When I was a youngster, there was only one Rolls-Royce in my small hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana. That car belonged to Isaac Elston, the president of Elston Bank & Trust co., And the richest man in town. He gave it to his wife, Florence, as a wedding present.
I can remember the black and tan Silver Cloud sitting majestically in the big circular driveway at his stately home on pike street, or gliding silently along main street, where the bank was. The big car was so unlike the Chevrolets, Fords, Pontiacs and Plymouths that dominated the streets of Crawfordsville, that it seemed as if it had been transported from another world.
I hadn't thought about the car in years until I visited the henry Royce foundation in Paulerspury, England, in march. Filed here are records of virtually every Rolls-Royce made before 1992.
When Rolls-Royce went bankrupt in 1972, the motor vehicle and aircraft engine companies split apart. The car manufacturing wing needed extra space at Crewe and didn't have room for all of the owner files. So they were put in storage for a time. The Sir Henry Royce memorial foundation was founded in 1977 in this house in Paulerspury, and that became the storage site for the records.
The owners' files amount to a list of the rich and famous. Here are the details on Frank Sinatra's three Silver Clouds and Fred Astaire's cars. There are the Phantom V of the Beatles' John Lennon and the two Silver Ghosts of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, father of the Soviet Union.
This was a company that prided itself on its personal touch in communicating with its customers. The records are printed by hand. On one card, one of those scribes wrote: 'Sadly lost on the Lusitania' to mark the passing of one owner.
'They must have needed an army of scribes,' says Peter Baines, general secretary of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts' Club.
To look up Isaac Elston's car, I went first to the owner file cabinet, where file cards give the owner's name, address and the chassis number of the car. The chassis number of Elston's car was LSMH 149.
Then I looked up the chassis records, most of them painstakingly written in longhand. Included are factory test records of every facet of the car, from brakes to engines - sometimes as many as 50 pieces of paper, signed by the individual testers.
I learned Elston probably bought the car from a dealer showroom rather than special ordering it, a practice more common with Rolls-Royce owners in the United States than elsewhere.
It was delivered to the north no. 1 Huskinson dock in Liverpool, England, May 6, 1959, and put aboard a ship named the Parthia that sailed the next day for New York City. The car's first united states stop was a Rolls-Royce importer named J.S. Inskip Inc., In New York. It subsequently found its way to Schafer & Waters, an import car dealer in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The records also said SMH 469 was equipped with 'Plain Sundym Glass,' a slight tinting. It had electric windows and was fully air-conditioned, not common in those days. The colors were listed not as black and tan but as 'sand and sable.' The beige Connolly leather-upholstered interior was numbered VM 3234. One peculiar line says the car had 'no reverse button on the gear lever.'
The Rolls-Royce Enthusiast's Club makes an effort to keep track of all of the Rolls-Royces in existence. Sadly, however, there is no record of what happened to LSMH 149. After Elston's widow sold the car to Albers Rolls-Royce in Zionsville, Indiana, it went to another car dealer, and Albers lost track of it.
Perhaps the sand and sable beauty is sitting in an old barn or garage in rural Indiana, just waiting for some lucky person to come along and rediscover it.