The 1926 Rolls-Royce Phantom I commissioned by American Clarence Gasque as a gift for his wife and Woolworth’s heiress, Maude, is the star car for the Bonhams Bond Street Sale scheduled for December 4 in London.
Bonhams terms the Rolls as being “more like the throne room at Versailles than a car” because of its stunning artistic interior features.
“Maude Gasque, heiress of the Woolworth’s department stores, had a passion for French 18th Century history and design and her husband, who was the finance director of Woolworth’s UK operation, wanted the car’s interior to have a French theme,” Bonhams said in its news release.
Gasque wanted his wife’s car to outdo the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost made for another Woolworth executive, and set no limit on the amount that coachbuilders Charles Clark and Sons could put into the vehicle.
Clark’s owner John Barnett reportedly used a Marie Antoinette sedan chair at the Victoria and Albert Museum as inspiration for the build, which at the time cost £6,500, £4,500 spent on the interior. (Bonhams notes that in 1926, £500 was about the cost of the average British home.)
French carpet makers Aubusson spent nine months creating the tapestry for the rear seats, at a cost of £500, Bonhams reports. That tapestry as well as the painted ceiling and lighting supports feature naked cherubs and led to the car being known as “The Phantom of Love” Rolls.
Some of the lighting is concealed behind the ceiling’s carved and gilded cornice.
“A bow-fronted drinks cabinet, reminiscent of an antique commode or chiffonier, was mounted on the internal division, concealing fold-down, inward-facing occasional seats — also upholstered in tapestry — in cupboards at either side,” Bonhams notes.
“Surmounting this elaborate division was a small French ormulu clock and two French porcelain vases containing gilded metal and enamel flowers. In honor of the Gasque family’s French origins, Barnett devised a faux coat of arms at his client’s request, which was applied to the rear doors.”
Gasque died in 1928. Nine years later, Maude put the car into storage (she spent the rest of her life — she lived until 1959 — promoting vegetarianism). She sold the car in 1952 to Rolls-Royce car collector Stanley Sears. Later, the car went to owners in Japan and the U.S. before returning to England.
According to Bonhams senior motor car specialist Rob Hubbert, “Extensively illustrated and described in numerous books and magazine articles about the Rolls-Royce marque, The Phantom of Love is, arguably, the most famous surviving Rolls-Royce after ‘AX 201’, the factory owned 1907 Silver Ghost.
“Unique and well documented, it is of the highest quality and without question one of the very finest examples of art and craftsmanship applied to an automobile.”
Bonhams has set a pre-sale estimated value for the car of £500,000 to £700,000 ($610,000 to $860,000).