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40/50 Silver Ghost 5 Series Open Driver Landaulet Derby by Mulliner
In 1906, Rolls-Royce produced four chassis to be shown at the Olympia car show, two existing models, a four-cylinder 20hp and a six-cylinder 30hp, and two examples of a new car designated the 40/50 hp. The 40/50hp was so new that the show cars were not fully finished, and examples were not provided to the press for testing until March 1907.
The car at first had a new side-valve, six-cylinder, 7036 cc engine (7428 cc from 1910) with the cylinders cast in two units of three cylinders each as opposed to the triple two-cylinder units on the earlier six. A three-speed transmission was fitted at first with four-speed units used from 1913. The seven-bearing crankshaft had full pressure lubrication, and the centre main bearing was made especially large to remove vibration, essentially splitting the engine into two three-cylinder units. Two spark plugs were fitted to each cylinder with, from 1921, a choice of magneto or coil ignition. The earliest cars had used a trembler coil to produce the spark with a magneto as an optional extra which soon became standard - the instruction was to start the engine on the trembler/battery and then switch to magneto. Continuous development allowed power output to be increased from 48hp (36 kW) at 1,250 rpm to 80hp (60 kW) at 2,250 rpm. Electric lighting became an option in 1914 and was standardised in 1919. Electric starting was fitted from 1919 along with electric lights to replace the older ones that used acetylene or oil.
Rolls-Royce’s advanced foundry capabilities allowed removable cylinder blocks with fixed heads that eliminated leaks and cooling problems, while casting in triplets helped shorten and lighten the engine. Twin ignition, via magneto and distributor-and-coil, helped ensure both reliability and thorough combustion. Superior breathing resulted from carefully designed manifolding and a new twin jet carburetor developed by Royce. Combined with low compression – 3.4:1 – the Ghost engine developed prodigious torque while turning at just 1,250 rpm.
In an engineering sense, the Silver Ghost was a mechanical masterpiece, with its aluminum alloy crankcase and a timing drive and ignition driven by gears, not chains. The timing gears were made of phosphor bronze and nickel steel, which were ground and polished by hand.
The crankshaft was ground to an accuracy of .00025 on its bearing surfaces and then hand-polished to remove any minute scratches left by the grinder. The result was an automobile that ran in complete silence without a puff of smoke – a feat that was unmatched at the time.
At the time, the hallmark of a fine car was its top gear capabilities, partly because the drivers of the day were unaccustomed to shifting, but also because running in top gear only gave a smooth ride, particularly when the owners were generally the rear passengers.
And it was such top gear flexibility that earned the Ghost its admirable reputation. Capable of acceleration from a standing start to top speed without shifting, it did so silently, giving the operator the impression of being pulled along by an unseen hand. Other cars were faster or more powerful, but none could match the serene and somewhat surreal experience of “ghosting” along a quiet road.
The legendary London-Edinburgh model resulted from a 1911 challenge by archrival Napier. Napier’s distributor, Selwyn Francis Edge, entered a 65-hp car in an RAC-observed run from London to Edinburgh, driven entirely in high gear. Rising to the challenge, Rolls-Royce responded with a nearly standard Silver Ghost chassis clad in attractive, lightweight tourer bodywork. Higher compression and a larger carburettor were the only mechanical modifications.
The Rolls easily outshone the Napier on fuel consumption, and in a timed run at Brooklands, it bested its rival, 78.26 to 76.42 miles per hour, driven by Ernest Hives, who later became Rolls-Royce’s chief engineer. This same chassis, with a single-seat body and a high ratio axle, was clocked at 101.8 mph in the flying mile at Brooklands the following year. The fame of its achievements and the aesthetics of the close-coupled tourer body resulted in production of a small number of similar models in ensuing years. Not surprisingly, the London-to-Edinburgh style has become an enduring favourite with collectors.
Rolls devoted himself to selling the new Rolls-Royce cars and campaigned them in the Tourist Trophy races and on the Continent. However, Royce and commercial managing director Claude Johnson were not enthusiastic about motor sports, so to make use of his abundant adrenalin, Rolls turned to flying. He took part in a balloon race in Massachusetts in 1906 and embraced the sport and also took to heavier-than-air craft with a Wright biplane. For his balloon expeditions, Rolls had a Silver Ghost outfitted to carry the basket of the balloon (or “car”). On the Ghost chassis, he had coachbuilders H.J. Mulliner construct a roadster with a long platform behind the seats, where the car could be loaded at the conclusion of a flight for return to its base. The rear fenders were of patent leather, flexible so that the loading of the basket would leave no damage.
Rolls eventually made more than 130 balloon flights and entertained the Wright Brothers during their visit to Britain in 1909. He made the first fixed-wing round-trip flight over the English Channel in a Wright Flyer in 1910. He resigned from Rolls-Royce, where he was managing technical director, in April of that year. Unfortunately, while flying his plane in an exhibition event at Bournemouth that July, he crashed and died almost instantly.
Development of the Silver Ghost was suspended during World War I, although the chassis and engine were supplied for use in Rolls-Royce Armoured Cars.
The chassis had rigid front and rear axles and leaf springs all round. Early cars only had brakes on the rear wheels operated by a hand lever, with a pedal-operated transmission brake acting on the propeller shaft. The footbrake system moved to drums on the rear axle in 1913. Four-wheel servo-assisted brakes became optional in 1923.
Despite these improvements the performance of the Silver Ghost's competitors had improved to the extent that its previous superiority had been eroded by the early 1920s. Sales declined from 742 in 1913 to 430 in 1922. The company decided to launch its replacement which was introduced in 1925 as the New Phantom. After this, older 40/50 models were called Silver Ghosts to avoid confusion.
A total of 7874 Silver Ghost cars were produced from 1907 to 1926, including 1701 from the American Springfield factory. Many of them still run today.
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