Archive for February 15th, 2011

15
Feb
11

THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE FULLY RESTORED FROM THE MOVIE OF THE SAME NAME!

Intro by Nate Truman

Unless you have the “disease” of seeing a hunk of rusting parts and have the unstoppable yearning to hand polish, repair, repaint and restore them into a gleaming machine like it just came off the showroom floor you won’t ever really understand the mind of a Classic Car restorer.  I walk through junk yards and see finished cars, not money flying out of my pocket and endless hours of work, pain and problems.   Such is the mind set of the writer of today’s featured car.   The Yellow Rolls Royce has a huge cast of super stars that perform in three stories, but the only cast member that is in all three is the car they all own, a Yellow Rolls Royce! (Star car crossgeeking fans bonus appearance, a similar model RR in Yellow was also “Nevil Sinclair’s” transportation to the Griffith Observatory at the end of “The Rocketeer” and Nevil was played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton!)

1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II LHD Newport Town Car from rocketeer

Below is the story of the restoration of the original car from the film.  I left in all the details for those who like to hear the journey!  Neal has done a top notch job and brought back this famous Rolls Royce to it’s original glory at great cost in sweat, money and time!   If you love star cars and classic movies check out “The Yellow Rolls Royce” it’s a great date movie! Check out this all star cast!

Ingrid Bergman Ingrid Bergman
Gerda Millett
Rex Harrison Rex Harrison
Lord Charles Frinton – The Marquess of Frinton
Shirley MacLaine Shirley MacLaine
Mae Jenkins
Jeanne Moreau Jeanne Moreau
Lady Eloise Frinton – The Marchioness of Frinton
George C. Scott George C. Scott
Paolo Maltese
Omar Sharif Omar Sharif
Davich
Art Carney Art Carney

Neal and Lillian Kirkham own “The Yellow Rolls-Royce,” a 1931 Barker Sedanca De Ville, 9JS.

Neal and Lillian Kirkham now own and have restored the actual Rolls-Royce used in this 1965

Movie. (The film is available on VHS and DVD.)

Restoration of The Yellow Rolls-Royce

By Neal Kirkham

 

In 1987 I began searching for a formal, prewar Rolls with some
uniqueness. After considerable research, I decided that a Phantom II would be my choice. In classic car circles, the early thirties are generally considered to be the zenith of prewar styling. Also Sedanca de Villes, with open driver’s compartment, have a desirable flair, and they were prevalent on PII chassis. I also wanted a passenger compartment with an assortment of features such as vanities, picnic tables, jump seats and, hopefully, a cocktail cabinet. In my search through the RROC directory and register I found many PII Sedanca de Villes and wrote to their owners on the East and West coasts. Several were available for purchase but none had the features I wanted.

Subsequently I learned that Millard Newman had purchased 9JS, The Yellow Rolls-Royce, at an auction two years earlier. I called him and he said he was considering selling the car since he had just purchased an early Ghost at a Swiss auction and would have to make space for it. Additionally, the PII was really too new (1931) for his tastes. Since Lil and I were to visit Tampa in a few weeks to pick up our recently purchased 3 ½ litre Bentley, Millard suggested we drop by to look at the PII.

We flew to Tampa in mid-April of 1988, picked up the Bentley and drove to Millard and Margaret’s lovely home on Tampa Bay. Years before, when their collection outgrew their garage, they put a roof over the front courtyard of their home and added a new front door that opened to reveal the cars. These included a Silver Shadow estate wagon, a half dozen early Ghosts (pre WWI) and one PII. It did not take Lil and I long to decide that 9JS was the car we were seeking. It had all the features I had prescribed and, in addition, spotlights, opening windscreen, adjustable shock absorbers and an engine heater. We reached agreement on price that evening and left the next day on the first of many adventures in the Bentley.

After the P-II arrived at our home, I made a few minor repairs to make it run more smoothly and reliably. We drove the car on quite a few club events over the next two years but I became more and more disappointed with the steering (which required enormous effort during parking maneuvers), the dangerously slow acceleration and a top speed of about 65 mph. In an attempt to understand why the engine lacked power, I put a dial indicator on several valve spring retainers and rotated the crankshaft. Several cam lobes had worn .030 – .040″ and through their hardened surfaces, which meant future wear would accelerate. Unfortunately cam removal necessitates entire engine disassembly, a daunting project. Additionally the steering system would have to be overhauled.

 

 

Final installation of PII body to the chassis

9JS during final assembly approximately six weeks before Pebble Beach. Chris Le Barr, upholsterer, at work in his improvised shop in back.

