Convertible Rolls Royce / Rolls Phantom

The car pictured in this article is a 1927 Rolls Royce Phantom One Dietrich Victoria Convertible. The convertible Rolls Royce car is high on the collector's list. The Rolls Royce Motors has been producing automobiles since 1904. For over 100 years this company has been an automotive icon. The company was founded by Charles Stewart Rolls and Henry Royce. Charles Rolls was an engineer who reportedly was dissatisfied with the car he was driving and wanted to build a better one.

1927 Rolls Royce Phantom One Convertible

He partnered with Henry Royce who was a businessman and aviator with good talents for marketing. History would go on to prove that it was a good combination.

During the first two years Rolls Royce built forty cars all withe a four cylinder 20 HP engine. In 1906 the six cylinder Silver Ghost was introduced with quite a lot of fanfare. The company entered their Silver Ghost in the Tourist Trophy Race and came in number one. This did much in showcasing the attributes of the new Silver Ghost to the public.The Silver Ghost acquired the reputation for durability and reliability which was what the public seemed to want. As far as marketing their cars, Rolls Royce targeted the wealthy element of society and their prices proved it.

The Rolls Phantom model replaced the Silver Ghost model. The Silver Ghost was the only model the company produced for it's first fifteen years. The New Phantom came on the scene in 1925 with a larger engine than the Silver Ghost but utilized the same frame as the Silver Ghost. The Rolls Phantom was the flagship model for the company. The best upgrade from the Silver Ghost was the engine which was cast in three blocks, each containing two cylinders. The engine was attached to the four speed gearbox with rubber coupling.  The Phantom I arrived in 1927 and the Rolls Phantom II in 1929. The automobile was produced both in England and in the United States.

Rolls Royce Phantom One Victoria Convertible

The automobile did have some differences between the British and U.S. manufactured models. The British car had the fuel gauge at the fuel tank whereas many American models had it on the dashboard. There were also some differences with the transmissions and wheelbase length. Another interesting thing was that while the chassis and mechanical parts were made by Rolls Royce, the body was produced by several coach builders with the owner choosing which one to employ. One well known coach builder for Rolls Royce was Barker & Company. Barker was the recommended body builder for Rolls Royce at one time. Nevertheless, the customer did have the option to use others. Barker did work for other automotive companies in addition to Rolls Royce and Bentley, such as with Mercedes-Benz. Bentley was acquired by Rolls Royce during the Great Depression.

Some might remember when the Rolls Royce auto company was involved in building jet engines. At one point, the company was nationalized because of the cost of building jet engines but the automotive sector was eventually  spun off by the British government as the Rolls Royce Company in 1973.

Rolls Royce Phantom One with beautiful spoke wheels, hood ornament and trim

One company manufacturing cars and jet engines apparently wasn't a good business model.

Vintage Rolls Royce automobiles are among the highest priced cars on the classic used car market. Vintage and used are really two different things. Whereas many will say that new rolls Royce models depreciate rapidly, finding and buying a vintage Rolls may and probably does have all the depreciation priced in. If you're fortunate to have the opportunity to invest in an older model at the right price and in the right condition, it could work out to be both a fine investment and a lot of fun to own.

Some of the best venues to view classic Rolls Royce models include the Blackhawk Museum in Danville California about 25 miles east of the San Francisco Bay area, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles California, the new LeMay Museum in Tacoma Washington, the Springfield Museums Auto Gallery in Springfield Massachusetts and the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich New York. There of course are more throughout the U.S.

(Photos are from author's private collection)

 


Kaiser Auto / Kaiser Dragon

The Kaiser Motor Corporation, formerly the Kaiser -Frazer Corporation, was one of several independent auto makers who fell victim to the Big Three when the post World War Two car demand began to wane. The biggest challenge for the non-three major auto makers, Ford GM and Chrysler, was having the financial resources necessary to tool up for new designs.

The 1953 Kaiser Dragon was offered in two tone colors

In other words, to keep pace with their peers, the independents had to spend large sums of money to produce new models which the public demanded. During the time that Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer were partnered tofether the company produced automobiles under each name. When Frazer departed the company in 1953 because he and Kaiser couldn't get along well, the Frazer nameplate went as well.

All of the cars built by Kaiser-Frazer and then by Kaiser Motor Corporation were built at the company's Willow Run factory. The Willow Run plant was located about 30 miles west of Detroit Michigan. There really is a lot of history connected with Willow Run and World War Two. An aircraft factory was built there in 1941. The Willow Run plant was producing an incredible one bomber per hour by August 1944.

1953 Kaiser Dragon

Willow Run had also been the major Detroit airport prior to the building out of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, several miles closer in to the city.

The Kaiser Dragon shown was a luxury hardtop model. Included with this car was a gold plated hood ornament, a glove box nameplate and power steering. The engine, a flat head six cylinder, put out 118 HP. Prior to the 1953 model year, the Dragon was simply a trim option in 1951, not a separate model. Beginning in 1953, the Kaiser Dragon was a new model. This coincided with the new name of the Kaiser Motor Corporation.

The two things that the Kaiser Dragon had going against it was it's relatively high price and the fact that it's speed time from 0 to 60 MPH was considered slow. Kaiser's main competitor would have been GM's Buick. Most people would consider the Kaiser Dragon as a sales failure although it's a great vintage car for today's auto collectors. The best estimate of sales figures for the 1951 trim package model and the 1953 full model was about 1,600. This fact by itself makes the 1953 Kaiser Dragon a rare find.

