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Car of the Month - September 2016
Rolls-Royce Phantom III, 1935,
'Dummy-Chassis' for London Motor Show


Rolls-Royce Phantom III

Towards the mid-thirties the disastrous global economic downturn resulting from what started as crash on Wall Street had not yet been overcome. The number of well-heeled prospective purchasers of high class automobiles had been reduced drastically. Manufacturers did battle in fierce competition, offering lavishly equipped motor cars powered by engines with 12-cylinder- or even 16-cylinder-configuration. Rolls-Royce felt forced to show the flag. This is one explanation for the company’s unusual hastily decision to introduce in October 1935 their new Rolls-Royce Phantom III at the Paris Salon and at the London Motor Show that started a few days after the exhibition at the Grand Palais had closed. With its V12-engine to an advanced design and independent front suspension the new model’s technical features were "State of the Art".

However there has been certain friction between the sales department's demand to launch the new model as soon as possible and the time-consuming practice from research and development. The latter insisted not to permit any series-production before each and any component had been tested exhaustively. With this background it is easy to understand several almost bizarre details from that autumn 1935: Available at the Paris Salon has been only one Phantom III as a demonstrator. That was the Experimental Car #32EX – which was clearly different as regards several of its technical components from what became series-standard of the Phantom III. When on 17th October 1935 the London Motor Show was opened there was merely one production chassis to exhibit.

Rolls-Royce Phantom III

Rolls-Royce in conjunction with selected coachbuilders had found to a solution by arranging for dummy chassis. Thus they could display their creations for the new model. The agreement was confidential and indeed neither did leak to visitors of the London Motor Show nor was it published by the press.

On the stand of Hooper & Co. was exhibited the limousine with their Body-No. 8476 erected on a dummy chassis. A large-sized advert by the coachbuilder was almost a bluff with their statement: "After exhaustive tests Hooper & Co. have created an entirely new type of body which gives the new Rolls-Royce chassis full play for the outstanding performance which will be demanded of it."  The dummy chassis had never covered any distance under its own power! That was true, too, as regards eight further dummy chassis, one of which became bodied by Hooper and the rest had been delivered to several other coachbuilders.

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After the show Hooper kept the body on stock for more than a year and not before 1937 put it onto chassis #3CP6. Its life was a rather short one because chassis and coachwork burnt out and were a total write-off. Hence the drawing and the coachbuilder's photo alone give evidence of what in 1935 had been seen on a dummy chassis. An entry under "Remarks" in the Hooper Body Book that coachwork made for chassis #3BT91 has been "as Body-No. 8476" is not entirely correct. The design of the limousine-body on #3BT91 has not been congruent with that seen on the dummy chassis and later on #3CP6.

Rolls-Royce Phantom III

It is worth a note that drawings of the V12-engine handed out by Rolls-Royce to the motor press did not give views of products to series-standards. Perhaps keen to meet the deadline the drawings that were provided did show a prototype from the pre-production-period. There were significant alterations to be detected by direct comparison with a V12-engine to series-standard. An air-filter of more compact dimensions and a single carburettor (instead of the prototype’s quadruple version) were obvious immediately. In addition the 4 screws holding down the valve covers had been substituted – as not “oil-tight” – by a multitude of differently positioned screws etc. etc.

Rolls-Royce Phantom III