Auctions and Brokerage
Coachwork by Gurney Nutting
*Please note that this car is titles 1934 and by its engine number.
The Phantom II Continental Gurney Nutting Sedanca Coupe
Longtime Rolls-Royce dealer Frank Dale and Stepsons of London once printed, “To improve upon perfection may be an impossibility, but this the Phantom II seemed to do. The Continental was conceived from the outset to be an enthusiastic owner-driver’s motorcar. There can be no question of its ranking in the very forefront of the world’s great automobiles. And it is one of the few, the very few, that are entitled to the appellation: Grand Touring.”
The Phantom II Continental was a gesture to those who sought to own the world’s finest automobile, something that offered highspeed touring and the utmost comfort. Built on a shortened chassis with a heightened power output, the Continental was a capable luxury motorcar. Regardless, many of the 281 Phantom II Continentals produced received very formal coachwork.
As a new dealer of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, Captain H.R. Owen exclusively designed and offered particular body styles that carried his moniker. The bodies were constructed by Gurney Nutting, the premier English coachbuilder known for impeccable style. Then, as now, the Owen Gurney Nutting Sedanca Coupe was the quintessential example. Few cars of the era possessed the stately embodiment of the Phantom II Continental Gurney Nutting Sedanca.
The Sedanca Coupe was prized for its sweeping lines, both sporting and decisively elegant. The long hood, low windscreen, and tidy three-position top masked the finely engineered chassis with a level of design few finished products realize. Just 33 of the 281 Continentals were bodied by Gurney Nutting; of which, it is believed, fewer than 12 were Sedancas. Attesting to the design’s popularity, it was even replicated in period by a number of England’s other coachbuilders.
On May 26, 1933, H.R. Owen placed an order with Rolls-Royce for a Phantom II Continental; chassis 71MW was completed off-test July 7th and just 10 days later delivered to Gurney Nutting. Build records indicated the anticipated fitting of a Sedanca Coupe, and chassis specifications were made accordingly. Furthermore, the car was outfitted with the desired 11˚ slant to the hood louvres, which would eventually carry into the cowl of the coachwork. Gurney Nutting completed the Three-Position Sedanca Coupe on August 31, 1933. The finished car was tastefully sedate in dark green with a turquoise pinstripe and dark green leather interior with turquoise piping.
On September 7, 1933, 71MW was delivered to its first owner, Albert Edward Harry Meyer Archibald Primrose, 6th Earl of Rosebery, Baron Epsom of Epsom. The Earl was just the sort of client Rolls-Royce had in mind for their Continental: wealthy, influential, and a quintessential statesman. Harry, as he was most commonly known, attended Eton College and the Royal Military College in Sandhurst before joining the British army, as a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards. At 24 he resigned his commission and was elected to the House of Commons as the youngest Liberal Party member of Parliament for the Scottish seat of Edinburghshire. Harry rejoined the Grenadier Guards at the onset of WWI and, during his service, was awarded the Military Cross, earning admittance to the French Légion d’Honneur.
The Earl’s interests included cricket, horse racing, and motorcars. While the Countess of Rosebery owned some 10 Bentleys in her life, the Earl’s father, who had owned a Silver Ghost and a Phantom I, influenced the Earl’s tastes. In addition to 71MW, Harry added to the family stable three other Phantom IIs and a Phantom III. The latter Phantom II (179TA) and the Phantom III (3AZ158) also sported Gurney Nutting Sedanca coachwork.
The lavish appetite for a new Rolls-Royce, however, brought on the sale of 71MW and, on July 18, 1936, the car was acquired by Sir John Francis Roskell Reynolds. John’s father James was an early member of the Royal Automobile Club and a similarly affluent and influential man. John carried on in the family business, cotton brokerage, with great success that also afforded him a taste for Rolls-Royce. In 1932, John purchased a Phantom I before acquiring the more bespoke Gurney Nutting Continental just four years later.
John retained 71MW until 1943 or thereabouts when the car was given to the highly regarded Rolls-Royce specialists Paddon Brothers Ltd. of Kensington and subsequently sold to the Honorable John Clotworthy Talbot Foster Whyte-Melville Skeffington, the 13th Viscount Massereene and Ferrard. Skeffington, although no professional, was noted for having driven the former Aston Martin Works Ulster, LM20, to an astonishing 5th overall at the 1937 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In recent correspondence, Skeffington’s son recalls their ownership of 71MW, including anecdotes from its isolation during the war and adventures with their nearly blind chauffeur. It was further noted that the rear bumper was handy for enlarging parking spaces in London’s city center. After at least a decade of family use, 71MW was traded for a new Jaguar Mk VII. It is believed that the Rolls-Royce was subsequently advertised for sale in the July 1956 issue of Motorsport. In response to the ad, Wesley B. Hartman, a classic car enthusiast, imported the Continental, and thus it made its way to Scottsdale, Arizona.