A small sampling of the number of parts spread out in our party room.

Yellow Rolls-Royce photos by John Carey

 

 

A succession of owners after the movie was made (1965) left the car in a generally rundown condition. The gray rear interior had been replaced by tan and was poorly done. The cocktail cabinet, ladies vanity and the smokers cabinets for owner and driver had been stripped of their contents and all the tools were missing. Due to the car’s exotic history I thought it deserved better and began a lengthy dialogue to convince Lillian it should have a ground-up restoration. What else did I have to do in my retirement? Lillian reluctantly agreed and disassembly began in 1991 albeit with several interruptions.

The first of these was due to large pieces of body putty falling off our 3 ½ Litre Bentley. What’s more, I rationalized, it had incorrect taillights, front fender lights, , incorrect(for the ‘30s) metallic silver paint and an impossibly slow rear axle ratio. Consequently, I shipped the rear axle to Fiennes Restorations in Oxfordshire to receive an overhaul and “overdrive” crown wheel and pinion, while I stripped the body of paint (and buckets of body filler ). Since the aluminum bodywork would need much straightening and welding, the car was delivered to an expert aluminum panel beater, and I returned to the disassembly of the Phantom II.

The casual observer of a P II cannot possibly imagine the number of parts and the complexity of its chassis. The Bijur chassis lubrication system alone has hundreds of parts, as does the mechanical braking system with its servo (a form of power boost) . I recently read an article where several major restoration shops said their typical ground-up restoration required 2000 hours while a P II took them 6000!

In addition, My P II has several additional features, including a second set of shock absorbers (Andre Telecontrol) that the driver can adjust while the car is in motion. The system consists of two firewall-mounted hand pumps, two pressure gauges on the dashboard and two driver-controlled pressure adjustors (for front and rear shocks). Increased pressure from these control valves further expands rubber bladders at the shock units which results in increased pressure on friction discs and more damping action. There must be over 100 parts in this system..

 

P II chassis nearing completion.

 

During early stages of disassembly, I realized that my space problem was becoming acute. The body was removed from the chassis and resided on its subframe in our garage. The chassis was in my workshop where dismantling continued. The fenders, running boards and four bonnet pieces were in our only other available space which was our 20′ X 20′ “party” room, and its light tan carpet was not the proper place for greasy chassis parts. Consequently, as we disassembled, we restored sub-assemblies before moving them to the party room. By the mid -90s.the room was getting quite full and I began looking for more space.

 

 

The Bentley, the MG and the Maserati were projects that had to be completed to make room for the Yellow Rolls-Royce.

 

“The Yellow Rolls-Royce,” a 1931 Barker Sedanca De Ville, 9JS. Shown at Pebble Beach in 2004.

 

 

I resumed work on the P-II late in 2000, and now had room for all the P-II parts. As the restoration

progressed, Peter Lind was organizing the “Around The World” tour for 2004. I thought this would be a grand adventure and subsequently hired a local engine builder (who had done work for me before) to assemble the P-II engine in order that I might focus on chassis completion. About this time, I also hired a retired mechanical engineer and experienced car restorer to assist me a few days each week. Then in 2002, I hired an aluminum welder and panel beater to fix the many dents and tears in the P-II body. I thought there would be no problem finishing the car for Pebble Beach in 2004 and participating in the world tour. WRONG!

In October of 2002, I picked up the P-II engine which was about 90% assembled since the engine builder was in the process of moving to Canada. Subsequently we mounted the engine in the chassis and began to check valve lash. When we attempted to rotate the crank shaft (no spark plugs installed), it required about 100 lbs pull on a 3 foot bar to move it!” Obviously something was very wrong so we began a complete disassembly. Correction required crankshaft straightening as well as regrinding, repouing and machining of all the bearings. With vendor backlogs and broken promises, this work consumed a year and made participation in the World Tour impossible.

Once the body paneling was straightened and fatigue cracks and corrosion welded, the body was reinstalled on the chassis to make sure that bonnet, door and boot fits were acceptable. It was then removed and taken to the paint shop. Chassis restoration continued and included complete disassembly of the transmission, front and rear axles, brakes and, in short, every nut and bolt on the chassis. Bearings, seals and other worn parts were replaced. Hundreds of parts were repainted. All chrome pieces were stripped and brought home for restoration (dents etc), then polished before returning them to the plater for chrome.

Interior trim wood restoration was a major task. I stripped, sanded, stained and resprayed all trim wood with catalized polyester. This then had to be sanded flat with 220 grit up to 2000 grit and then polished. Trim wood in the driver’s compartment totals 33 pieces and in the passenger compartment, 29 pieces. These tasks required 5 weeks (12-hour-days). An unfortunate by-product of this activity is backlogs and broken promises, this work consumed a year and made participation in the World Tour impossible.

