Over the years, Rolls-Royce´s revered Merlin engines have found various uses not limited to marine and aeronautical applications. While several attempts have been made to combine Rolls-Royce’s greatest road-going and air-going achievements, few have proved to be as attractive and well-executed as this astonishing Phantom II chassis 14I6I672 fitted with a Merlin I engine.
Chassis 64GX left Crewe as a standard Phantom II. Then, in the late 1970s, noted Rolls-Royce collector Nicholas Harley of London, decided to have some fun and create a most memorable showcase of British engineering might. The restoration that ensued spanned a period of approximately seven years, during which time the standard Phantom II frame was lengthened, substantially reinforced and fitted with this lovely Gurney Nutting-inspired body constructed by Wilkinson’s of Derby. The body, which features an extraordinarily long hood and short rear deck, was carefully prepared and analyzed before being fitted with a 27-litre Mark I Merlin V-12 engine fed by two fuel pumps delivering 100 gallons per hour through three enormous Carter carburetors.
Upon completion, the aero-powered Phantom II was test-driven, providing an unforgettable driving experience. The car was praised for its endless linear acceleration and the astonishing speeds reached in top gear. The steering wheel was described as being nicely weighted and the gear changes were reported to be precise. A test at Donington Park is said to have pitted the Merlin Rolls-Royce against a 1958 Vanwall Grand Prix car – amazingly, it has been recorded that this Rolls-Royce out-accelerated the successful racing car. Some time in the 1990s, the Rolls-Royce made its way stateside and, in 2000, it was sold to a well-known Florida collector who had a keen interest in unusually engineered, pioneering automobiles.
In 2007, this car was acquired by its current owner, who has since embarked upon a comprehensive mechanical overhaul in an effort to perfect what was already an impressively configured aero-engined special. When the car was first constructed, the tremendous torque and power of a Rolls-Royce aero engine caused ongoing transmission and clutch issues. Consequently, during the mechanical overhaul, the transmission assembly was converted to a Jaguar unit with high-strength gears to permit more spirited use. In addition, the Merlin engine received new gaskets and freshly rebuilt carburetors, and it was tested and tuned before installation. As a testament to the inherent reliability of the Merlin design, the magnetos were still correct and fully functional, never having warranted any repair.
Since this work was performed, the monstrous Merlin engine is said to start with ease and its current caretakers have enjoyed it to the fullest, driving it more frequently than might have been initially expected.
In 2008, following its meticulous rebuild, this fantastic Rolls-Royce was invited to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it was displayed alongside a number of 20-plus-litre automobiles, making it one of the most memorable displays in recent years. Not only did it draw attention from the crowds, but its impressive presentation and immense presence awed the judges and earned the Rolls-Royce a class award.
The Merlin I is beautifully presented and remains in exceptional, show quality condition. It is finished in dark green paint with matching solid disc wheels and a black beltline, a handsome period-appropriate livery and features splendid Marchal auxiliary lamps. The recent engine work also included a thorough detail. Beyond its remarkable engine bay, one of the most evocative aspects of this car is its overwhelming instrument panel – a display that would not look out of place in a Spitfire airplane. A dizzying array of instrumentation covers the dash and is wonderful to witness during operation.
Unlike other examples of aero-engined automobiles, this Rolls-Royce stands apart in its wholly impressive presentation and loyalty to original details. Not only has it been thoroughly engineered and carefully constructed, it gives the impression that it could have been built by the original Rolls-Royce craftsmen. There is no doubt that this Merlin-powered Phantom II is ready to draw crowds wherever it goes and, now that it has been carefully rebuilt, its new owner should be capable of experiencing the unbelievable feeling of piloting a WWII-era fighter plane down the road.
Sold at Gooding & Co’s 2010 Scottsdale Auction for $410,000 USD with an estimate of $400,000 – $500,000 USD. Sold with a spare Merlin engine.