There are automobiles constructed simply to be looked at — gawked at — desired — worshipped. If there’s a parking lot for such cars, the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Aerodynamic Coupe deserves the CEO’s parking space.
I first came across the car at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, but I’ve seen it out and about at multiple classic car events. Most recently, I spotted it at the Beverly Hills Concours de Elegance along Rodeo Drive. Well known around car lovers and automotive history enthusiasts, it’s a fixture at such events across the country.
It’s a sexy-evil symphony in black. The angelic Rolls-Royce ornament perches over a massive, sloping grill that gives way to a long runway of hood. The regal windscreen spreads out above sloping fender and perfectly rounded doors — a trait that leads many gearheads to call it the Round Door Rolls. The interior is a proud red leather festival with white highlights. And the trunk ends in an avian fin — just because it must.
Petersen’s records on the car tell of a wild ping-pong’ing existent worthy of Forest Gump. While the majority of the vehicle’s core identity was built in 1925 at the then-factory out in Springfield, Mass, this example ended up in Belgium where artistic restorer Henri Jonckheere got a hold of it. He added its signature Art Deco flares, transforming it into something unique on the planet.
That exclusivity made it a target of lustful owners around the world. The Jonckheere ended up in the car pool of an Indian Raja and the Duke of Windsor before it found its way back to a private collection in 1950s New Jersey.
By then, 30 years took its toll. The mobile masterpiece looked beat to hell and the car faced a key moment: It would fade into rusty history or some entity would jump in to recreate it for a second time. Enter the folks at the Petersen. The museum’s restorers made no changes beyond bringing the car back to life in full, pristine 1935 form. Proudly back on its gleaming wheels, it resides forever in the Petersen’s LA halls.
The best thing about the car is it exists solely to look spectacular. It really serves no other legitimate purpose. Yes, it’ll move. You can drive it. It’ll carry human passengers. It has a boot where you could theoretically carry some small amount of cargo. But a man would sit in this car simply to ride in arguably the most beautifully stylized car of its era.
Why is it so otherwise impractical? It uses a straight six cylinder engine putting out exactly 100 horsepower. Admittedly, that was proud and mighty power plant back in the 1920s. But the car weighs about 7,600 pounds. For those of you scoring along at home, that’s almost four tons. Some of that poundage is the result of refurbishing, but not much. The engine is all original Rolls-Royce. The car is a product of its time — an era long removed from aluminum and carbon fiber. Steel and iron makes for heavy cars, but they also forge classics that last awhile, like this Rolls.
The piled up tonnage asks a lot of 100 horses. It’s like trying to motivate the Lincoln Memorial with a bicycle. Not even the most dedicated equine servants are going to pull it anywhere quickly. Hence there’s no point looking into its top speed or 0-60 time. The Phantom I Aerodynamic exists primarily to be looked at and saluted.
Looking at it, it seems so stylish and classically aggressive that it belongs in movies. That’s where you’re most likely see anything so gorgeous and defiantly indulgent. It’s a car suitable for The Shadow. It was the Batmobile a couple decades too early. The Red Skull drives to work in something like it. James Bond would think it’s too villainous, leaving it for Blofeld to grab. Gatsby would love to own two of them. You get the idea.
The striking ride leaves such a lasting impression that the world famous Dutch automotive design firm Ugur Sahin Design found the inspiration to update and recreate the coupe in a 2012 concept car — the predictably named 2012 Ugur Sahin Design Rolls-Royce Jonckheere Aerodynamic Coupe II.
The modernized interpretation of the original coupe was a one-off exercise in respect and adoration. Rather than try to improve or comment on the original Phantom I Aerodynamic Coupe, Ugur Sahin created a 21st century creation to capture the spirit of the original — to demonstrate how the original car might look if it somehow time traveled to our sadder, tinnier hybrid-choked era.
The Ugur Sahin effort is unquestionably beautiful, but I’d stick with the original roaring ‘20s beast. It captures a mix of sleek luxury and brutal elitism that any man of aspiration would love to own.