A Rolls-Royce in the Family

The Atlantic Lady, Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club, Fall 2017

Sometimes an unexpected new acquaintance sneaks into our lives and captures our hearts. Pamela looked askance at the large bright blue car that her husband Landis steered up the driveway in 1950. “The kids and I were sitting at the front entry when he pulled up in what he explained was his ‘new car.’ He replied to my query about where he would put it with ‘I will build a garage.’ Meanwhile I had been saving money for a fancy party dress for one of our daughters.”

For Landis, it was love at first sight of the 1927 Rolls-Royce Springfield Phantom I Playboy Roadster. Instantly enamored with the stately beauty he saw winding the roads of New Canaan, Conn., Landis followed the driver to neighboring Wilton, offered him $1,000 and drove the car home. How he later retrieved his other car remains a mystery.

“The Mistress,” as nicknamed by Pamela, chauffeured Landis on client calls. The Roadster has become a family member, fittingly cared for and nurtured while housed in the two-car garage promised and designed by the renowned architect-owner. Landis continued to enjoy the car, taking the family on Sunday ice cream runs, which drew stares that young daughter Ainslie recalls as “disconcerting and wonderful.” At one point, Pamela hid the much-loved Rolls from extended family who were pressuring them to sell the car.

In 1990, Landis engaged Automotive Restorations Inc., Stratford, Conn., to restore the car’s body, interior and top and remedy mechanical issues. Frank Cooke of The Vintage Garage, North Brookfield, Mass., along with his right-hand man Norm Gaudette were also involved to good effect.

Landis called upon Cooke to remedy the car’s “guacamole gears” in a July 1990 letter: “I have always felt frustrated by the limited high speed available with my S106PM, like so many other cars but especially Rollses of its period where apparently chauffeurs and especially owner-drivers found the non-synchromesh gearshift so cumbersome as to call for a low enough set of ratios to permit starting out in second and indeed in high gear. Though I stayed away from these extreme tests I found hill-climbing around sharp turns without downshifting from high gear almost improperly easy, while on level runs any speed above the middle forties seemed to bring the motor to painfully high rpms.”

In Landis’ correspondence to Cooke, he cited the May-June 1990 The Flying Lady article “Giving the Gears to the Guacamole Ghost” by John Harris who resolved the same issue through “the successful alternation of the rear axle gear ratio on one of his Rolls-Royces.” Cooke responded, assuring Landis that “we are very familiar with the changing of the gear ratio differential on your car and can do it for you” with “gears about $1,800.00 from England.”

Grandson Gabe adopted the car as his childhood “babysitter,” whiling away hours in the car’s luxurious interior. His continued love of the car prompted Pamela to keep it after Landis’ passing in 1991. Gabe kept apprised of the restoration’s progress through its completion in 1992, and with Pamela tends to its ongoing maintenance and care. She drove it to a December 1992 RROC holiday party with The Atlantic Lady reporting that she was “happy that her automobile made the trip uneventfully and that her red-cheeked rumble seat passenger…survived the cold ride as well.”

1927 Rolls-Royce Springfield Phantom I Playboy Roadster No S106PM was built on a chassis manufactured at the Company’s Springfield, Mass., factory. The car sat unsold as did many other costly luxury machines after the crash of 1929. It was rebodied in the early 1930s in elegant Playboy Roadster form by Brewster & Company coachworks of Long Island City, NY. Attractively decked out in sporting style, the car soon sold and has enjoyed quite a life since.

Photo courtesy Lime Rock Park

Handsome and elegant, this well-cared-for car has garnered numerous awards at Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club Annual Meets and Atlantic Region Concours, including National Award Winner as well as First in Class and Chief Judge’s Award, respectively. Outings at the Lime Rock Park Historic Festival Sunday in the Park Concours d’Elegance have earned both Best in Class and Skip’s Sunday Best. Most recently, the car clinched the Award for Timeless Elegance at the 2017 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance Americana, sitting among its family on the show field; this was the fourth time the car was an invited entrant since the 1996 inaugural show.

A current typical summer afternoon finds the three—Pamela and Gabe with the Playboy Roadster—at lunch seated within sight of each other. A new generation embraces “The Mistress” with 10-year-old great-grandson William enjoying weekend “get-about” drives.