2021 | Pebble Beach Auctions
1911 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Silver Ghost Tourer
Coachwork by In The Style of Barker
$1,000,000 - $1,500,000
Thoroughly Renewed and Perfected for the Road in the 1970s During Ed Swearingen’s Ownership
Stunning Open-Touring Coachwork in the Style of Barker
Recent Refurbishment by the Renowned Steve Littin
Owned by The Wizard of Oz “Good Witch of the North” Actress Billie Burke
Known Within the RROC as One of the Fastest and Best-Driving Early Silver Ghosts
Single Updraft Carburetor
50 BHP at 1,500 RPM
3-Speed Manual Gearbox
Rear-Wheel Mechanical Drum Brakes
Front Beam-Axle Suspension with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs
Rear Live-Axle Suspension with Three-Quarter Elliptical Leaf Springs
J.R. Wadsworth, New York (acquired circa 1912)Billie Burke and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., New York (acquired circa 1914)Ed Swearingen, San Antonio, Texas (acquired in 1973)Roger Morrison, Salina, Kansas (acquired from the above in 1987)Alan Lampert, Chelmsford, Massachusetts (acquired from the above in 1989)Nic Møller, Brooktondale, New York (acquired from the above in 1997)Current Owner (acquired from the above in 2015)
RROC National Meet, 1987 (Most Silent Silver Ghost)
Introduced at the Olympia Motor Show in 1906, the Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP model singularly forged the firm’s reputation as “The Best Car in the World,” validated by a lengthy production run through 1926 with 6,173 examples built in total. More commonly known as the Silver Ghost, it was heralded for its quality, reliability, and quiet mechanicals, attributes that have remained a mainstay throughout the company’s existence.
This spectacular parallel-bonnet Silver Ghost from 1911, chassis 1717, was initially bodied by Barker as a formal, open-front, seven-passenger limousine, and has led a life of privilege and adventure in many of the decades since. According to its entry in John Fasal and Bryan Goodman’s authoritative volume, The Edwardian Rolls-Royce, 1717 was displayed on the works’ show stand at the Olympia Motor Show in 1911, a claim supported by a copy of the car’s factory build record.
Mr. Fasal’s entry further lists the first known owner of 1717 as J.R. Wadsworth of New York, and soon thereafter it was sold to the beloved actress Billie Burke, best known for her marvelous performance of Glinda, the good witch of the North, in the immortal 1939 MGM musical The Wizard of Oz. During her period of ownership in the mid-1910s, Miss Burke married Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., creator of the famed revue Ziegfeld Follies, who is also listed by Fasal as an owner of 1717.
In 1973, 1717 was fortunate to be acquired by the famed aviation engineer and mechanical enthusiast Ed Swearingen of San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Swearingen’s contributions to the world of aviation are impossible to overstate. Aside from building advanced aircraft under his own name, and assisting Bill Lear with the development of the Learjet, his self-taught engineering skills led to incredible breakthroughs of efficiency in both jet and propeller-driven aircraft. Away from work, as an avid music lover, Mr. Swearingen designed and built a pipe organ for his home, utilizing some 3,300 pipes; in his garage, he marveled at the magnificent construction and ingenious mechanical design of his then-70-year-old Silver Ghost.
With its coachwork beyond repair by that time, he had a body built for 1717 in the style of his favorite Barker-bodied Tourer, chassis 1298, which has been immortalized in Melbourne Brindle’s brilliant work, Twenty Silver Ghosts. The new coachwork is stunning from every angle; the front fenders appear to extend the long bonnet, and the body’s dimensions provide plenty of interior room for comfort on tour.
Mr. Swearingen went on to complete a brilliant restoration on 1717, incorporating high-compression pistons and a tall rear-end ratio to enable higher speeds. Applying his myriad skills, he improved its abilities and dynamics on the road, and is known to have quietly passed friends on RROC transcontinental reliability runs at speeds nearing 80 mph. Additionally, 1717 was awarded Most Silent Silver Ghost at the 1987 RROC National Meet, undoubtedly pleasing Mr. Swearingen to no end.
In 1987, 1717 was purchased by the former chairman of the Silver Ghost Association and Pebble Beach judge, Roger Morrison, who continued to maintain the car and enjoy it on Silver Ghost tours. Soon thereafter, 1717 became part of Nic Møller’s wonderful collection in New York, joining a 6 1/2 Litre Bentley, Mercer Raceabout, as well as other Silver Ghosts.
Mr. Møller refinished his newest acquisition in dark green with a polished bonnet and firewall, and it was used on tours by the Møller family, who would often field multiple Silver Ghosts on a single driving event.
In 2015, having covered thousands of miles on tour, 1717 was acquired by the consignor, via early-Rolls-Royce expert John Bentley, and immediately sent to respected Silver Ghost restorer Steve Littin, founder of Vintage & Auto Rebuilds in Chardon, Ohio, for extensive restorative work. The body was removed from the chassis and a new clutch and water pump were fitted, the gearbox was rebuilt, and the suspension was thoroughly serviced. The car was changed to its present color combination and a new top mechanism was crafted and installed. With its roadside tool roll, and only a few hundred miles covered since the work was completed, 1717 is poised to return to its life of spirited drives. Its next very fortunate caretaker will have the pleasure of adding to its notable provenance, owning one of the most tour-experienced, parallel-bonnet Silver Ghosts in the world today.