Fit for a Princess

The Phantom IV built for Princess Margaret in 1954 remains one of the grandest and most beautiful Rolls-Royce cars in existence. We trace its history – from Clarence House to Pennsylvania to Liechtenstein. 

By John Lewis for the Rolls-Royce Owners Club, 2015

 

Imagine you’re a princess. You’re 20 years old and you’re at the center of your own little social circle—the Margaret set—holding court at countless parties and balls around London. With dazzling blue eyes and a 24-inch waist, you’re regarded as Europe’s most beautiful royals.

 

Then in 1952, aged 22, your dad dies, and your sister becomes queen. It’s a bit of a shock to the system but, in that same year, you fall in love with a dashingly handsome equerry, a former RAF pilot and war hero. Unfortunately, he’s a divorcee with two children from his previous marriage, and royal protocol dictates that you can’t marry him. Within a year, palace officials have whisked him away from you and stationed him at the British Embassy in Brussels, where he ends up marrying a Belgian model who looks exactly like you.

 

Your big sister, to cheer you up a bit, decides to buy you a car. Not just any car, but one of the rarest, grandest, heaviest, and most expensive cars that have ever been built.

 

A uniquely feminine Rolls-Royce

 

“It is a driver’s dream,” says Dr. Norbert Seeger, the collector who has owned Princess Margaret’s old Phantom IV for the past seven years. “It is an extremely heavy car, weighing more than 3.3 tons, so you have to take care at speeds when cornering. But it has superb roadholding, the controls are magnificent, and it fulfills every aspect of what you would expect of a Phantom IV.”

 

For Dr. Seeger, who owns around 30 exquisite Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars dating back over a century, this Phantom IV represents the jewel in his collection. It is also prominently displayed in STABIQ Treasure House, a museum in Liechtenstein that houses Dr. Seeger’s works of art and jewelry, alongside some of his Rolls-Royce cars.

 

“The collection began in the early 1990s when I got a Silver Cloud III out of a defaulted mandate,” he says. “By 2005, the question arose—in which direction do we go with this collection? I decided to try to get the complete Phantom set. Of course, the bottleneck for such a goal is the Phantom IV.”

 

The Phantom IV is the most exclusive model of Rolls-Royce ever produced. Only 18 were ever made, all for royalty and state leaders, and they very rarely come on the market.

 

“We did a lot of relation management around the world—in Switzerland, in England, in America—over the years,” he says, “and one day we came across this Phantom IV and had the chance to buy it. Phantom IVs are, of course, extremely rare, difficult to buy, and expensive to maintain, and they are always sought after by collectors. If one comes on the market, in whatever condition, it is snapped up very quickly. According to a prestigious automobile valuer in London, you would expect to pay around £900,000 ($1.4million). A Phantom IV that belonged to the Royal Family is even rarer.”

 

A right royal marque

It would appear that the Phantom IV, more than any other car, cemented the Royal Family’s link with Rolls-Royce. Initially it was Daimler that was awarded this warrant in 1902 and retained that role for more than half a century, despite the fact that members of the Royal household had privately purchased 21 Rolls-Royce vehicles before World War II. But, by the time of Queen Elizabeth’s succession in 1952, the Royals had shifted preference, and Rolls-Royce supplanted Daimler’s Royal Warrant in 1955.

 

In 1948, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, before his wife had become queen, test-drove an experimental Mark V Bentley with a straight-eight engine. In November of that year, Philip and Elizabeth placed a private order for a Rolls-Royce limousine with similar characteristics.

 

The first Phantom IV, chassis number 4AF2, was delivered to the coachbuilders H.J. Mulliner in July 1949 and eventually presented to Philip and Elizabeth a year later. It certainly shared many characteristics with the Mark V Bentley. Like the Bentley, it had been handbuilt at Clan Foundry, Rolls-Royce’s wartime factory in Belper, Derbyshire, and shared the same straight-eight engine—powerful but able to travel long distances at a low-speed, as was customary for ceremonial cars. It became the official state car when Elizabeth became queen in 1952, and is still used for state occasions—the same car transported Charles and Camilla from Clarence House to Westminster Abbey for the wedding of Kate and William in 2011.