Around this same time, fellow enthusiast Alan McEwan kick-started his passion for collector cars with the purchase of a Phantom II town car. McEwan’s education was swift: “As I learned more about vintage cars, particularly Rolls-Royce, I determined that I really needed something sportier than a town car. Here I was, a young bachelor driving around in an open chauffeur’s compartment with an empty ballroom behind me. In the fall of 1961, I sold the ’31 Rolls-Royce locally and started searching for a more sporting Rolls-Royce. I became enamored with the Gurney Nutting three-position-drophead-body style as mounted on a P-II Continental chassis. So the search began and I placed an ad in The Flying Lady.”
McEwan made what was a very short list of Owen Sedancas in the US; and after a brief opportunity to see 71MW recalled, “I considered writing Wes Hartman a letter asking (begging?) him to sell his car to me.” Before McEwan had the opportunity to write the letter, Hartman had himself written Al, offering the car for sale. “It was not a successful negotiation, as Wes held all the cards and the odds of another Gurney Nutting showing up seemed slim to none. Fortunately, I stepped up and paid the price.”
In 1962, McEwan embarked on what would become a 46-year ownership of the Continental. As McEwan was an active CCCA and RROC member, 71MW was a regular and welcome sight at numerous events. In 1963 and 1965, the car was driven from Seattle to Lake Tahoe and back for the RROC West Coast Inter-regional Meets; and, in 1967 and 1979, McEwan drove 71MW to Monterey and back for the RROC National Meets. As a principal behind many of the Northwest CARavans and tours, 71MW saw further use with Al at the wheel. The Gurney Nutting even served as the car with which both McEwan’s son and daughter learned to drive at the age of 16. McEwan proved a thankful steward and was keen in his preservation of the car’s originality, including the mostly original interior.
In 2008, the Continental caught the eye of its current owner, a friend of McEwan’s who was on the hunt for a car worthy of restoration. Letting go of the Rolls-Royce was not easy, but McEwan knew that the Gurney Nutting would receive the restoration it deserved. That year the new owner and the former owner began the process and entrusted the car to marque specialist Jeff McDonald of McDonald Vintage Restorations in Canby, Oregon.
71MW was an ideal restoration candidate, and the project began in earnest with proper notation and photographic documentation. The invoices and photographs mark the fastidious work in which no detail was overlooked. The level of detail is beyond commendable, right down to the factory tool kit, for which only original items were collected and the subsequent finish of each piece was researched.
The original wood veneer was retained in near entirety. Metalwork and woodwork was only replaced when absolutely necessary. Even the trim work was done using horsehair and other period-appropriate techniques. Furthermore, the decision was made early on to hold to as-delivered specifications, and both exterior and interior colors were matched to original samples found on the car. As a final detail, the coat of arms for the first owner, the 6th Earl of Rosebery, Albert Primrose of Scotland, was hand painted on the doors. The result was breathtaking.
In 2009, the freshly completed Continental was invited to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it participated in the Tour d’Elegance before Sunday’s big event. The Rolls-Royce handily achieved a First in Class and was further awarded as the Gwenn Graham Most Elegant Convertible. After the successful showing, the car was returned to the restoration shop for additional sorting and finishing. When shown in 2010, the Gurney Nutting won an astonishing First in Class and Best in Show at 9 major events, including the La Jolla Concours, the Belmont Concours, the Palo Alto Concours, the Presidio Concours, the Hillsborough Concours, the Capitol Concours, the Niello Serrano Concours, and the Ironstone Concours, and was the 2010 Champion with the SCCA, frequently scoring a perfect 100 points. In 2011, the Rolls-Royce went on to win First in Class and Best of Show at the Forest Grove Concours and First in Class and Best of Show at the Santa Fe Concours.
In 2012, 71MW was invited to take part in the Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance; and finally, in May 2013, the car was invited to the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, where it was awarded Most Elegant Rolls-Royce and a Second in Class (to the 2012 Pebble Beach Best of Show).
All things considered, this is quite possibly the finest Phantom II Continental Gurney Nutting Sedanca in existence, and even beyond that, among the world’s greatest Rolls-Royce.