioning, a feature much appreciated, especially in a Rolls-Royce, for summer driving.
The result, finished off with proper sets of hand and road tools, a British wicker picnic hamper, a “polo” walking stick, and a red umbrella stashed in the boot, was a true showstopper, and, indeed, won a 1st Prize in Rolls-Royce Owners Club (RROC) concours judging in 2005. The restoration has remained well-preserved and very attractive during its time in the Smith Collection, with only light wear present from Mr. Smith’s occasional enjoyment of the car on Florida roads.
Quite simply, this one-of-one Silver Dawn is like no other. It may well be the most sporting and dramatic coachwork ever featured to this landmark chassis.
Please note that the coachwork on this car is by H.J. Mulliner, rather than by Park Ward as listed in the print catalogue.