Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE FIRST SILVER GHOST, Rolls-Royce chassis no. 60551, wasn’t initially an official model name. The moniker “Silver Ghost” was given to a particular 1907 Rolls-Royce, back when “motors,” as automobiles were called then, had individual names. It was not until 1925 that the company officially adopted the Silver Ghost nomenclature for the model; this, to differentiate what had hitherto been called the 40/50 from its newly introduced Phantom version.

Thus was the name Silver Ghost bestowed upon almost 8000 40/50 Rolls-Royces built between 1906 and 1926. And, to this day, the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is celebrated at the upper end of the automotive spectrum, just as the Ford Model T, 1908–1927, and the Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle, 1938–2003, are celebrated at the other.

This and images following from Classic Cars in Profile, Volume 4.

Here are some Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost tidbits, gleaned from “The Rolls-Royce ‘Silver Ghost,’ ” by Anthony Bird, Profile No. 91 in Classic Cars in Profile, Volume 4.

Classic Cars in Profile: Volume 4 – Profile Nos. 73-96, edited by Anthony Harding, Doubleday, 1986.

Anthony Bird contrasts Rolls-Royce and other English automobiles with their continental competitors in the early 20th century: “In the opinions of many British engineers, the French and German cars which were held up as examples, though ingenious and effective, were unbearably crude, coarse, and noisy.”

Refinement was the British goal, and Rolls-Royce Limited, founded in 1906, offered this quiet and flexible motoring with its 40/50 model introduced later that year. The model’s designation, 40/50, described its RAC taxable and actual horsepower.

The Original “Silver Ghost.” The thirteenth 40/50 chassis, produced in 1907, was fitted with silver-painted Barker coachwork in a Roi-des-Belges tourer style. A plaque on its scuttle read “Silver Ghost.”

The original Rolls-Royce “Silver Ghost.” Image by Malcolm at English Wikipedia from Wikipedia.

“Silver Ghost” earned an instant reputation by first completing an R.A.C.-observed 2000-mile trial and then later, after taking part in the 1907 Scottish Trial, successively completing 15,000 miles under R.A.C. surveillance. After accumulating this mileage, “Silver Ghost” was dismantled and examined for wear.

Silver Ghost Durability. Bird wrote, “All parts were reported ‘as new’ and true to factory dimensions, except for traces of wear (less than 0.005 in.) in the pivot pins and some other steering parts and the water pump which required re-packing. Though far from worn out, these parts were replaced at a cost of £2 2s. 7d.”

Figure around $10.75 U.S. at the time, according to my trusty Baedeker’s of the era; perhaps $275 in today’s dollar, and not bad for 15,000 miles of luxury motoring.

The Rolls-Royce 40/50 engine.

40/50 Mechanicals. Bird noted, “The chassis and running gear of the 40/50 were in no way remarkable save for their excellence.” Its inline-six engine had cast-iron blocks and fixed heads, arranged in two groups of three. Valves were side-by-side in an L-head configuration. There were two plugs per cylinder and two independent ignition systems, with a magneto supplemented by a trembler coil, distributor, and two small four-volt batteries that enabled instant starting.

Firing Up a Ghost. Bird observed, “One of the Ghost’s most endearing characteristics was its ability to ‘start on the switch’ even after standing for several hours.” This was before Rolls-Royce fitted a conventional starter motor in 1919, which Cadillac had introduce in 1912.

Bird described this starting procedure sans hand crank: “When the trembler coils were given up, this attribute was not lost, as the lever controlling ignition advance had a wide enough range of movement to let the distributor points be flicked open and shut from the seat which was enough to induce a spark and start the engine.”

Engine controls of a 1920 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Image from and appearing at SimanaitisSays “Steering Wheels I’ve Loved.”

Bird offered a jingoistic perspective: “It was typical of Royce [the engineer of the R-R partnership] that the ignition control was not marked ‘Advance’ and ‘Retard,’ which most makers had blindly copied from the French, but ‘Early’ and ‘Late.’ ”

“Deep and crisp and even.” A Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost tourer in Hartford Woods, Beaulieu, 1909.

The Essence of Silver Ghost Motoring. Bird concluded, “Many writers have tried to capture in a phrase the singularly effortless nature of Ghostly progression, but without venturing upon a blasphemy it is difficult to improve upon its likeness to ‘being drawn along by an invisible piece of string.’ ” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. Andrew Johnson
    March 8, 2019

    The use of “motor” as a term for car is still used colloquially in parts of England, as can be heard on many a BBC/ITV show onTV.

  2. rulesoflogic
    March 8, 2019

    Whether it’s because Rolls-Royce is now just a division of BMW or for other reasons, the make doesn’t have the same status as in the Silver Ghost days.

  3. carmacarcounselor
    March 8, 2019

    It’s difficult today to imagine the magnitude of the Silver Ghost’s accomplishment in 1907. With the arrival of railroads, maintenance of trunk roads in England had declined such that travel by road between towns was dodgy at best. It is interesting to note that the RAC taxable horsepower rating was based on the cylinder bore, resulting in British power plants favoring a long stroke, allowing for greater displacement without greater road taxes. Of course, with the primitive gearboxes of the day, shifting was difficult and disruptive of composure, so torque was valued over horsepower, allowing one to proceed from a walking pace to top speed in top gear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: