A Missing Rolls-Royce

Scotland on Sunday, 1 December 2002:

Financial ghosts following the demise of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club are not yet laid to rest. Secrecy and obfuscation surround the disposal of the club’s assets. Pictures and motoring memorabilia were sold off without telling the members. The mystery surrounding the club’s heirlooms, the world’s second-oldest Rolls-Royce and a unique Arrol-Johnston, built in Dumfries in 1922, may soon be resolved. The Rolls-Royce was bequeathed to the club in 1974 under the will of Adam McGregor Dick with a stipulation that it should remain in Scotland and never be sold. The first part has already been infringed; it has been languishing at P&A Wood, of Great Easton, Dunmow in Essex, for several years because no money was made available for restoration.

The general secretary of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club confirmed to me that he had been negotiating with the RSAC for years, offering to pay for restoration in return for the car spending some time among the club’s extensive collection of Rolls-Royce artefacts at Paulerspury, Northants. While ownership should remain in Scotland, there seems no reason to turn down the RREC’s request, and bring this fine car back to life. Made in 1905, chassis 26330 is the only survivor of six three-cylinder cars made by Henry Royce in Manchester, as he was forging his partnership with The Hon C S Rolls in London.

When he handed the Rolls-Royce over to the RSAC, AM Dick appointed its office-bearers as trustees, never contemplating a day when the club might be declared insolvent. A later generation of governors, of the institution in which he had such faith, has alas failed him. In 1905 the Rolls-Royce chassis cost £500, with a further £530 for a Barker side-entrance tonneau body and canopy. Nobody knows how much it is worth now. In automotive terms it is like the crown jewels, none ever comes up for sale, but even with a replica body made by J B Stevenson of Glasgow in the 1960s, it would be insured for upwards of £1 million.

The trustees met last week and are, “… now investigating various legal avenues which should modify the existing arrangements to enable the donor's wishes to be respected. There is no question of the car being sold.” The liquidator, as trustee for the club, therefore effectively for its office-bearers, is expected to seek senior counsel’s opinion on a petition to the Court of Session. This would look for clarification of the donor’s intentions now that the club has virtually ceased to exist. It looks as though the car will now be held in trust for the nation although what that means in practice remains to be seen.

That was eight years ago. Went to the old RSAC headquarters in Glasgow for the press launch of the Alfa Romeo Mito Multiair last month. It is now an up-market hotel, tastefully done, but the visit to the historic premises prompted me to wonder what had become of the Rolls-Royce. I can confirm that it is still at P&A Wood and its ownership remains an issue. Watch this space Artwork is James Leech's from the late George Oliver's splendidly detailed 1967 Profile on the car