 

That initial Phantom IV, codenamed “Nabha” by Rolls-Royce workers, could have been seen as an experimental model. Indeed, the second Phantom IV—chassis number 4AF4, coachbuilt by Park Ward in October 1950—was a freakish utility vehicle with a delivery truck onto the back, and was dismantled in 1963. But the subsequent models established the Phantom IV as the most exclusive Rolls-Royce ever made.

 

Of the 17 extant Phantom IVs, five went to the British Royal Family, three went to Spanish dictator General Franco, three to the Emir of Kuwait, two to the Shah of Iran, two to the King of Iraq, and one each to Prince Talal of Saudi Arabia and the Ishmaili Shi’ite leader Aga Khan III.

 

By the time Margaret’s Phantom IV was commissioned by the princess’s secretary—in the autumn of 1953—production had shifted from Derbyshire to Crewe in Cheshire. The resultant car, chassis 4BP7, was given the code-name of “The Baron Montaigne”. It was the largest private vehicle then being built in Britain. The princess made specifications to the coachbuilders H.J. Mulliner on January 4, 1954, and the car was delivered on July 16 to Clarence House, where Princess Margaret lived with the Queen Mother.

A unique Phantom

 

Margaret’s car differed a little from her sister’s. For starters, it had a higher and more elongated wing line, and had a different statuette above the radiator grille—an alternative to the Spirit of Ecstasy. The Queen’s car had two interchangeable statuettes, both designed by the British artist (and friend of the Royal Family) Edward Seago: when driving in England it displayed a mascot of Saint George slaying a dragon; in Scotland, it was exchanged for a lion rampant. Princess Margaret’s 4BP7 also had an original Seago design, but hers was an elegant model of a rearing winged horse Pegasus.

 

The driver’s compartment is unusually well appointed. “When we got the car we wondered why the drivers compartment was so luxurious,” says Seeger. “Why are the front seats fitted in wool, not leather? These cars were normally all driven by the chauffer, but Princess Margaret wanted to drive it herself. As a result, because it was set up for the princess, it is extremely easy to drive.”

 

The steering wheel is daintier than usual, the steering position one inch shorter than standard, and the column rake was set as high as possible. The driver’s seat has also been fitted with a small winch that allows it to be raised a few inches. According to the modifications specified by the princess’s secretary, Mulliner’s raised the driving seat cushion and backrest and, in case they were needed, they provided detachable extensions to fit the brake and accelerator pedals. It also, unusually, had an automatic gearbox, a rarity for Rolls-Royce cars of this vintage.

 

To guarantee smooth running, Rolls-Royce used 10 nuts on the wheel discs for this Phantom IV, instead of the usual five, as was customary in the Silver Wraith). Furthermore, 24 holes around the hub assisted the balance.  The wheel discs have five rubber cams near to the bead of the rim in order to prevent shaking noise. These measures led to an unparalleled smoothness.

 

“There are many anecdotes and stories that surround the vehicle,” says Dr Seeger. “When I received the vehicle, the lamp covers were removed and disclosed a second bunch of keys. It is well known that the chauffeur of the car was meticulous with regard to every aspect of the vehicle, including the keys. The spare set of keys may have been put there as a security measure in case the first set of keys were misplaced. Rumor has it, however, that the princess had the keys put there so that she could sneak out and drive the car herself without having to inform the chauffeur!”

 

A symphony of walnut wood

 

The rear of the car is particularly luxurious, its upholstery covered with doe-brown West of England wool. At night, the interior ceiling can be tastefully illuminated by means of indirect lighting. Moveable reading lamps are mounted on the sides, should they be required. A sliding roof, controlled by the press of a button, can be moved to the required position directly above the rear seat. The floor is covered with a fluffy wool fleece and is fitted with a Persian carpet.

