The first coachbuilt Rolls-Royce orchestrated by Ayrspeed has now been in build for four years and is approaching completion.
The coachbuilt Silver Wraiths had a long wheelbase of 133” compared to the MkVI and Silver Dawn’s more reasonable 120”. This chassis allows plenty of length for either a large Phantom-style open four-seat tourer or a truly spectacular two-door speedster.
The 1950 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith rolling chassis had been around for a while, with a Weymann-style open touring ash and fabric body planned for it.
That project was pushed out of the way by a Bentley special that had joined it in the achievable dreams department: B357MB was fitted with a unique aluminium body with styling inspired by the exquisite proportions of Type 35 Bugattis admired at French vintage racing events. Completing the boat-tailed Bentley body was a fascinating sculptural exercise, but not actually a car that suited. The big vintage Phantom-style RR tourer was still the ultimate aim, with the Bentley being a sidetrack.
B357MB was mentioned in a story and put up for sale in the RROC club magazine, to see if any other member might want to take it on and finish it.
The Wraith chassis is mocked up to see how it’s going to look as a car. Lots of room for a nice Vanden Plas style fabric touring body.
Al Levit in Chicago read the story and saw a drawing by Vancouver designer and the Wraith’s previous owner Brian Johnson, featuring one of the possible body styles he had considered for it. Al fell in love with it, and asked if he could buy the Wraith chassis with the Bentley’s boat-tailed body, and if he could then commission the car to be built as a 1930s-style open Rolls-Royce speedster, using Brian’s sketch for inspiration where that was practical. Brian had created an artist’s impression rather than a functional design drawing.
Brian’s sketch, looking very grubby after spending time being thumbed and studied in Adam Trinder’s workshop.
Did Iain want to sell his Rolls chassis with the Bentley body and build a big, spectacular, unique, properly funded motor car? What an excellent idea!
Ayrspeed the design company rose from the ashes, and conceptual thinking and sketching commenced.
There is some serious automotive talent around Vancouver, and the choice for the mechanical and chassis work was Adam Trinder of AMTMachine.com, largely based on a Mini he had built with a bike engine in the back seat. He had retained both the Mini rear subframe and a fully functional boot space: clever, elegant, creative, economical engineering and car design, backed up by a full machine shop and high-level engineering skills.
For the bodywork, Ayrspeed commissioned Robert Maynard. Robert and Iain had already created the spectacular Bentley body together over many long evenings which had worked well.
The original 4¼-litre Rolls engine came with the car, but in 1950 it still had design faults including the unfortunate chromed cylinder bore tops, and this one had not been rebuilt. It will still remain with the car, but it has been replaced in the engine bay by the biggest and best of the postwar RR and Bentley straight sixes: the 4.9-litre Silver Cloud incarnation of the engine built from 1955 to 1957 has had all the issues ironed out, and power is around 220bhp. This 4.9 was rebuilt by Tom Mellor, RROC tech consultant, a man who has persuaded a 1970s Triumph Trident motorcycle to top 200mph at the Bonneville Salt flats. So he knows whereof he speaks.
With the team in place, the orchestration of the car began.
One excellent innovation for Ayrspeed and for Al has been the Sunday report. Every Sunday, Iain sends Al a report on the week’s progress. This creates discipline. It makes sure Iain doesn’t get sidetracked and keeps his eye on the ball, it means at least one weekly physical visit to the car to take photos to send, with a discussion of progress with the relevant craftsman. It also imposes a regular time to stand back and look at the project, and helps to keep a firm grip on all aspects of the build.
The first stages are boring. Ancient cruds must be scraped out of chassis crannies, and then it must be stripped, blasted and painted. Bagging and boxing saves time later, and then the chassis needs a coat of black gloss. We don’t over-prep the chassis, as we don’t want it to look like a replica. It wears some of its history: it is a real post-vintage coachbuilt Rolls getting a new body, and we’re not pretending otherwise.
Although it has already been requested, there will never be another car quite like Al’s Golden Wraith, so christened because of the planned Rose Gold coachwork with red wheels and interior. That’s part of our understanding with him. However, Ayrspeed will happily take on further unique builds.