British Beef for Sunday Lunch: 1923 Rolls-Royce 20hp

Bored of Rolls-Royce vehicles boasting ‘celebrity’ ownership? Here’s one with a far more interesting background from the AutoClassics classifieds

You may cast eyes upon this 1923 Rolls-Royce and remain steadfast in the belief that it’s simply ‘another Edwardian Rolls’, but you’d be wrong. Yes, the running gear is the same and – yes – it offers all the trademark comfort you would expect, but there’s a comprehensive past oozing from the age-old, hand-crafted panels. More so than any other.

While most Rolls-Royce 20hp variants enjoyed the company of aristocrats and celebrities when new, passed down through the decades among actors, politicians and those who eat Caviar for breakfast, this has resulted in the mother of all clichés; Rolls-Royces are for the toffs of society. Old-money vagabonds destined to a life of far-flung travel and shooting poor people for sport.

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*This was Michael Caine's Rolls (not a lot of people know that)

Although largely true, it’s out with the world of A-listers and Royalty that the bespoke stories can be found. Bucking the yawn-inducing trend of reading about ‘celebrity ownership’ when scouring the Rolls-Royce classifieds, this 20hp holds a genuine past far more impressive than simply resting outside a country manor home or ferrying dignitaries to the local Conservative rally.

Originally delivered new to Australia as a saloon, the chassis was quickly converted into a unity body. Not quite content with that, the new owner transferred the bulk of an Austin 20 onto the platform in 1961. This has therefore been a hybrid representing the finest of Rolls and Austin in one neat package.

Besides standing upright akin to a proud Army General, the interior is spacious and in sound condition. As is the rest of the car, offering mechanicals in rude health and boasting enough luxurious trim to leave any modern counterpart in the shade. However, while this is all impressive, it’s the previous owners’ whom bring in the real fascination.

Delivered to George Michaelis (1867-1930), a member of the prominent Anglo-Jewish families of Michaelis, Hallenstein & Hart, George specialised in leather – saddles, bridles, shoes, Edwina Currie’s face, you name it!

One of the main importers of leather goods in Sydney, Australia, Michaelis owned the Rolls-Royce until 1930, when it was sold to rancher and gold prospector John James Gullfer. John’s grandfather had been so desperate to reach Australia that he deliberately turned to a life of crime, knowing that theft incurred a seven year deportation order. As you do...

After years of custody under the wing of socialite and business man John, the 20hp passed into the hands of Lucky Starr – also known as Leslie William Morrison of ‘I’ve Been Everywhere' fame. Starr was a founding member of the Australian pop music industry and also the first Australian performer to entertain troops in Vietnam. As a note of interest, Starr refused to have the Army fork out for his flights, instead paying for them himself.

In fact, the Rolls was bought as a gift for the American Jazz musician Billy Eckstine (1914-1993), whom Starr had met in Australian when on tour. Famous for his sense of style, Billy has a ‘dress war; with Duke Ellington, with the Rolls being the ultimate accessory.

Get a closer look with the AutoClassics classified advert.

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