This Rolls-Royce Phantom Has Been in Show Biz for 90 Years

Jay Leno's Garage

Some cars just possess a certain form that has presence. It’s a tough quality to explain with words, so we were quite happy that, of all the cars Jay Leno gets to take for a spin this week, he chooses a Rolls-Royce Phantom. The model embodies automotive presence, and this vintage has all the right touches that make it timeless. Like the masked character with which it shares a name, this Phantom has played a part in pop-culture history and has remained popular for decades.

The early 1930s were not a great time to be peddling ultra-high-end cars. Multiple manufacturers charted a course upmarket when the stock market sank. This meant that the top of the market was crowded with cars aimed at the relatively few buyers who had pockets deep enough to consider purchasing a car that cost as much as a dozen average-priced homes. One brand that had no trouble finding customers was Rolls-Royce. This Phantom is a prime example of the cars that the old Hollywood elite were buying in the Depression years and even paying to rent and use in films—to the tune of $250 per day. In the 1930s.

Nethercutt 1930 Rolls Royce Phantom II rear3/4
Jay Leno's Garage

The body of this particular Phantom was built by Brewster in a town-car configuration. In this arrangement, the driver sits up front behind a windshield and side glass more befitting of a speedboat than a car, while the passengers enjoy the luxury of a fully enclosed cabin. Compared to modern luxury cars, the small vanity mirrors and clock are comical, but this car was majestic enough to attract the attention of the highest-paid actress of the 1930s, Constance Bennett. She bought the car in 1936 and was regularly driven around town in it until, as the rumor goes, her husband lost the car in a poker game in 1949.

Nethercutt 1930 Rolls Royce Phantom II door caning detail
A close-up of the detail on the doors. This is all hand-laid paint. It took months to complete. Jay Leno's Garage

And what a thing to lose. The Phantom might only have 120 horsepower from its 468-cubic-inch inline-six, but the power is delivered smoothly and linearly—exactly what you’d want for a car that weighs in at over 7000 pounds. That’s more than three current-generation Mazda Miatas. Did we mention it doesn’t even have room for luggage? Out on the road, Leno points out that the weight of the Rolls is apparent as soon as you begin to turn a corner.

We can’t decide if it’s the camera angle or if the car really is at 5/4ths scale: Both Jay and the vice president from the Nethercutt Collection, who owns the car, look as though they are attempting to drive a living room. A really nice living room.

The car was restored in the 1980s by J.B. Nethercutt and debuted at the 1992 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it was awarded best in show. It’s a car with a level of history that exempts it from typical road usage and spends most of its time in hiding. The fact that Jay takes it for a spin out on the highway, therefore, is something truly special and cool. We wish could have seen it in person, but we’ll settle for the video this time.




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    Was this the car Bette Davis had in the Norma Desmond movie about a faded star from the silent era? Her chauffer was henchman/enabler. Think this movie was made late 40’s/early 50’s. Cecil B Demille does a cameo. The side details were similar and the back was enclosed like this car-very distinctive.

    Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson, Isotta Fraschini. Chauffeur is Erich von Stroheim, “the man you love to hate.”

    I always like the cars they pull out of the collection to show on Leno’s show. It’s beautiful and classy.

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