Untouched For 40: 1939 Rolls-Royce Phantom III


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The seller of this Rolls-Royce assures us that this was his father’s favorite Phantom III after he had collected them for 15 years, and that he drove it from Philadelphia to California after purchasing it in the mid-1980’s. The math doesn’t quite work, though, as the seller also assures us that it’s been untouched for 40 years (?) Either way, thanks to Charles H. for sending us this find, which is for sale in Pacific Palisades, California and is listed here in Hemmings Motor News.


The car is listed as only having 21,336 original miles, which would be a shame if this car has really only been driven that infrequently. The ad does state that it runs, but needs refurbishment from having sat for so long. There are certainly some signs of use and even some of abuse, but as a whole the car presents itself as a solid runner in need of a lot of TLC.


I’m really struggling equating the wear on the seats with the low mileage. I realize that leather deteriorates over time, but that’s a lot of cracking and crazing for only 21k miles, isn’t it? I don’t have any experience with cars this old, so maybe some of the experts out there can help?


The wooden dash looks quite nice, which leads me to believe it’s been in dry storage and again has me wondering about the upholstery and mileage. The seller tells us that there are switches on the dash to switch between banks of spark plugs, where you can fire one bank of 12, the other bank of 12 or all 24. I’d love to know the reasoning behind that setup; I’m sure it made sense at the time. As best as I can tell from researching, it was for reliability sake, but I didn’t find anywhere that told me for sure.


I did find a reference stating that at the time, this was the most expensive automotive engine in the world to overhaul, and that they had consistent problems with hydraulic lifters. The seller tells us that the conversion to mechanical lifters has already been performed on this engine, so at least that is taken care of. That’s a 7.3 liter V-12 you’re seeing–that’s a lot of engine! Copious documentation, spares, manuals and information are pictured along with the car in the ad, although it’s been for sale for a while as it was featured as the find of the day back in March. The seller is looking for $45,000–do you think it’s worth it?


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  1. Charles

    Sweet! That looks like a great candidate for a full restoration.

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  2. Francisco

    That’s one heck of a machine. That radiator looks louvered. I read somewhere that’s how Rolls controlled cooling of the engine.

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    • Brakeservo

      Yes, the louvers are thermostatically controlled – when they open you can just see the temp gauge drop quickly! My 1948 and 1952 Rolls-Royces worked the same way.

      Frankly I don’t know what good this car is for, it’s an ugly body style and although it was a competent competitor to the Duesenberg and Isotta Fraschini and Hispano, in it’s day, now it somehow doesn’t have the same panache anymore, sort of like a very aged movie star who is now fat and matronly – any sexiness is long and forever gone!

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      • Francisco

        Like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” But then I think Max the butler drove her around in an Isotta.

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  3. joeinthousandoaks

    Pretty amazing car, although I think the ask is high for the amount needed to restore.

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  4. Mark E

    It would be interesting to find out why ‘a collector’ (of Rolls/Phantoms?) would own this for so long but not restore it. Although considering the cost this will take to restore it shouldn’t make a big difference…

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  5. Texas Tea

    Very neat and interesting car. Here is my question. I see the clutch pedal, but where is the transmission shifter located? I would think in the floor, but I don’t see one.

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    • Jamie Palmer JamieAuthor

      In this picture of a different car, it looks like it’s on the right hand side…unusual, to be sure.

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      • z1rider

        Yes, for some reason the bottom cushions in the featured car extend further forward and are obscuring the shifter.

        I’ve never seen a manual shifted Rolls with the shifter anywhere else. RHD have the shifter on the far right, LHD’s have it on the far left. Never in the middle that I know of.

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    • Brakeservo

      Shifter is on the floor to the right, by the door. So even though it is RHD you still have a right hand hear shift. Makes getting in and out the drivers door a bit awkward.

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      • James

        On this center shift Phantom III (the only one) the gear shift lever can be seen in the bottom photo, but what is the function of the steering column lever that looks like a post war (WWII) column shift lever found on US and European cars?


        This is car #2 from the list of 10 posted yesterday.

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  6. Mark E

    Considering the 1936 Phantom listed here last April was bid on Ebay up over $14,500 perhaps this car’s price isn’t so bad considering it’s way more complete and in better condition to boot!

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  7. Dean

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Dual Ignition is a system for spark-ignition engines, whereby critical ignition components, such as spark plugs and magnetos, are duplicated. Dual ignition is most commonly employed on aero engines, and is sometimes found on cars and motorcycles.

    Dual ignition provides two advantages: redundancy in the event of in-flight failure of one ignition system; and more efficient burning of the fuel-air mixture within the combustion chamber. In aircraft, redundancy is the prime consideration, but in other vehicles combustive efficiency is the target.

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  8. z1rider

    I have some experience with the engine in these. I worked in an automotive machine shop in the 70’s and one of our good customers brought one to us. Main bearings are not available so as was the case for many older cars we sent the shells out to have bearing material (similar to babbit) added back. Then we had to align bore those shells to fit the crankshaft main journals with the proper clearance.

