By on March 31, 2012

Most car guys are well aware of the extraordinary sales pitch required to sell a spouse on a car project.

The term “eternal enemies” has been used many times to define the battle between wives with no sense of humor on one side and guys with old cars on the other side.

This incredibly rare 1939 Rolls Royce Wraith was one of those sporadic cases where the bride actually ordered her husband to build a car.

Typical stories at North American car shows are about Camaros and Cudas, not Bentleys and Aston Martins; with all due respect to the Pebble Beach crowd. That’s something you learn in the trenches at typical car shows, so when this 39 Rolls appeared at an all makes and models event, it was a magnet for viewers.

This car has an unusual history. Mulliners of Birmingham built it exclusively for one customer. Apparently the owner had Royal ties and he definitely had deep pockets to buy this hand-built car. There is no doubt that it met with his wife’s approval because she insisted on a 2nd build so her chauffeur could drive her to British high-society events. This is the second car.

Howard Lengert is the current owner of this classic Rolls, and he is an expert on these legendary cars. He explained that his car is built on the pre-WWII 491 chassis. This Wraith came to the United States several years ago, and Howard tracked it down in Vancouver B.C. after one of the Canadian RR members imported it to Canada.

Several years went by before Howard was able to pry the car away from the last owner.

He took great pains to explain that details such as the whole half-sawn walnut found on the sills and seat backs not only had to be finished to exacting detail; it also had to have a symmetrical matching wood grain. Most Rolls Royces are done to exacting detail, but this one was done to please a guy’s high society wife. Pressure on this job had to be off the charts.

Oddly enough, the chauffeur’s area is the only place where leather is found. In this pre-seat warmer era only, the hired hands sat on cold leather and Her Highness sat on warm cloth seats because you can bet that Jeeves had warmed this Rolls up for at least an hour in the winter. There’s another functional option for the hired help. The driver’s side window drops down fast so Jeeves could talk to the other lower class working guys like gas station attendants, parking lot jockeys and Buckingham Palace employees. As Howard explained, “he can talk to somebody really fast if he has to”.

Howard was drawn to the rare “razor’s edge” styling on this Rolls. It did stand out at the show for that reason. In other words, it didn’t quite have that Rolls Royce flow to the lines – this looked more like something that George Barris may have tweaked a little back in the 50s.

The best part about this car is its current owner. Howard doesn’t trailer queen this classic. He drives it. He does this in spite of the crowds that it draws and the impatience of some freeway drivers. He’s very comfortable at 50 mph on the highway thanks to the newly introduced in ‘39 independent front suspension and power brakes.

The 6-cylinder engine is “quite smooth,” but Howard admits that it runs smoother on 91 or better octane. He did find that ethanol blended gas has a profoundly bad effect on the legendary Rolls Royce motor. That’s the cost of 21st Century movements towards green technology. Howard balances that with the knowledge that in 1939 Britain, they were lucky to get any grade of ‘petrol’ thanks to a guy named Hitler.

Howard is never going to sell this car because, as he points out, “it took me ten years to get it”. Instead, he’s just going to enjoy this rare Rolls Royce. Any doubt that he’s a real car guy vanishes when you look at this car – it’s got dirt on the floor and water bottles on the seat. In short, it’s got that lived-in look that real car guys who actually drive their cars can appreciate.

You judge a car by how pristine it is, but you judge a real car guy like Howard by the empty bottles on the seat and the mud on the floor.

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9 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: This 1939 Rolls Royce Wraith is Number Two of Two...”

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    Incredibly rare? There were about 500 Wraiths made which rates about the same as the Camargue in the Rolls-Royce league table of rareness. It’s certainly not a common model but I wouldn’t describe it as rare like you would a Phantom IV or a 30hp. ‘Incredibly rare’ would be best reserved for the likes of a Legalimit – of which none are known to exist.

