This 1947 Rolls-Royce Was Tailored To The Whims Of An Eccentric Millionaire
Question: Where’s the line between a ‘normal’ millionaire and an ‘eccentric’ one? A collection of gold Julius Caesar busts? A swimming pool filled with Moët champagne? In the 1940s, the line was, for one Rolls-Royce customer, a surprisingly svelte and completely bespoke 1947 Silver Wraith with four-seat convertible coachwork by Inskip—finished in black lacquer.
As punchy as the car looks now in deep purple, its original configuration in black, with shapely fenders and shorter, more “sporting cut-down windscreen” as Gooding & Company states, would have made quite the impact at its first public outing at the 1949 New York Motor Show. This $22,500 car made its debut more than a year later, because it had to be shipped across the Atlantic on the SS Ford Musquarro and then bodied by J.S. Inskip Inc.—conveniently, the firm was also the Rolls-Royce distributor for Manhattan.
Without sporting heritage to fall back on, a car like this is perhaps most interesting in the context of what it may have gotten up to in period. Gooding & Company states that its first owner was Thomas “Tommy” Manville Jr., and I’ll state that he went essentially ‘hog wild’ after inheriting a fortune of $10 million in 1925. To start, a 28-room mansion, “Bon Repos,” on Long Island Sound. The property “…featured a radio and record player in every room, a telephone switchboard in the master bedroom, a movie theater, and watchtowers staffed by armed guards,” the auction house reports.
And you shake your head at Justin Bieber! At least modern pop stars don’t usually get married 13 times to 11 different partners through their lives and don’t custom-order Rolls-Royce cars to be enjoyed and soon discarded. It was offered for sale just three years later for nearly half its original price. Considering inflation, it’s a $250,000 Roller that its second owner could have picked up for ~$113,000…had it sold. That’s right—the “most expensive Rolls-Royce convertible ever sold in the U.S.A” as its ad stated didn’t sell. In 1953, Manville actually traded the car to an undertaker, Elroy Wilson, in exchange for Wilson’s Bentley Continental.
A decade later, its next steward was able to buy the car, though it now “…had been painted white and customized by a Baltimore body shop to incorporate Buick chrome wire wheels, Cadillac rear fenders, and a four-foot air horn on each door”. The Inskip coachwork was restored and reinstalled, and the car became the pride of several collections over the next decades. That it survived its early years, was recognized as worthy of restoration so early in its existence, and cherished ever since is a testament to its caretakers—not so much its original owner.
Think of it this way: at least in 2016, a millionaire won’t be called ‘eccentric’ if this purple Silver Wraith finds itself in their collection. It may have taken us more than half a century, but what used to appear outrageous is now coveted among collectors around the world.
Would you make this bespoke cruiser the centre piece of your garage?
– Built to the order of millionaire Tommy Manville Jr.
– Displayed at the 1949 New York International Motor Show
– Outstanding provenance with only five owners from new
– Multiple concours award-winning car
~125 horsepower, 4,257-cc F-head inline 6-Cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs
Chassis no.: WYA26
Engine no.: W191A
All images copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Photos by Mike Maez.