By Lynn J. Richardson
Taking a wonderful old car apart, and putting it back together appeals to Bob Williams on a multitude of levels. And with a background in graphic design, architecture and construction, one could say his most recent project is hitting on all cylinders.
Williams’ car crush is a 1934 Rolls Royce 2025 limousine, a classic vehicle he is painstakingly and lovingly restoring.
From refurbishing the burl walnut dash and trim, to handcrafting new door handles, Williams is enjoying every step of the process.
“Art is a therapy,” Williams said. “This is the same. It is a real joy for me to mess with this thing.
“It may seem unusual,” he added, “but even as a very young man, I wanted an old Rolls to restore. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”
Infatuated with this particular model, Williams explained that in 1934, not only did Rolls only make two models, the Phantom and the 2025, they were making just over 500 cars a year, compared to Ford’s 40,000 a month. There were only 3,825 2025s made; only half are known to still exist.
“That gives you the rarity of this particular car,” he said.
The enormity of the vehicle is amazing; it completely fills half of Williams’ Jonesborough garage, from front to back. And even though there are scattered car parts and tools everywhere, Williams’ enthusiasm is evidence of the fun he is having.
Williams started seriously searching for his Rolls five years ago. After looking high and low for two years, he found the listing in Hemmings Motor News. It was almost too good to be true.
There it was, titled to Jimmy Janacek, Missoula Auto Museum, Missoula, Montana. But it was now on the West Coast, in the hands of Janacek’s daughter, Ana M. DeCoste, who was looking to sell it. It had been on display in a San Marcos, California museum that was closing and the museum’s owner was clearing out the stock.
“My first question was, ‘Was it already sold?’ They almost always are,” Williams said. “They sell the minute they show up.”
Not this time. Still available, it was in running condition, but needed a lot of TLC — exactly what Williams had hoped for. And, it was only missing five small parts.
It was a process, he says, but after some tough negotiating, Williams’ offer was accepted.
That was three years ago.
Since then, Williams says, he has spent much of his spare time working on the car. Even after three years of work, Williams says he thinks it will take at least two more to complete the restoration.
But then, nothing with a Rolls happens quickly.
“Rolls wasn’t successful in the United States because people here want immediacy,” Williams explained. “They aren’t willing to wait a year for a car.
“On a Rolls, it would take five people to build the chassis; five more to build the body. And, up until 1934, Rolls made every nut, bolt and screw on their cars,” he added.
All bodies are individually handmade, he explained. No two are alike. And every part on it is numbered. On Williams’ car, that number is 6026.
Williams has taken the car completely apart and is dealing with each and every tiny part.
All in, his wife, Nansee, has helped him choose the leather to upholster the seats and has even bought her husband an authentic vintage leather chauffeur’s cap and an original Rolls Royce pin for the front of the cap.
The couple has joined a Rolls Royce owners group, and they both are enjoying learning more and more about their fascinating car every day. Plans beyond simply restoring the car to its original glory include adding power windows, air conditioning and a sound system. And instead of replacing original curtains, Williams will use tinted glass.
“The aficionados won’t approve,” Williams said with a chuckle.
Nansee said she started understanding how amazing the project would be when she saw Williams’ take the 83 horsepower engine, which was completely black, and bring it back to gleaming silver.
“I realized then this was going to be a long beautiful process,” she said.
The only thing Williams is sure of is that he owns a remarkable car with a mysterious past.
According to documentation Williams received from Rolls Royce foundation, the car originally cost $15,724.80(US) in 1934, and was first sold to C. J. Rhodes of Huddersfield, England, an industrial town 90 miles north of London.
Because of that information, Williams believes the vehicle is somehow connected to Cecil John Rhodes, founder of the De Beers Diamond company, formed in 1888, and the Rhodes Scholar program of Oxford University. However, since Rhodes passed away in 1902, Williams now believes the car may have been purchased by his estate.
The car’s trail goes cold after that, and there is no explanation of how it arrived in the United States.
“I don’t really know where the car went, who drove it or how it got to the U.S.,” Williams said. “I guess we’ll never know.”