Rolls Royce has rich history

Riverton couple Owen and Rosalie Bennett took their 1937 25/30 Rolls Royce Sports Saloon out for a jaunt to the annual Tuatapere Sports Day on New Year's Day.

IT would be hard to find a little coastal settlement anywhere in New Zealand which has a Rolls Royce sitting in one of its garages – particularly a 1937 25/30 model.

But Riverton can make this claim to fame.

When Riverton couple Owen and Rosalie Bennett bought their iconic car in October 2020, they became the second New Zealand owners of the classic luxury vehicle.

The car came complete with a box brimming with memorabilia providing a rich record of the car’s history, including a 1930s logbook, 1938 tax (registration) disc, invoices and letters.

The leather seats are worn and cracked with age, but this vehicle still reeks of class and has a rich history that starts in the United Kingdom, crosses the Atlantic twice, including once on the QEII, before finding its way to New Zealand.

The car’s original owner, Victor Sheridan, owned London’s Kiln Theatre.

Sir Arthur Craig, the Mayor of Peterborough, a city north of London, owned the car from 1938 to 1944 and managed to keep it unscathed while Germany savagely bombed the London area.

From the three United Kingdom owners, the car was shipped to the home of an American collector where it sat idle in a shed for decades.

The motor seized during storage but was eventually fully restored back in England before the car was shipped to New Zealand still with only 33,000 original miles logged on its odometer.

The Bennetts watched intently during the trip home from the New Year’s Day Tuatapere Sports Day as the 85-year-old turned over 80,000 original miles (128,747km).

A replica with an original Rolls Royce radiator was as close as the Bennetts have got to owning a Rolls Royce until now.

This original is insured for more than $100,000.

Mr Bennett said he was really impressed with the smooth ride the car provided, considering its age.

“It still rides like a modern car. The only thing missing is the power steering. It can take a wee bit to park it because it’s heavy in the steering.”

Some of the car’s technology was ahead of its time. It was the first car to have a coil ignition instead of the renowned and complicated Rolls Royce carburetor.

It also had a central lubrication system feeding grease to 18 points around the vehicle, he said.

Most outings consist of tootling around Southland at a leisurely 80kph, frequently drawing attention in the process.

The October 2020 trip from Wellington to Riverton is still the longest jaunt the couple have completed. The 6-cylinder 4.2L engine gets them from A to B at an eye-watering 16 miles to the gallon – that’s 25km per 4.55L (about $12 every 25km).

The vehicle is one of only 1201 made and is among the last models to be produced by the prestigious car manufacturer prior to World War II.

Not widely known, Rolls-Royce only made chassis and mechanical parts – leaving the body to be made by a coachbuilder chosen by the owner: Freestone and Webb built this particular sports saloon.

Rolls Royce stopped it car production during the war in favour of making engines for Spitfire aircraft to aid the war effort.

Since 1911, Rolls Royce vehicles have been fitted with an iconic hood ornament.

The Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet mascot has a history of its own.

The ornament has been known by several names – Silver Lady, Flying Lady, or simply “Eleanor” – after its model, Eleanor Velasco Thornton who had a 10-year secret love affair with Baron Montagu Beaulieu.

The married Baron Beaulieu, who was one of Britain’s motoring pioneers as well as founder and editor of The Car Illustrated magazine, employed Eleanor Thornton as his private secretary.

It’s a cliche story of a forbidden and adulterous love affair between British classes which ended when Eleanor died after the ship SS Persia, which they were travelling on together, sunk enroute to India in 1915.

Ironically, while the working-class Eleanor perished at sea, her image will be forever linked with a brand known for its prestige, class and luxury.

Several versions of the hood ornament were created by sculptor Charles Sykes, who was also employed by Baron Beaulieu.

In particular, a kneeling version, to provide better driver visibility, featured on Rolls Royce vehicles between 1934-1939 and then after World War II between 1946-1956.

The kneeling version, seen on the Bennetts’ car, was discontinued in favour of a smaller standing version.