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Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts take to the Alps


The largest gathering of Silver Ghosts in living memory saw 47 of the best examples of the Rolls-Royce marque take to the Alpine passes in a 16-day, 1800-mile run through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy to celebrate the centenary of James Radley's win in this event in 1913! Adil Jal Darukhanawala has the story

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

How many people know that at one point in time, in fact in its very infancy, the fabled maker of premium luxury cars as we know it to be today – Rolls-Royce – used to be very much in the forefront of using competitive events to prove the worth or otherwise of its products.

 

The obvious immediate thought of course goes to its win in the 1909 Tourist Trophy but the even more significant one was when James Radley in his own privately entered Silver Ghost along with three other similar works specimens went out to tackle the tough and treacherous Alpine Trials.

 

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

 

It was all about putting the cars through a series of unbelievable tests over snaking dirt roads, which made up the Alpine passes then. No outside assistance was allowed and nor were the cars allowed even to pause or stop on any of the gradients! If it did happen one lost points and a sure drop out of the honours list.

 

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

 

So the works Silver Ghosts, in a special specification mandated for use in India with its harsh terrain, proved very adept to conquering the Alpine runs. Each of these cars, going with the Alpine Eagle suffix to denote them as different from the standard specification 40/50 H.P. model went on to win individual stages and hill climbs but it was the James Radley-driven car (registration no. R827) which went on to have a clean slate with no penalty points and grab a gold medal in the 1913 event.

 

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

 

Of course race on Sunday, win on Monday was very much the order of the market then and this success really suited Rolls-Royce in the bragging rights for what already was a stupendous automobile – simple yet exactingly made to the finest of tolerances. Of course this success only added to the allure of the marque and one that it has held on to this very day.

 

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

 

Fast forward to last month and the centenary of the 1913 Alpenfahrt (to give it its true calling in its native Austrian lingo) – it was a cause to celebrate but in the manner becoming of the brand. The fact that Radley’s car was still running and in fine fettle helped and it joined 46 other Silver Ghosts to go over a challenging 16-day, 1800-mile route retracing nearly the same route of the 1913 event.

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

It was truly a wonderful sight to behold the grand dowagers wafting their way through the tough Loibl and Stelvio passes, also over many gravel-surfaced sections and always ensuring that from start to finish all the cars and their crews managed to complete the distance!

 

Two cars stood out for me among all the 47 great examples of the bewitching Silver Ghosts that made up the field. The first of course was the Radley car in its original light blue and now having all the mods for the pressurised chassis greasing and oiling mechanism as Sir Henry Royce had crafted for cars coming to India. Also the fact that this car ran like clockwork when it took part in the Rolls-Royce Royal Tour of Rajasthan a couple of years ago remains a poignant memory etched in my sub-conscious. So much so that it got a chapter all to itself in my book Classics & Thoroughbreds published around the same time.

 

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

 

The second car that was special for me on this run was one of the oldest surviving 40/50 H.P. models going and in established Rolls-Royce naming policy of that time, was christened the Silver Dawn.

 

This car, bearing chassis no. 60922 is stunning in its Roi des Belges coachwork and retains its original chassis, engine, and gearbox plus front and rear axles. All major components on it feature the 1908 stamp of manufacture and most interestingly it even runs on its original cast iron pistons to this day!

 

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Trial

 

 

This car carried competition no. 1 for the 2013 Centenary Alpine Trial and it ran like a dream along with the Radley machine and 45 other glorious Ghosts! Enthusiasts lining the mountain passes in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy had the time of their lives for rarely has there been such a large gathering of 40/50 H.P. Silver Ghosts for days at an end! Sublime doesn’t even do the event, the cars and their crews justice!