One-off Rolls-Royce Phantom of Love expected to sell for £500-700k at Bonhams’ Bond Street Sale
The Victoria and Albert Museum is widely held as one the the world’s greatest museums. But few would have thought it was the inspiration behind one of the most luxurious cars ever built. This one-off Rolls-Royce Phantom I – known as the Phantom of Love – will be auctioned by Bonhams on 4 December, and is estimated to sell for £500,000-£700,000.
In 1926 American businessman Clarence Gasque commission Rolls-Royce to build a Phantom for his wife, Maude.
Maude was a Woolworths heiress with a penchant for 18th-century history and her husband – who was the Finance Director of Woolworth’s UK operation – wanted the car’s interior to have a French theme.
His brief for Rolls-Royce put luxury above anything else. Indeed, the wealthy husband also stipulated that his car should be more lavish than the Rolls-Royce
Silver Ghost made for his Woolworth colleague, Surefire Snow.
Basque set no limit on the budget and left the task of modelling the interior to the famous Wolverhampton coach builders Charles Clark and Sons.
And it was Clark’s owner, John Barnett, who had the idea of using a Marie Antoinette sedan chair he had spotted at the Victoria and Albert Museum as a model. The result was a spectacular confection more resembling the throne room at Versailles than the inside of a car. On delivery, the Rolls-Royce cost £6,500, of which £4,500 had been spent on the interior. To put this price tag into context, £500 was enough to buy a house at the time the car was built.
Completing the interior of the car was no small task. Craftsmen from the famous carpet makers, Aubusson, in France, spent nine months working on a tapestry for the rear seats at a cost of £500.
The decor featured naked cherubs in painted scenes, a motif that was to reinforce the car’s moniker - the Phantom of Love. Additional lighting was concealed behind the ceiling’s carved and gilded cornice and a bow-fronted drinks cabinet, reminiscent of an antique commode or chiffonier, was mounted on the internal division. There was also a French ormolu clock and two French porcelain vases containing gilded metal and enamel flowers.
But just two years after the car was built Clarence died. In 1937 Maude put the car into storage and in 1952 she sold it to Rolls-Royce collector Stanley Sears. The car has subsequently passed through the hands of enthusiasts in Japan and the USA before returning to the UK and its most recent owner.
Bonhams Senior Motor Car Specialist Rob Hubbard said: ‘The Phantom of Love is, arguably, the most famous surviving Rolls-Royce after ‘AX 201’, the factory owned 1907 Silver Ghost. Unique and well documented, it is of the highest quality and without question one of the very finest examples of art and craftsmanship applied to an automobile. The Phantom of Love would grace any important private collection or make a wonderful exhibit for a museum display.’