14 October 2019

Historic classic rides #2: Rolls Royce Silver Wraith State Landaulette by Hooper

State cars have always been a source of fascination for me: how the head of state traveled could indicate a lot about his/her prestige and, to an extent, the loyalty to the country. Most office-holders will travel around in the respective car brand from the country, but for those that do not have an automobile industry, it is also interesting to see what cars are used too. I was inspired to find out more about these special cars from an Instagram post showing how the vehicles featured in our National Day celebrations have changed over the decades, and was I surprised when I discovered this 1954 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith State Landaulette by Hooper that existed here before!

The Silver Wraith was the first post-war car made by RR, introduced in 1946. It replaced the earlier RR Wraith made between 1938 to 1939 (where 1 unit exits here!), although in keeping with the mood of post-war austerity, the size was somewhat reduced. England after the war had more urgent requirements than luxury cars: there was a shortage of raw materials and even petrol was rationed. As a result, RR was initially hesitant to take on this project. However, it was decided that both RR and Bentley cars, which were strictly separate series previously, would have parts that were interchangeable so as to cut costs.

Some changes included a more rigid frame, a newer type of gearbox and chromium-plated cylinder bores for the engine. As with RR cars of that period, only the chassis was provided and the bodywork were supplied by various independent coachbuilders: it was unlikely that 2 units looked alike due to customer specifications and requests. The Silver Wraith was available in 2 different wheelbases: 3226 mm and 3378 mm. Depending on the bodywork placed on the car, it could easily exceed 5 m in length. It was powered by a 4566 cc i6 engine, which was pretty huge considering the time period. Production of the Silver Wraith ended in 1958, of which 1,244 were the short-wheelbase version and 639 were the long-wheelbase version.

This particular unit [chassis number #BLW92] is not a typical Silver Wraith, but a one-off State Landaulette version built by Hooper & Co. The coachbuilder had been commissioned in 1953 to build this car, and other than its unique collapsible roof at the rear, it also featured a internal telephone, seats coated in special plastic to deter termites and teak covering the dashboard etc. In all, it weighed an estimated 2340 kg when it was sent to Singapore in 1954! The Governor of Singapore had used a RR Phantom III as his official car and this Silver Wraith was its replacement.

Throughout its time here, it was used for official duties such as ferrying our first President, Yusof bin Ishak: he is most well-known for gracing his visage on our dollar notes. Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh also travelled in it when he visited Singapore in 1959. Interestingly, it does not sport a number plate but a crown insignia instead. You can see how the landaulette would work in the above picture.

Unfortunately, it was sent back to Europe some time after 1965, where it was owned by a automobile collector: as seen below he took it to the Swiss Alps in one of his many adventures. It was also loaned for use in official ceremonies back in the UK as well: the late Queen Mother and Princess Alexandria travelled in it before. Currently, someone else bought it from the collector and it is now available for wedding rentals and film features, while sporting a nice number plate too.

It boggles the mind to imagine that such a grand, imposing car literally ruled the roads so long ago. Such a sight would be very uncommon nowadays, as flashiness is generally frowned upon in the current economic climate. This was a car that commanded immediate respect from the poor to the rich, and it continues to strike awe even today. It would have been really cool to see it still around here, but it seems like good things must come to an end. I hope this has given you a sneak peek of the over-the-top grandeur that we used to possess!

[Credits to National Archives of Singapore, rrab.com and Google Images]

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