Whether or not you think F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is better than the four movie and TV adaptations that followed, the star car in Francis Ford Coppola’s film version of The Great Gatsby is likely more magnificent than anything the author could have imagined.
Although Fitzgerald wrote of Gatsby’s “yellow Rolls-Royce” in detail, the story was set in 1922, and the book was released three years after that. So Fitzgerald couldn’t have possibly known the magnificence of the 1928 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Phantom I Ascot Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton that Oscar-winning actor Robert Redford drove while portraying Jay Gatsby on the silver screen in 1974. Or could he?
“Gatsby’s car was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length, with triumphant hatboxes and toolboxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns.” – The Great Gatsby
As beautifully written as Fitzgerald’s words were—and 30 million copies of The Great Gatsby have been sold—sometimes seeing is believing. This stunning Hollywood automobile is a cultural icon, and now it could be yours. Phoenix-based Classic Promenade Collectible Motorcars will open online bidding for the Gatsby Rolls on October 12.
“They could not have selected a better car for the movie,” says Harry Clark, Classic Promenade’s owner and a concours master judge. “It completely represents the slightly avantgarde, almost ostentatious nature of Gatsby. It has elegance; it’s sporty … Of the 28 Ascots (built), there was only one with this unique (dual-cowl) body style. This one.”
Chassis #S304KP last crossed the block more than a decade ago, selling for $238,000 at Bonhams’ 2009 Greenwich auction. It has since undergone a concours-quality restoration that was finished just last year, which should push its value well into seven figures.
“The body isn’t original to the car, but the freshness of the restoration and the movie history more than make up for that,” says Hagerty auction editor Andrew Newton. “It’s not the movie icon that the Bullitt Mustang or James Bond’s Aston Martin are, but it is famous, which should be enough to justify a healthy premium.”
S304KP currently shows 73,848 miles, the most famous of which were driven on the big screen, with Redford behind the wheel and co-stars Mia Farrow (Daisy Buchanan) or Sam Waterston (Nick Carraway) riding shotgun.
The car was originally a Town Brougham delivered to Mildred Loring Logan of New York City, and it was later owned by American Tobacco Company president George Washington Hill. The Ascot body was originally mounted onto chassis S240RM and was moved onto S304KP sometime around 1945. The history of the Rolls is well researched and documented; copies of the factory and historical information are included in the sale.
At the time The Great Gatsby was filmed, the Rolls had just been purchased by Ted Leonard, a well-known collector from Seekonk, Massachusetts. Since it didn’t match the color combination that Fitzgerald described in his novel, it was repainted in creamy yellow, and its leather interior was dyed green. Leonard owned the car for the next 36 years. Legendary collector John O’Quinn purchased it from Leonard’s estate in 2009 through the Bonhams Greenwich auction. O’Quinn died suddenly just a few months later, and the Rolls was sold to its current owners, who began a ground-up restoration in 2011. The eight-year project that was completed in 2019.
Steve Littin, from Vintage & Auto Rebuilds in Chardon, Ohio, did the mechanical work (including its 7.7-liter inline-six engine and three-speed manual gearbox), and Shawn Robinson, from Yesterday’s in Tyler, Texas, performed the paint and body work. In addition to the flawless exterior and mechanicals, the interior is complemented by a tan Haartz cloth canvas convertible top and a wood dashboard with chrome bezels. According to Promenade, the car’s restoration alone cost “in excess of $1 million.”
As F. Scott Fitzgerald can attest, the Rolls cost Gatsby a lot more than that. (Spoiler alert: Whatever you do, don’t let Daisy drive.)