 

An electrically operated blind, mounted on the rear window, will protect the passenger, if necessary, from prying eyes. Additional blinds can be drawn out of the side panels. The operating knobs are discreetly built into the right armrest.

 

The main passenger seat in the rear could be raised or lowered few inches with a small winder, and the car was fitted with two face-forward occasional seats. In between them was a cabinet housing a loudspeaker grille and a heater outlet. Below that was a lidded storage compartment with a mirror set into the center arm rest, although this was later removed to allow the extra passengers to move around without hitting their legs against the lower part of the cabinet. Above the cabinet was a pair of cigarette lighters, with a clock built into the division rail.

 

Princess Margaret famously enjoyed a drink, and the division panel of this Phantom IV features an elegant drinks cabinet, handmade in cross-banded walnut veneer. Princess Margaret would often entertain friends in her car. Her friend Jennifer Bevan recalls going on long chauffer-driven journeys where Margaret and friends would belt out out “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, “C’est Si Bon”, “Bewitched”, “Autumn Leaves, “La Vie En Rose” and numerous showtunes. “She’d sit there in her gleaming Rolls-Royce, singing wonderfully,” recounts Bevan. “I could never keep in tune”.

 

There are been rumors that numberplate of the car—PM6450—was requested by Margaret as a coded reference to her affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend. The story goes that PM stood for Peter and Margaret, while 6/4/50 (the 6th of April, 1950) was apparently the date that they first met. This would mean, scandalously, that Margaret’s relationship with the Group Captain started while he was still married to his first wife—little wonder that the Royal Family said that they were “baffled” when this rumor entered common currency a few years ago.

Margaret’s motors

 

Princess Margaret is, to date, the most prolific owner of Rolls-Royce vehicles, owning at least six in total. She even made an official visit to the Crewe factory in 1962 in her Phantom IV, an event recorded by Pathe News.

 

In May 1960, to commemorate her marriage to Anthony Armstrong Jones (who was made the Earl of Snowdon), she was presented with a brand new Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. With the chassis number SVB247 and the registration plate XLP 920, it was painted in Masons Black and fitted with scarlet upholstery, and the princess ran it alongside the Phantom. In 1967 she was given one of ten Long Wheelbase (LWB) Silver Shadows (LRH2542), four inches longer than usual, with a blue police lamp on the roof and a Royal coat of arms, in dark green paint with green leather seats to match.

 

In September 1975 came a custom-made Silver Shadow, numberplate EHJ 118P, which was later owned by the actor Burt Reynolds from 1985 before being brought back to the UK in 1988 (it was sold at Bonhams in 2011 for around £22,000). There were also two Silver Wraith II models—one bought in 1979 (and returned, with Kensington Palace issuing some pungent comments), and a replacement arriving in 1980. That last Wraith, in Royal Cardinal red with the license plate 3GXM, was Margaret’s official car until her death in 2002, when her son, Lord Linley, sold it through Reeman Dansie auctioneers. She had the interior upholstered in light green West of England cloth, rather than leather, and installed an Italian blind in the rear window: chauffer David Griffin recalls that Margaret also the floor-raised “to make herself look taller”.

 

After Margaret

 

Princess Margaret sold the Phantom IV in 1967, and the blue police lamp and a royal coat of arms on the roof of 4BP7 was removed and put on the LWB Silver Shadow. The royal registration plate—PM 6450—was changed to 302 HYP and it was sold through Car Mart Dealership in Park Lane. It came to the attention of one Alfred William David Adams—better known as A.W.D. Adams and nicknamed Ben—who ran a successful transport, garage and rental company in New Malden, Surrey, around nine miles south-west of London.

 

“My father had a growing collection of Rolls-Royce cars,” says Graham Adams, son of A.W.D Adams, “and our local dealership in Weybridge rang him up to tell him that they had a very unusual Rolls-Royce for sale, but they weren’t able to tell us who the previous owner was. It was all a little cloak and dagger! We were quite impressed by its royal connections, but more impressed by what an extraordinary and impressive vehicle it was.”

