Rolls-Royce (The Spirit of Ecstacy)

By Jarah Weinreich

The National Automobile Museum of Tasmania's latest theme display, Rolls-Royce: The Spirit of Ecstasy, celebrates the elegance and innovation of one of the world's most celebrated and revered manufacturers. Sir Frederick Henry Royce was the founder of a Manchester-based electrical and mechanical engineering company. He built his first motorcar, the two-cylinder Royce 10, in 1904. Shortly thereafter, he was introduced to Charles Stewart Rolls, the proprietor of a specialist London car dealership. Rolls was impressed by the vehicle, and agreed to sell all the cars that Royce could produce. In 1906, Rolls-Royce Limited was formally established.

The company's real recognition as producers of 'The best car in the world' came with the 40/50 hp. 'Silver Ghost' of 1906. As was the case for all luxury vehicles of the era, the car was supplied in chassis form, with the body constructed by an independent coachbuilder as per the customers' desire. In 1908, production moved from Manchester to a new facility at Derby. The Silver Ghost on display dates from 1921, and has traditional London Edinburgh coachwork built by R. Fry & Sons in Western Australia.

With Rolls-Royce firmly established as a byword for quality and luxury by the 1920s, the company diversified with the 20 hp. The first of a series known collectively as the 'small horsepower' cars, production began in 1922 and lasted until 1929. A superb 1925 20 hp. with original coachwork by the Melbourne coachbuilder Waring Brothers is featured in the display.

The 20/25 was launched in 1929, and continued Rolls-Royce's two-model policy, being sold alongside the Phantom II. The example on display has a particularly interesting history, having been once owned by the celebrated Welsh entertainer and composer Ivor Novello. The original body was completed by Thrupp & Maberley and delivered in 1936. However, Novello was unhappy with the result and promptly sent the car to Hoopers to achieve a more 'American' style. Finally, the car was finished in the distinctive crimson/scarlet paint scheme, reflecting its owner's flamboyant taste. Following Novello's death in 1951, the car spent time in southern Africa, the United States, and Britain, before finding its way to Australia. It is a truly unique and striking example of the model.

In 1946, the first post-war Rolls-Royce, the Silver Wraith, was unveiled. Rolls-Royce followed pre-war tradition, however, by supplying it in chassis form only. Consequently, all Silver Wraiths wore coachbuilt bodies. The example on display dates from 1949 and has superb touring limousine coachwork by H.J. Mulliner.

As the 1960s dawned, Rolls-Royce once again recognised the need to diversify. The Silver Shadow, launched in 1965, was a revelation. Featuring a conventional monocoque body design, disc brakes, and self-levelling hydraulically-controlled suspension, the Silver Shadow made Rolls-Royce relevant to a new customer base while retaining traditional characteristics. The vehicle on display is a 1980 Silver Shadow II from the final year of production.

A two-door variant of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was also available from the coachbuilders James Young and Mulliner Park Ward. In 1971 they were given their own identities as the Corniche, available in two-door saloon or convertible forms. A fabulous 1972 Rolls-Royce Corniche with coachwork by Mulliner Park Ward forms part of the display.

The Silver Spirit was introduced in 1980 to replace the Silver Shadow. A Rolls-Royce for the new era, its simple, discreet lines blended with the traditional Rolls-Royce interior to create an elegant, contemporary motorcar. An immaculate 1986 Silver Spirit completes the display.

For enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in this important chapter in automotive history, the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania's Rolls-Royce: The Spirit of Ecstasy is a unique exhibition of vehicles from this most iconic of motorcar manufacturers.