Heritage on the Road: Rolls Royce Interview
In June 2018, we had the pleasure of meeting Steve Traynor, owner of a vintage Rolls Royce 40/50. After meeting in Steve’s breakfast shop in Norfolk, our MD Mark Wilkinson got to interviewing him about his Rolls.
Mark: Steve, how did you come about owning this beautiful car?
Steve: Well, it was handed down to me by my dad who had it handed down by his uncle, George Milligen. He bought the car in about 1950, from a funeral director in Jersey, so it was originally a funeral car. Before that it was owned by a Lady Lucy Houston, who was the wife of Robert Houston, the MP for Liverpool back in 1900 – he bought the car for her. She was quite a wealthy woman, and she gave about £200,000 in 1930 to Supermarine to develop the Spitfire.
This car has quite some provenance, we’ve even had some letters from Rolls Royce about its history. I’ve loved driving it since inheriting it five or six years ago, it’s just great fun to drive.
Mark: So you’re actually a big believer in using it and enjoying the experience of owning a vintage car?
Steve: Cars are supposed to be driven, not put in a showroom and polished every day. It’s what they were designed to do, and that’s what I love doing with it. I’ve even gone into Tesco’s in it, because if it’s a nice day then why not?
Mark: When was the last time you took it out?
Steve: About three weeks ago; it was a lady’s 102nd birthday and we took her out in it – the car is 104, older than she is! We took her to the seaside and had a nice time, she enjoyed having a nice old ride in a classic car.
Mark: You’ve got some great bits of paperwork here with the car. I love the manual referring to the chauffer; it was obviously a very aristocratic vehicle to have.
Steve: Yeah, that is just a copy obviously so I can get my greasy fingers all over it when I’m trying to look through it, I mean we do some of the maintenance ourselves.
Mark: So it was sort of the Haynes manual of its day then?
Steve: The Haynes manual, yeah. It was given to Rolls-Royce Owners, and it tells you everything that you need to know, where to grease.
Mark: How often to oil it-
Steve: Yeah, yeah although I must admit obviously oils these days are a lot better back than they were back in 1914, 1900 whenever it was, so where it says in there that you have to service it every 500 miles, well you can give or take 100 miles these days.
Mark: I’d take it that 500 miles took a long time to do back then anyway-
Steve: Well you’d’ve thought so, yeah. Well, the cars don’t run that fast anyway they’ll tinker along for 80, 40, 45 miles an hour no problems at all. This particular one is the one that Rolls Royce, they had a race between a few car manufacturers from Edinburgh to London. This model of Rolls Royce is the one that did the best, it did the best by getting to Edinburgh to London in the fastest time, using the least amount of petrol
Mark: So they even measured petrol?
Steve: Yeah and it was all that side of things as well, and I think at the time it was one of the fastest cars around, and I think somewhere (you can have a research on it) that the track at Brooklands, that car reached over 80, 90 miles per hour
Mark: Wow that’s going for it –
Steve: It certainly is, yeah
Mark: Because the 40/50, I didn’t realise, actually relates to the power, doesn’t it?
Steve: Well, it’s, part of it is about their taxation, so, I think the 40 bit is about the taxation and the 50 is the break horsepower & most old cars have got that two numbers, so part of it is their taxation code and the other part is their brake horsepower. Like, the Vauxhall 30/98.
Mark: Oh, okay.
Steve: I can’t remember which way around it is, obviously the 98 is the brake horsepower, and 30 is the category of the taxation that that car would come into, so, and that’s what it was.
Mark: So, you were telling me earlier about it being coach built and obviously here in the manual there’s about the chassis and the engine, which the original specification & then you went off and-
Steve: Yeah, so when you went and bought a Rolls Royce or went to a sales showroom, you never bought a complete car, you only bought the chassis and the engine, so then you would have to go and take it to a coachbuilder, to get the bodywork put on it. The one we got on there at the moment is a Coles body so that’s Coles of London, this is the one that the Royal Family used for all their Rolls Royce’s and everything. There’s a plate on the side of the car that says Cole’s of London.
Mark: That art’s been somewhat lost hasn’t it now with options, and all the different tick box lists-
Steve: Yeah heated seats and all that, you’ll find none of that in our car.
Mark: So, you do quite a lot with car clubs, don’t you? You’re part of the Rolls Royce enthusiasts club.
Steve: Yeah, I am part of it, I have joined it as they do a few rallies and stuff but I’m quite selective of which one’s I want to go to; because some of them are just sort of parking the car up, walking around the car and that’s it. The one’s that I’ve been to have been really nice, where there’s actually something going on as well. So, we went down to an air show, a vintage air show that was also a car rally as well, because we love doing the car rallies and speaking to people, because you can look at some cars and other old cars but sometimes that’s all you’re doing, as I said before I like to get in the car and drive it around, that’s what they’re meant to be doing.
Mark: And how do you find maintaining it, you do a lot of the work yourself?
Steve: We do quite a bit of it our self, large stuff we can’t really do, obviously, but plugs, points, oil changes, general maintenance and oiling all the nipples as well, and we do all that ourselves yeah; and its just great fun! The actual mechanical side of it, the engineering side of it is fabulous to look at, just to think, some bloke in Derby was actually on a lathe trying to make all this by hand, none of it has been computer generated, or machine lasered, it’s all been done by somebody in a factory, just, everything fits perfectly together, and it’s obviously been taken care of, time and effort to put that together.
Mark: The crafting and workmanship in it is amazing, yeah. Have you had to have much done, to it?
