The Great Eight Phantoms will head to a new exhibit in Mayfair later this month, with John Lennon’s iconic example returning from the USA for the special event
John Lennon always said that he wanted to be an eccentric millionaire. Clearly, looking at his choice of car, he wasn’t exaggerating.
In 1965 John Lennon ordered one of the most luxurious cars on the planet: a Rolls-Royce Phantom. That in itself is not so unconventional – it’s what he did with it that has gone down in automotive history. Lennon had his ‘Valentine Black’ Phantom customised into a canvas of garish, psychedelic images.
But that wasn’t all. The rear seat was also converted to a double bed and a television, telephone and refrigerator were installed, along with a 'floating' record player and a custom sound system.
Then, in April 1967, just as The Beatles were finishing the recording of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Lennon asked Surrey coach builders JP Fallon to give the Phantom a new paint job - one to match the newly-recorded seminal album. The freshly-painted Phantom was unveiled days before the worldwide release of Sgt Pepper’s on June 1st and it seemed part of the overall concept of the album.
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remains one of the most enduring, revolutionary records of all time. Its artwork, by British pop artist Peter Blake, is among that of the most famous album covers in music history, Lennon’s Phantom is a moving homage to that artwork.
The ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ colour scheme is often described as 'psychedelic' and certainly the colours, particularly the dominant yellow, reflected the cover of Sgt Pepper’s. But on closer inspection what appear to be random, acid-induced swirls are in fact floral Romany scroll designs, as used on gypsy caravans and canal barges, with a zodiac symbol on the roof. Just like the album, there is more than meets the eye with Lennon’s Phantom...
It was also a car that was much used by Lennon, at least until 1969. These ventures included two trips to Buckingham Palace: one to collect his MBE (in 1965, before the car became a moving pop art display) and again in 1969, when Lennon returned his MBE to the Palace (post pop art Phantom).
But in 1970 the car was shipped to the USA when Lennon moved there and was rented out to other rock stars such as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Moody Blues. In 1977, after a period in storage, it was donated to a branch of the Smithsonian and eventually ended up at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
This wonderful piece of pop history is part of a Rolls-Royce exhibition known as ‘The Great Eight Phantoms’, which takes place at Bonhams international flagship saleroom and galleries in New Bond Street, London from 29 July to 2 August. While it is celebrating some of the finest and historically significant Phantoms, the event will also see the official unveiling of the latest generation Phantom.