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Motor Mouth articles 2011

Ghosts on parade for a top gear challenge

The original Rolls-Royce trials car 1701 which has been on display at the RAC clubhouse in Pall Mall

A SPECTACULAR cavalcade of classic Rolls-Royces will set off to travel the length of the country this Sunday to commemorate a similar journey made exactly a century earlier.

In September 1911, a Silver Ghost, chassis number 1701, was driven 800 miles from London to Edinburgh and back. It did the entire trip in top gear and its performance and fuel consumption figures beat all its rivals.

The run was the result of the firm’s managing director Claude Johnson accepting a challenge and was the basis upon which Rolls-Royce became known and accepted as the best car in the world.

Now members of the world’s oldest Rolls-Royce owners club, the 20-Ghost Club, are to recreate that ambitious journey. A total of 17 Silver Ghosts will be taking part, including many pre-WW1 cars similar in specification to the original car. They will set off from the Royal Automobile Club’s Pall Mall clubhouse early on Sunday, exactly as number 1701 did a century ago.

Back then the challenge had been set by rivals Napier: to drive from London to Edinburgh and back in top gear only, with four passengers and luggage, under RAC observation. The Napier ‘Silver Bullet’ managed the feat with an average fuel consumption of 19.3mpg. A speed trial at Brooklands saw it record 76.42mph.

Rolls-Royce chief Johnson saw an opportunity to top this performance and create the first line of sporting Silver Ghosts. The six-cylinder Rolls-Royce covered the route, which went via Grantham, Doncaster, Newcastle, Alnwick and Bedford, with no mechanical failures, besting Napier’s figures with an average fuel consumption of 24.3mpg and a top speed of 78.26mph over the flying half-mile.

Driving the whole journey in top gear was only achievable because of the huge 7.5-litre, low-compression ratio engine allowing drivers to slip the oil-lubricated, leather-lined clutch enough for the car to pull away smoothly from standstill or even on a slight incline. The car later returned to Brooklands with more streamlined bodywork and secured an astonishing speed of 101.8mph.

The Silver Ghosts taking part in the recreation will do so under similar conditions: carrying passengers, measuring fuel consumption and reliability and only using top gear. They will use as much of the original Great North Road route (now mostly the A1) as possible.

Organiser Nick Naismith said: “The 1911 trial nearly came to grief when a donkey and cart got in the way when climbing the hill at the Archway. I think that in 2011 traffic lights rather than donkeys will be the problem.”

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