Steve: A few things, yeah, we had to have the clutch refurbished, and an exhaust put on, you can’t exactly go into kick-fit and ask if they have an exhaust for this Rolls Royce mate. So, the tyres we have to send away for, specially, as well, that’s a different company, but apart from that no, a lot of stuff we’ve got on that car is original.
Mark: Yeah, I was going to say, you’ve had a few modern upgrades, so what sort of things have you had done?
Steve: So, we’ve had a, well Uncle George did this, he had an electric start put on it and electric indicators on it as well, and that’s about it really.
Mark: Keeping it to a minimum, yeah, and how do you feel about upgrading classic and vintage vehicles?
Steve: I think with, you know the modern roads, you need things like indicators and they are obviously still old-style indicators that don’t flash as much as the old modern style ones do, but you still feel like you need them on, just from the safety point of view more than anything else. And particularly do you want to be cranking a car every day?
Mark: No, no I guess not, gives you a good workout though, I’d’ve thought-
Steve: Yeah exactly! So, the electric start is sort of an easier way of getting the car started and running really.
Mark: So, the 40/50 is the predecessor to the Ghost, which-
Steve: Well the 40/50 is classed as the Ghost, enthusiasts refer to them as the 40/50, but after I think 1950, all cars of the 40/50 got classed with this Silver Ghost. Actually, there is only one Silver Ghost, and that’s the AX222 number plate, which is the silver Rolls Royce vintage Rolls Royce, which is the only one they ever called the Silver Ghost, and just everything after that 1920 got labelled with that Silver Ghost-
Mark: It’s where modern branding started, really-
Steve: I suppose yeah. We hadn’t got the spirit of ecstasy on our bonnet, because they didn’t come with them, so later on when you bought a Rolls Royce it came with a flying lady on it, but before that it was an optional extra, you had to buy it, so we’ve not had one on there, the one we have on there is a very rare RAC membership badge, it’s got the Union Jack on one side and a picture of the king on the other side, so when you would be driving abroad, you’d flip it around so people would know you’d be from England.
Mark: So what sort of memories do you have of the car? I suppose you came across it with Uncle George, back in the day?
Steve: Yeah, you know it was sat in one of the garages with three other Silver Ghosts at the time, but we kept this one as it was the one my Dad learnt to drive vintage cars in, and he’s now taught me how to drive it as well, and that’s why we’ve kept it-
Mark: So, it’s got a real sort of family significance for you.
Steve: Yeah it sorts of has, yeah, and Uncle George had a large collection, we couldn’t keep all of them, the other car we’ve kept is the Vauxhall 30/98, which was George’s car when he was 17.
Mark: So that was his learner driver car?
Steve: Basically yeah, and it’s just as I say, because it’s been in the family, because it was Georges car that’s why we’ve kept it and that’s why I’ve kept it.
Mark: Yeah, so as I say are there any particular memories that stand out over the years in it?
Steve: In the Rolls? Not major, some of them are most- Well I remember Uncle George picking us up from Birmingham New Street Station in a Rolls, it wasn’t that Rolls Royce, but it was a Rolls Royce, and as kids of 13, getting in the back of a Rolls Royce in 1950, Wraith I think it was, and it’s got electric windows and all the decanter stuff in the back its really like wow!
Mark: Pouring yourself drinks in the back; get yourself a whisky!
Steve: Going down through the Queensway Tunnel in the, thinking you’re the bee’s knees in that-
Mark: Well in all fairness you were!
Steve: But with the car, the main thing, it was my dad teaching me how to drive it, that’s going to stick with me for a while, because it hasn’t got a sort of synchromesh gear system in it, and it’s all double clutch and-
Mark: It wasn’t a hop in and drive it away experience-
Steve: Yeah of course not, and then dad would get it out and we’d find a nice quiet road where I could crunch the gears and not hold up the traffic and that sort of thing, which I still do now, you know, but not as often now.
Mark: Yeah and I guess people don’t really mind seeing you heading of a bit of traffic-
Steve: Well yeah, you’d be surprised, when you’ve got an old car like that, people are really like… There’s usually two kinds of people, some don’t appreciate that there’s no braking on it, a lot of people, and don’t realise there’s no power steering so they don’t really get out of the way, they just think it’s like a modern car, then other times when you do have to get out the way, they’re all very nice about it, there’s no honking horns or “what are you doing?” all that sort of side of things.
I remember once, the tyre went on the car, and I was driving it, and because it’s got an inner tube, the whole tyre came off the wheel and went underneath the car and everything, and I just remember feeling a big bang on the right hand side as the tyre fell off the side, and I was outside and it was pretty cold, and I was trying to change the tyre on one of these small country roads, and all these cars were driving past and waving and beeping; and they weren’t waving and beeping because you were changing a tyre, they were waving and beeping because of the car. That’s another thing, you know, you have to get used to when you drive the car, when you first start to do it people used to beep and flash at you, and you start to think “What’s up is there something wrong?” and you then suddenly realise, they’re not beeping because there’s something wrong, they’re beeping because they’ve seen the car, they like it, they happen to wave, you know. You get a lot of people waving, and little, that sort of thing. But that tyre change thing has just got me, here’s me trying to lift this heavy tyre up, jack this car up, and its nearly a Ton in weight, the car is and everything, and everyone’s driving past and waving and sort of “Hi!!”
Mark: Enjoying the experience of you struggling on the roadside-
Steve: Yeah and it’s getting blacker out!
Mark: Well thanks for that Steve, I think we’d really like to go and have a look at it, see you fire it up, see the engine-
I think it’s about time we started the engine and took her out for a spin! You can see our video of this below.
Watch the 360 video here
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