 

The car—which had only 27,000 miles on the clock when it was purchased in 1967—was kept with the Adams family for more than three decades. “It wasn’t used very often,” says Graham. “We’d occasionally use it to pick up prestigious clients from Heathrow Airport, or to attend special events in London. Sometimes we’d lend it to clients or business partners we trusted, for their daughter’s wedding or something.”

 

One of the clients who occasionally borrowed the car was a firm called Farmcroft in New Malden, who would use it for films and TV shows. The 4BP7 Phantom appears, briefly, in a chase sequence in episode 13 of the TV series Man In A Suitcase, broadcast in 1968. It also appears in the 1969 James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, parked outside the house of M, played by Bernard Lee.

 

But, generally, the car was displayed in the New Malden showroom of Adams & Adams transport firm. “That was until we ran out of showroom space,” says Graham, “when we moved it into a heated warehouse. By this time the West of England cloth was looking a little shabby. One of our tenants was unable to pay rent, but he was an expert upholsterer—we got him to re-upholster the car in lieu of rent! But that was the only work we did to it—we overhauled the engine before selling it, but never touched the paintwork.”

 

A change of owner

 

By the turn of the century, A.W.D. Adams had died, and the family were looking to sell the Phantom IV. “To be honest, we didn’t really drive it that much,” says Graham. “It was light on the steering, and was nicely balanced, but it was a beast of a car to drive around town. And you did feel like a chauffer driving it!”

 

He approached the Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialists P&A Wood to sell the car. “It didn’t need much work,” says Paul Wood, one of the twins who runs the dealership in Great Dunmow, Essex. “It needed a touch of paintwork, and I remember working on the corrosion around the rear wheel spats. But it was in very good condition. I’ve worked on a couple of other Phantom IVs: King Hussein of Jordan’s one, coachbuilt by Hooper, had to be restored from the chassis up, and it was one of the best restorations we’ve ever done. And the Aga Khan’s one is currently being completely rebuilt in America. But Princess Margaret’s car was in very good condition indeed.”

 

They also got permission to replicate the original royal coat of arms from the Royal Mews—the historic stables at Buckingham Palace responsible for royal vehicles. “The Royal Mews are very fussy about these kind of details,” says Paul. “They eventually allowed us to make a replica from aluminum and attached it to the mounting on the roof.”

 

One extraordinary feature of the car, says Paul, was the radio equipment that enabled the Princess to operate an early car phone. “The boot [trunk] of the car was chock-a-block with radio equipment, for an early carphone,” he says. “There was a massive receiver, valves, amplifiers, all sorts—something you only ever see with royal vehicles.”

 

Adams bought the car in 1967 for around £3,250—that’s around £52,000 in today’s money, allowing for inflation. He sold it through P&A Wood for an impressive £136,000. It was bought by an American collector, based in Pennsylvania, who had made his fortune selling aerospace parts. He displayed the car at the Rolls-Royce Foundation in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania—where it was displayed alongside another Phantom IV, a Hooper-built limousine, chassis number 4AF20, sold to the Aga Khan in 1952. The owner also presented the car at Pebble Beach.

 

That was until 2008, when the car was bought by Dr. Seeger, from The Real Car Company in North Wales. “When I purchased the car, I was able, with special permission, to re-register the original number plate PM6450 and remount the Royal Coat of Arms on the roof.

 

 

“The car is registered and driven regularly, as all my cars are, in order to prevent standing damage. I try to move the pre-war cars at least twice a year and the post-war cars at least every two months.”

 

When Dr. Seeger last drove the car, it had 64,162 miles on the clock. “It drives perfectly. We use it a lot for picnics: from time to time we invite a small group of people and use three or four cars and go out locally into the countryside. It’s impressive to drive the car and, especially the Phantom IV, people are always stunned to see it. When sitting in the rear and being chauffeur-driven, it inspires a feeling of majesty—as it should do.”

 

So, would Dr Seeger ever consider selling it?

“That,” he says, quite firmly, “is totally out of the question.”

 

<ENDS!!!>

© 2014 by John Lewis.