  • avatar

    …Most car guys are well aware of the extraordinary sales pitch required to sell a spouse on a car project…

    Not if you have the right woman…my wife is fine with car projects. As long as keeping her car in top shape comes first. I feel bad for those guy who grumble about wives who refuse to “allow” for a hobby like car restoration or worse, forcing a sale because a “baby is on the way”….as if that is a reason to not have a hobby.

  • avatar

    Great car and a great read. Your point about car guys is spot on. For awhile I was into Vettes, and I restored a C-3. Actually, I rescued it. The paint was faded, brakes and wheel bearings, not to mention the engine, were either shot or on their last legs. The frame was rotted to almost nothing just in front of the driver’s side rear wheel.

    A year later I was showing it and even took it to Beach Bend to run it through the quarter mile.

    At car shows, I watched as other guys would literally clean their tire treads, while my daughter and I would lay our bagels and cream cheese and juice on the big backside of the Vette. It made for the perfect table.

    Guys would scowl at the sight and the go back to polishing.

    Granted, my Vette wasn’t concours and it certainly wasn’t rare. But neither was most (if not all – really) of theirs. The difference was that unlike so many, I had had my hands on every square inch of that car, every nut and bolt. And I knew if my bagels broke something, I could fix it. All these guys knew was their polish. For them, polish was a religion because they never dared venture beyond the rag, into a tool box.

    They preferred to write checks.

    I found solace with the real car guys, whose nails were dirty. These guys were nice and fun and happy. We shared our bagels with them and watched the other guys clean their treads.

    • 0 avatar

      You sound like me. I bought my ’77 Chevelle which is neither collectible nor sexy, what with 4 doors. It’s original paint that’s faded, some spots it’s down to the primer, and other its down to bare metal. I keep it waxed to protect it, but I’ve rebuilt the suspension, swapped transmissions, tuned it up, fixed the A/C and generally cleaned it, but I’m not afraid to drive it in the rain, on dirt roads, basically drive it like a real car.

      In the 3 years I’ve owned it, I’ve put 35,000 miles on it driving it to shows, in rallies, on road trips, to work. It’s not my primary car, but it does get driven when the DD is in need.

      I love cars that get driven, not trailer queens. The point of them was always to be driven.

  • avatar

    Interior is kind of boring for a custom made Rolls. The insides of Duesenbergs and Cadillacs from early in that decade were a lot more impressive.

  • avatar

    This car looks just like the one my buddy bought in 1968 for $4,000. He told me it was a 1952, but I thought it looked much older and it resembles no ’52 model I have ever seen pictured.

    It was rear ended soon after he got it, and the wooden frame was cracked. He got $4,000, but never fixed it. In court, the judge said, “$4,000, what was it, a Rolls Royce?” The young cop boasted, “yessir, my first one!” You couldn’t tell it had been hit by looking at it, the bumper was not even dented.

    I don’t think it affected drive-ability either. You could not feel the road at all, and the only sound you heard was leaves under the tires. That impressed me but I couldn’t imagine owning it. I thought if you told people you drove a rolls, they would expect to see a long, sleek beauty like the one on Burke’s Law, and it would be embarrassing to drive up in this thing! My taste has improved somewhat.

  • avatar

    I think it’s important to distinguish rarity by the fact that this car was one of two that were built with specific Rolls-sanctioned features for one customer. Think Yenko Camaro- only much rarer and with a British accent.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      The fact that there’s two of them actually makes it common not rare! The pre-war Wraiths were supplied as chassis to whatever coach builder the customer wanted. One-offs were pretty much the order of the day but making a couple of identical cars was also common particularly with working cars such as hearses or embassy vehicles.

      I can see that this car is special in that it has an interesting back-story and that it is isn’t over restored and clearly used, but it certainly isn’t rare as such.

      Here’s another by the way…its sister vehicle?

  • avatar
    J Sutherland

    I just want to add that this was unique because it was one of two built by Mulliners of Birmingham. I really like interviewing guys like Howard because he was a grassroots guy with a unique car plus you get a free education about cars like this RR.

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