    The rod design is fork and blade, meaning the big ends from opposite banks do not sit side by side on the rod journal. The fork rod clamps (with two separate caps) a single bearing shell in the same way modern bearing shells are held in the rod. The blade rod is fitted around the center of the O.D. of the shell and it just oscillates back and forth on the shell. The design is somewhat reminiscent of full floating rod bearings for flathead Ford V-8’s except they do not float. Only the blade rod allows for movement on the OD. The shell, as stated is held by the fork rod and the I.D. of course has normal clearance for the rod journal. The big end of the rod is too large for insertion from the top of the cylinder. We had to insert the rod from the bottom, and turn it 90 degrees to allow the small end to protrude far enough to put the piston on the rod. Then it was back down a bit, 90 degrees in the other direction and then bolted to the crankshaft. Next was the bade rod with a much narrower big end which made it easier to manipulate.

    The crankshaft is machined from a billet, as is every moving part in the engine except the cast pistons. The engine is a wet sleeve design and that could be a problem since the block is aluminum. It all depends on how well past owners minded the anti-corrosion properties of the coolant.

    I am not surprised this engine is considered the most expensive to overhaul. Consider though that this was the warm up for Rolls Royce and the subsequent Merlin aero v-12..

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    • Chris

      The Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero engine is more the ancestor than this V-12.
      OHC & 4 valves per cylinder, as per the Merlin, where this one is 2 valve per cylinder & pushrod. The Kestrel (1927) also predates the automotive V -12.

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      • Brakeservo

        Interesting how Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, BMW and Hispano were all significant aircraft motor manufacturers, even W.O.Bentley designed significant air plane engines before the sports cars.

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      • z1rider

        Chris and Stewart,

        Thanks for the information on RR aero engines. I was aware they were OHC and 4 valve, but I just assumed they were later. My mistake.

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    • Stewart

      The merlin predates the pIII engine, that has it’s roots in the Rolls Royse R engine used in the Schinder trophy Supermarine S6b. Rolls Royce had been making V12 aero engines for many years before the PIII engine appears although it did inherit a number of features of the aero engine

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  9. Devin


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  10. jim s

    if interested check with the Rolls Royce Owners Club to see if they have any information on this car. listing shows a lot of hard to find parts come with car. i hope the car does get saved. great find.

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    • Brakeservo

      The RREC in UK usually has much more information than the RROC in USA.

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  11. James

    Compare the 10 Phantom III Rolls listed on the UK Car and Classic site with the Hemming’s car.

    The British £ is currently just under $1.50 therefore this car @ $45k = £30k. One can easily compare prices listed.

    Note exceptionally high prices listed reflect unique design, condition or history.

    #1 – exceptional history and Black Hawk collection restoration.
    #2 – not only a cabriolet, but also ‘center gear change’ car per owners spec.
    #3 – a Barker limo @ £54000 (compare with $45k or £30k).
    #4 – sleek Freestone & Webb body no price listed.
    #5 – bare aluminum (from US) 9k miles ? @ £55000 – seems high ask.
    #6 – used by General Montgomery.
    #7 – US offered cabriolet.
    #8 – interesting rear side window(s) @ £48750 (compare w/$45k or £30k).
    #9 – Sendanca de ville “needs hardly any TLC” ?
    #10 – Sendanca de ville “very smart, but not concours” lowest high # @ £135k.


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    • Brakeservo

      I’ve seen very high asking prices before for these and similar in U.K. and wonder if any ever really sell for anywhere near those figures. If anything, the Brits have a better appreciation for the cars.

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    • James

      The asking prices for some “motorcars” in the UK do seem exceptionally high.

      Here is a June 1963 “Used Cars On The Road” test by “The Autocar” of a 1937 Phantom III priced @ £3,975 with an odometer reading of only 11,803 miles:


      £3,975 in 1963 converts to $5,290 (1963) which adjusted for inflation is $41,029.65 today. Obviously “collector value” today is not part of the equation.

      The test is an interesting read as “The Autocar” editor notes, “To drive the car was perhaps a disappointment …”

      The 9 – 12 mpg is imperial gallons. The 115 miles per pint of oil consumption is normal or? Even in ’63 “The Autocar” writer declared it “essentially a collector’s piece”.

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  12. Bob Schoenberger

    I think price is high considering it needs everything. It will cost a bundle to redo. But it’s nice

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  13. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    The RR Owners Group will be able to point the rebuilder in the right direction.

    Seat bottoms 1 piece, actually that is a more expensive way than pleats and was popular back in that era, and yes, they mixed and matched. This is odd but the plaids that were popular on European cars in the 50’s makes this look downright normal.

    Expect it will have no trouble selling. Body does nothing for me, likely to be re bodied as a grand open tourer as I’m sure the lesser example pictured is already on its way to becoming.

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  14. JazzGuitarist54

    Is that duct tape on the front seat?
    Duct Tape? On a Rolls
    Oh the horror…

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  15. G W White

    Anyone interested in a 39′ Hooper PIII, better body shape with more options, been sitting for 30+ yrs. Engine was refreshed 35 yrs ago. Sister car to the VuTotal was in 1939 NY Worlds Fair.

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