When a vintage car collector talks about the Kaiser Dragon, he or she is really talking about car interior designer Carleton Spencer. The Kaiser Dragon's interior was a Carleton Spencer creation form A to Z. It was said the Spencer based many of his interior design ideas from House and Garden Magazine.

Kaiser Dragon

Spencer was well known for his unique color selections. Spencer however is best known for his unusual alligator-pattern synthetic material called "Dragon Vinyl." The term Dragon Vinyl was used so that buyers wouldn't think they were sitting on real alligator skin. As mentioned above, this Dragon Vinyl was introduced as a trim option in the 1951 Kaiser models. That trim option in 1951 cost $125.

At about the same time that the company's name was changed to Kaiser Motor Corporation in 1953, Kaiser picked up the assets and liabilities of the Willys-Overland Corporation. Willys-Overland was the builder of both passenger cars and jeeps. The name was then changed to Willys Motors. Willys had a manufacturing plant in Toledo Ohio.

In 1955 the company was put under the holding company of Kaiser Industries. Among other things, Kaiser had been a large west coast shipbuilder during World War Two in Richmond California. Kaiser was also a major steel maker.

The Kaiser designs eventually became outdated and as mentioned above, the retooling cost needed to keep pace with the Big Three was staggering. Nash Motor Car Company had the same problem which eventually led them to be a part of American Motors Corporation. The end of Kaiser as an independent United States auto builder came in 1955 when all passenger cars under the Kaiser and Wiilys nameplate was stopped. The Willow Run plant closed but the company continued to build jeeps out of the Toledo factory. In 1963 the jeep brand name was changed to Kaiser Jeep. In 1969 Kaiser Industries left the automobile business entirely and ended up selling the jeep line to American Motors Corporation.

(Photos from author's private collection)

Nash Metroplitan

With fuel prices at the levels they have been at for a good number of years, and not likely to to go much lower, car manufacturers, the buying public, and the government have all been interested in better car fuel efficiency. Some of the cars today that do well in this respect are among others, the Honda Fit, and the many now Hybrids on the market. All of these automobiles however were still larger than the Nash Metropolitan.

Back over fifty years ago the Nash Automobile Company came out with what I would term a subcompact automobile in the Nash Metropolitan. The Nash Metropolitan was surely offered as a subcompact car alternative in the 1950's when cars in general were actually getting larger and larger.

nash metropolitan

Nash Metropolitan, public domain photo

The Nash Metrpolitan was thought to be America's first subcompact. The cars wheelbase was even shorter than the Volkswagon Beetle and the engine was a four cylinder 1.2 liter. The Metropolitan was really designed and targeted as a family's second car. Nash Metropolitans were built between 1954 and 1962. This was a combined venture between Austin who manufactured the engine, Pinin Farina, which did the design and Nash/Hudson/American Motors, which sold the automobile in the United States under various nameplates.

The beginning of the Nash Motors and the Nash cars is an interesting story. The company was started in 1916 by Charles W. Nash who had been president of General Motors. Nash took over the Thomas B. Jeffrey Company which had been struggling to survive. Nash changed the name to Nash Motors and was able to thrive as a niche automotive producer. Nash was credited with two important things. He was able to keep his company competitive during the Roaring Twenties when the field of auto companies was growing rapidly and he was able to keep the company going through the great depression years of the 1930's. This was no easy feat since many companies went under in the 1930's. In 1937, Nash was able to merge with the Kelvinator Corporation. By this time he was 73 years of age and the merger made sense. In fact, Nash became chairman of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and kept that title until he died in 1948.

The first compact car produced by Nash-Kelvinator was the 1950 Rambler. The Nash Rambler is one of the most popular vintage automobiles today. Prior to this time Nash cars had been much larger.This is a model name still remembered by most auto enthusiasts. The company at this point was run by George W. Mason who had been president under Nash. Mason was a big fan of the compact car concept although many of his engineers were reportedly not. Mason's idea was to sell the rambler as a luxurious second car for high end buyers. The first model put on the market was a convertible with an electric retracted roof of fabric. While this design had been created, another secret design was being worked on in Utica Michigan.

1956 nash metropolitan automobile

1956 Nash Metropolitan, from author's collection

The results of the focus group were promising. In addition to that, the Rambler, which was small but not as small as the NXI design, was being received pretty well by the public. Costs of producing the new subcompact was a different story. The new NXI prototype was extremely smaller than anything that Nash cars had produced to date and tooling costs became an issue. The answer would be to outsource the construction. George Mason made an arrangement where the bodies of the Metropolitan would be manufactured in England by Fisher & Ludlow, Ltd. The engines would be built by the Austin Motor Company. The result was that the tooling expenses were a fraction of what they would have been in the U.S. This resulted in the Nash Metropolitan being one of the biggest selling imports in North America. You may even remember that Lois Lane drove a Nash Metropolitan on the old 1950's television series Superman. Obviously, this small unique classic car received a lot of publicity in the 1950's.

Nash merged with the Hudson Motor Car Company. The new merged company was named the American Motors Corporation. The following years would see quite a lot of changes in nameplates. The Metropolitan model would be built under both the Hudson and Nash name. By the year 1957, AMC would phase out both the Nash and Hudson names although, with the Metropolitan, the name could be seen until 1962. American Motors Corporation would market only the Rambler

For all intents and purposes, the Nash Metropolitan was created due of the wide acceptance of the Rambler back in 1950. Total sales in the U.S. and Canada of the imported Nash Metropolitan were 94,986 between 1953 and 1962.

A great place to view restored Nash Metropolitans include the Metropolitan Pit Stop located at 5330 Laurel Canyon Blvd, North Hollywood California.You may also want to explore the Nash Car Club of America which has information on all Nash automobiles built.