Once the body paneling was straightened and fatigue cracks and corrosion welded, the body was reinstalled on the chassis to make sure that bonnet, door and boot fits were acceptable. It was then removed and taken to the paint shop. Chassis restoration continued and included complete disassembly of the transmission, front and rear axles, brakes and, in short, every nut and bolt on the chassis. Bearings, seals and other worn parts were replaced. Hundreds of parts were repainted. All chrome pieces were stripped and brought home for restoration (dents etc), then polished before returning them to the plater for chrome.

Interior trim wood restoration was a major task. I stripped, sanded, stained and resprayed all trim wood with catalized polyester. This then had to be sanded flat with 220 grit up to 2000 grit and then polished. Trim wood in the driver’s compartment totals 33 pieces and in the passenger compartment, 29 pieces. These tasks required 5 weeks (12-hour-days). An unfortunate by-product of this activity is that I now have carpal tunnel syndrome mainly due to the repetitive nature of the sanding and polishing.

In the third quarter of 2003, the painters promised they would have all the body parts ready for assembly onto the chassis by February 1st. This fit nicely into my “schedule.” In actual fact, there is no possibility of making an accurate schedule on a unique car. Each week brings problems never anticipated on a complicated chassis. However, once all the bodywork was completed, except for filler and paint, a reasonably accurate painting schedule could be made. Imagine my displeasure when the last painted parts were installed one week before Pebble Beach – five months late!

Once the bare body (no doors, bonnet, wings, etc) was painted and bolted to the chassis, we were able to install the dashboard, connect instruments and finish the electrical wiring. My days, however, were getting more and more hectic. Beginning in April, I began four months of 80-hour weeks. Concurrently, my upholsterer began residence at our house and worked the same schedule. I had promised Lillian that I would never let this familiar pre-Pebble Beach problem happen again – so much for good intentions!

 

Let there be lights!” Yellow Rolls is equipped with a wide variety of spot and parking lights.

Well stocked liquor cabinet in front compartment assured that passenger riding with chauffeur would not go thirsty.

One wonders if Jeanne Moreau, Shirley Maclaine and Ingrid Bergman used this built-in vanity to repair their makeup during the shooting of ‘The Yellow Rolls-Royce.’

Jump seat and another liquor cabinet were fitted into rear compartment.

About a week before Pebble we were ready to start the engine. Experienced engine rebuilders warned me not to let the engine idle for extended periods or the piston rings might not seat properly. They recommend driving the car to put the engine under load as soon as possible. This required installation of wings and running boards to prevent rock chips in the paint. I had been apprehensive over starting the engine since I am not an experienced engine rebuilder; this was my first P-II rebuild and I had installed several internal modifications. To my delight the engine started quickly and ran smoothly, albeit with a few leaks at external oil tubing and water joints.

My next thrill was to take the car for a drive. Since we had totally disassembled the braking system during restoration and our driveway has a 20% downward slope, I tried to plan what I would do if the brakes did not restrain the 6000 pound jewel. Nothing came to mind! Fortunately, all went well with only a few minor problems surfacing.

Synopsis of The Yellow Rolls-Royce Movie

MGM released a film entitled “The Yellow Rolls-Royce” in 1965. It was unusual that an automobile was the star. The story follows a 1931 Phantom II (9JS) while it was in the hands of three different owners in the 1930s. The first owner, Rex Harrison, purchases the car new as an anniversary gift for his wife, Jeanne Moreau. Rex returned it to the dealership a few days later after discovering his wife and his assistant (Edmond Perdom) behaving badly in the rear seat with all five shades drawn. 

In the second segment, the car is on a showroom floor in Italy when it is discovered by Shirley MacLaine. She persuades her boyfriend, George C. Scott, to buy it and they begin a tour of Italy with Art Carney as chauffeur. Shirley subsequently meets an itinerant photographer, Alain Delon) and when George returns to the U.S. on Mafia business, Shirley and Alain swim in the grotto (Amalfi Coast) and then retire to the rear seat of the Yellow Rolls-Royce and draw all the shades.

The car is next purchased by a wealthy American, Ingrid Bergman, who wanted a proper car for her visit to Yugoslavia to see the prince. She is persuaded by a Yugoslavian partisan, Omar Sharif, to get him across theborder, hidden in the boot. Ingrid spends some time transporting soldiers for Omar and, inevitably, is bedded down by him and completely forgets about the prince.

