Purchased new by Howard Hughes, a 1925 Rolls-Royce earns Best of Show at Pinehurst Concours
Springfield-built 1925 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster, Best of Show at the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance. Photo by David Droschak.
In December of 1924, a young but already wealthy Howard Hughes ordered a 1925 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster from a dealer in New York City, paying a reported $13,450 for the luxury automobile. Later, this car would spend over 40 years in a Florida barn before being discovered by current owner Guy Lewis of Pinecrest, Florida, in 2014. Fresh from a multi-year restoration completed in February 2017, this Springfield-built Rolls-Royce earned Best of Show honors at the recent Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Though the Rolls-Royce name is indelibly linked to England, the firm once manufactured automobiles on U.S. soil, in Springfield, Massachusetts, from 1920 until 1931. The reasons for this business venture were numerous: America was, at the time, the most important automobile market in the world; U.S. duties on imported cars made them unrealistically expensive; the Rolls-Royce manufacturing plant in Derby, England, lacked the capacity to meet global demand; and delays in shipping automobiles from England to the United States didn’t sit well with impatient (and affluent) buyers.
The idea of a Rolls-Royce plant on U.S. soil was discussed for many years before Rolls-Royce of America was incorporated in October of 1919, and automobile production began the following year. For the next 10-plus years, the Massachusetts plant would build Silver Ghosts, followed by Phantoms (later called the Phantom I), until the economic hardship of the Great Depression forced the plant to close in 1931.
For his $13,450 purchase price (enough money to buy a trio of Cadillac roadsters, with funds left over), Hughes received what was then one of the finest automobiles in the world. The Piccadilly Roadster body was crafted by Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Works (though later examples would also be built by Brewster), and between the front fenders sat the company’s 40/50-hp, 7.4-liter inline six-cylinder engine, which actually produced as much as 85 horsepower by 1925. Though Rolls-Royce adopted a four-speed transmission in 1913, many of the Springfield cars were built with the earlier three-speed, preferable to American drivers (as was left-hand drive, another mark of Springfield manufacturing).
The post-Hughes history of chassis S135MIK is a bit of a mystery, at least until Lewis acquired the car in 2014. He calls the discovery “a trifecta,” since it was a genuine barn find of a Rolls-Royce, that turned out to be a Silver Ghost, that turned out to be owned by Howard Hughes. The restoration, entrusted to Lloyd’s Auto Restorations in Bartow, Florida, was completed in February 2017, just in time for the car’s public debut at the 2017 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
Today, Lewis’s Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost, which shows roughly 16,000 miles on the odometer, is restored in the same colors specified by Hughes in 1924, and it again carries the fitted luggage once used by the reclusive millionaire. Lewis, who’s twice before competed at Pinehurst with vintage Mercedes-Benz models, plans to show the car a few more times before returning it to the road for the purpose it was created – pure driving enjoyment.