Nearby Find – The Ex-Col. J.B. Maclean 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I

It never ceases to amaze me when I stop to consider all the wonderful classic cars in the world and their fascinating stories. Numbered 98EF, this 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I was located quite close to my home, unknown to me until 2012 when I called the owner after seeing his sale advertisement for the car in the wonderful Old Autos newspaper. This Phantom I, as I learned, carries a particularly rich history, in addition to the fact that it is a Derby, UK-built Phantom I and an undisputed automotive landmark as the successor model to the iconic 40/50 HP Silver Ghost.

While cloaked in its relatively mundane (a friend’s assessment and not mine) but original Formal Limousine coachwork by Hooper, this Phantom I is significant in Canada  by virtue of its original owner, Lt. Col. John B. Maclean, the founder of the Maclean-Hunter publishing empire and one of Toronto’s most legendary business figures of the first half of the 20th Century. The car’s decidedly functional and non-flamboyant coachwork certainly suited Col. Maclean, who began his publishing business with a farmers’ publication in the late-19th Century.

The Phantom was a faithful servant to Col. Maclean and his wife, frequently used for trips to his rural properties in Crieff in Puslinch Township, Ontario near the city of Guelph. Each spring and fall, it transported Mrs. Maclean to the couple’s winter home in Florida. In fact, the car’s rear passenger compartment retains the substantial brass stanchion used to safely secure the wheelchair of Mrs. Maclean to the limousine’s floor.

An interesting story related by the current owner sheds light on the surprisingly prodigious performance of the Phantom I. On one occasion, Mrs. Maclean’s chauffeur was reportedly stopped by police in Georgia for speeding. According to the story, the car was traveling at speeds approaching 100 mph!

The car was acquired from the estate of Colonel Maclean, who had passed away in 1950 (just one day shy of his 88th birthday) by the next owner, who sold it to Jim Kerr of London, Ontario in 1955. Jim would keep the Phantom until 2015 when he passed away and his wife was reluctant but ready to sell at their daughter’s urging.

I first saw the Phantom I in August 2012 and Mr. Kerr and I spent a very enjoyable morning with him showing the car to me and relating its rich history. He used the Phantom I for many years as a wedding car for hire, providing a fun weekend side business for him. He would always dress in period chauffeur’s uniform, as evidenced by the image on the front of his business card.

A wonderful image from Mr. Kerr’s business card, offering livery service with the venerable Phantom I.

He and his wife toured the car enthusiastically and extensively and on one trip, they even drove the Phantom from London, Ontario to New York City in order to purchase a proper replacement Waltham “8-Day” clock for the car!

Mr. and Mrs. Kerr in 98EF. They enthusiastically owned the car from the mid-1950s to later 2015.

When I visited the owner, he drove 98 EF out of its resting place in his garage for the first time in a year. The car’s batteries were kept on a trickle charger and the Rolls fired right up with just a few deft adjustments to the steering-wheel spark and mixture controls by the owner. It has only had one repaint (not terribly high quality, with lots of flaws) over the years and the interior was re-trimmed in gray broadcloth circa 1980 (admittedly a bit tatty now), and some minor engine work was performed during the 2000s. Nonetheless, the very sound operating condition and story of 98EF are quite remarkable, not to mention its use in a street scene in the 2002 hit musical movie Chicago! and an episode of TV’s Anne of Green Gables series.

Sadly, the beautiful former Toronto residence of the Macleans was demolished a few years ago and the land was redeveloped, leaving this fascinating Rolls-Royce Phantom I as one of the few physical artifacts of its first owner. During late 2015, the car was sold to a classic Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealer in Wales. Simply put, 98 EF remains a wonderfully tangible and drivable link to the founder of one of Canada’s media dynasties. Perhaps I’ll see it again one day.

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