The film was released in the U.S. only on laser disk. (It is not available in stores on tape or DVD). It was released in Canada on video tape or DVD in both English and French. Recently U.S. compatible video tapes and DVD copies have appeared on eBay. (Search on “The Yellow Rolls-Royce.”) Alternately the movie is shown on the TCM channel (Turner Classic Movies – which currently owns the film).

To see their schedule go to the TCM website and search on the movie title. If it is not on their near term schedule – message will say the title could not be found. When it is in the schedule you will be given the date and time. (Eastern.)

 

 

Editors’ Note:

We recently saw a short documentary on TCM about the making of the Yellow Rolls-Royce movie which, since it was shot on location, required the car to be shipped from London to Italy and from there to be driven over the Alps to Yugoslavia. It also indicates that the car was originally blue, but was painted yellow for the film.

 

We departed for the Pebble Beach “Weekend” Thursday in order to attend the Ford party that night. The ambient temperature was 90 degrees fahrenheit near Salinas and the engine temperature was 90 degrees centigrade so I stopped and added ‘Water Wetter’ to improve heat transfer to the coolant. Newly rebuilt engines have internal friction, mostly due to piston rings abrading cylinder walls, and this generates additional heat. I stopped again about 20 minutes later and found the left rear tire was almost flat and had to be changed. A 20″ wheel with steel “disks” covering the spokes probably weighs 80 pounds and must be lifted out of its well clear of the fender to avoid paint scratches. This is not one of my favorite things to do! 

The remainder of this 75 mile journey was, I thought, without incident until I discovered my turn signals and brake lights were inoperative(2 blown fuses). We missed Concours Italiano Friday while attending to these problems. Saturday morning was also a very busy day (no Historic Races) polishing, cleaning, and detailing the car with help from Lillian and our “kids.” In the afternoon we took 9JS to the home of a friend in Pacific Grove where it was on display for his annual Car Guys party. We left the car there late in the afternoon and went on to another party.

The next morning, I arrived at 6:30 AM to retrieve the PII and to drive it to the field at Pebble Beach. The weather was foggy, cool and very damp. The PII had always started instantly in warm and dry surroundings. It would not start! When the problem occurred I was emotionally and physically drained from the months of frantic activity and unable to rationally diagnose the problem. After 20 minutes I covered the car and departed since I was obligated to attend the judges meeting. I was completely demoralized. During the meeting, several RROC members offered encouragement and assistance which caused me to work out a plan. When the meeting ended, I went to the judging field in search of George Colgett who is well-known to the Region members and owns Acme Car Service, a local facility specializing in Rolls-Royce and Bentley. He had been at my home to offer much appreciated help during the final days of assembly and debug. I found George and my son drove him to the car where he diagnosed the problem as a burned out coil resistance element. This resistor is in series with the coil and allows 12 volts to the coil to aid starting and a lesser voltage as the resistor becomes hot in order to prolong the coil life. George by-passed the resistor.

The car started and he reached the show field mid-morning to cheers from the crowd. When I finished judging the pre-war small HP class, I made my way to the pre-war large HP class to have 9JS judged. Mid-afternoon I learned the car had won the Lucius Beebe award. This is an annual award at Pebble Beach for the Rolls-Royce in the field that Beebe would have chosen as most elegant.

Beebe was a famous bon vivant, man about town and an owner of Rolls-Royces and a private rail car. He was also a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle which published his review of the Yellow Rolls-Royce film.

The foregoing tale chronicles 13 years of my restoration activity To those who think restorers like me are deranged, I suggest you watch the program “Car Crazy” (Speed Channel). Based on car collectors and restorers featured in these episodes I might qualify as approaching normalcy.!

In retrospect, being normal is not all that important. Restoration gives one a gratifying sense of accomplishment and driving these cars as they were intended to be driven can provide either thrills or relaxed touring, depending on the event and the car selected. And most important, these events bring together like-minded people and foster lasting friendships.

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Onc gets a pronounced sense of 1930’s high style from items such as the door handles and veneer on rear liquor cabinet.

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Highly polished coachbuilder’s plate is a lovely touch.

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Wheel covers on spare tires are works of art.

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Art Deco theme is carried even to the illuminated license plate holder.

 

click to enlarge these pictures

 

PA160009p.JPG (94817 bytes)Driver is surrounded by beautiful woodwork 

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Engine was restored to exactly how it looked when it left the factory.

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Tools in their case gleam like jewels in a jewel box.

 

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Can’t you just see yourself at the wheel of this magnificent motor car?

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Items on the scuttle opposite the tools

 




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