At a time when bedraggled people begged for dimes to get a burger and a cup of coffee, movie star Constance Bennett demonstrated how successful she was by shelling out enough cash to buy two houses for a car.
That car, though, was a 1926 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Trouville, and Ms. Bennett was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. That car not only still exists in its original state, but is also in such good condition that its current owner plans to drive it on interstate highways from his home southwest of Chicago to show it at the Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance on Sunday, Aug. 6. It will be part of a special Rolls-Royce class this year.
“When Constance Bennett bought it, cars like this had gone out of fashion in most places. Because of The Depression, people didn’t want to flaunt their wealth. But in Hollywood, it was expected. She would have taken the car down Sunset Boulevard to say, ‘Look what I’ve got.’” —owner Bob Joynt
Mr. Joynt is a noted collector and automotive historian, being a Pebble Beach judge and emcee at Concours of America, and knows the history of the car in detail. The car began its existence not in England, but Springfield, Massachusetts, where Rolls-Royce had set up a plant to make Americanized versions of its ultra-luxurious cars. The differences, Joynt said, were improvements to the electrical system, wheels and other parts that made them more robust to withstand weather extremes in the U.S.
Rolls-Royce produced chassis and drive trains, and owners would enlist coach makers to build custom bodies, pick out custom colors and trim them in luxurious materials. Joynt said Americans lacked the patience to wait eight or nine months to take delivery of a car, so Rolls contracted with Brewster & Co. of New York to design bodies for ready made vehicles.
Joynt said this car received the common practice of having the original bodies modified or replaced in the early- to mid-1930s to update their look.
“They built a car that would last 20 years at a time when cars typically lasted only three or four years,” he said. “People didn’t want to be seen driving out-of-style cars, so Rolls said, ‘You can bring your car back and get it updated.’”
The car’s current town car body replaced the original sedan design in 1933. Still, Joynt said, the car’s running boards, fenders, hood and radiator date from 1926.
“The craftsmanship shows in how they did this,” he said. “The headlights, bumpers and body were replaced, and they welded pieces into the fenders to bring it all together.”
He said that the car, which has been awarded Best Original Car at a National Rolls-Royce Club owners meeting, has never undergone a major restoration, and still cruises nicely at 65 mph on the open road.
“I’ve done some maintenance on it—minor detailing and cosmetic work to clean it up, and mechanicals so it drives right,” the retired attorney and banker said, “but I don’t usually have it judged. I’m not interested in that with this car. It’s a ‘Norma Desmond’ car, and it has a great history. That’s what makes it interesting.”
The two-day Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for the first weekend in August at Veterans Park. The open Show & Glow by the Lake car show, a motor tour and the annual Style & Speed Social are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 5, followed by the Concours d’Elegance on Sunday, Aug. 6.
The Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance is hosted by The Masterpiece Ltd. The Masterpiece Ltd. is organized and operated exclusively to support other public charities including, but not limited to, those operating in southeastern Wisconsin which provide medical and social service care and relief to underprivileged children and families through various motor vehicle-related fundraising events.
Contact: Carrol Jensen
Title: Sunday Concours Event Committee
Company: The Masterpiece Ltd.
Contact Phone Number: 414-526-2244
Contact E-Mail: Carrol Jensen
Website URL: masterpieceltd.org