This 1912 Rolls Royce Ghost is the last word in luxury from a bygone era
Rory Smith is a motoring journalist and content creator, usually found in the pages of magazines or covering Formula E. He has a penchant for obscure shooting brakes, concept sketches and all things automotive.
The phrase, “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” is a little overused these days and no more so than in the world of motor cars. In this context, it suggests we’d rather return to the days when cars worked on a bi-annual basis and safety was yet to be invented. However, very occasionally, there are exceptions worthy of the expression.
One of those exceptions is 'Nellie'. At 107 years old, she is quite possibly the most used 1900s Rolls Royce Ghost in existence. Driven regularly by her owner Katie Forrest, Nellie first rolled of the Derby factory floor in 1912, destined for a life in India at the hands of Rolls Royce Bombay, where she was officially christened the 'Taj Mahal.'
Promptly purchased by the Maharaja of Nabha, the car returned to the UK in 1990s after Katie's father found her while looking for the right Ghost to tackle a special Alpine Rally. Still proudly wearing her nameplate below the windscreen, Nellie has been driven across England, Europe, and even Australia.
Of course, in the world of ultra-luxury, first impressions are crucial. Heck, they’re everything and, naturally, Nellie doesn’t disappoint in this department – she was born for it. Her height, presence, grandeur and exquisite mish-mash of rectangles, curves, brass, wood, leather and canvas are a sight to behold. The mind boggles at what the average Indian farmer must have thought when faced with the high-riding Ghost as it blasted through the dusty back roads.
Her coachwork - made up of hand-beaten panels – seamlessly fit together, flowing over the chassis while shielding the Ghost’s precious occupants from the harsh realities of the outside world. Fitted to the running boards are beautifully crafted wooden boxes, which sit alongside two brass horns and, err, an exterior champagne cooler. Well, it wouldn’t be a Rolls without one, would it?
Covering the engine, the thin metal casing peels and folds away to reveal a busy network of crisscrossing brass pipes, cylinders and belts all methodically laid out and working in harmony. But it’s on the inside that the level of absolute luxury becomes apparent. Behind the wheel, the mint-green, pinned leather appears to have been lifted from the drawing-room of Whites Club in London.
More Chesterfield than multi-functional massage chairs, the space and comfort in the cabin is immense as we bumble along the back roads of the South Downs.
On my right is the option of two horns – one is a gentle cartoon honk and the other is more akin to an air raid siren. The story goes that the softer honk was to warn – but certainly not frighten – the nomadic holy cows while the siren was to blast and deafen any careless humans. Only in India.
After admiring every angle, it’s possible to see how a machine like Nellie would never be built in this day and age. In her case, they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Cars like Nellie are precious relics from a bygone era. A time when luxury didn’t mean laziness and motoring was a celebration – a rare privilege confined to only a handful of incredibly affluent and often eccentric individuals.
Even the joyous (if not slightly terrifying) task of shifting gears in the Ghost requires a degree of dapper dexterity. “You just have to dance with her,” says Katie, calmly, as I attempted to hand brake, change gear and steer all at the same time. Never has a phrase been so befitting of a car. Dancing – particularly the ballroom variety – is exactly how driving the Ghost feels. Elegant and majestic but so rarely experienced in today’s world. Long live, Nellie and thank you – the pleasure’s all mine.