1939 Rolls-Royce 25/30

The refined 25/30hp Rolls-Royce was introduced in late 1938 as the Wraith, part of Rolls-Royce's policy of continuing improvement. The principal improvement was independent front suspension employing the wishbone system developed on the Phantom II with combined coil springs and hydraulic shocks. Second gear acquired synchromesh, a hypoid rear axle drive lowered the driveshaft until its effect on the interior was nearly imperceptible and the steering was improved to both lighten its effort and improve the road feel. More economical than the big Phantom, the Wraith reflected no compromises in comfort or quality. That no-compromise character was no doubt a factor in the thinking of this 1939 Wraith's first two owners. The first, Louis Mendelsohn, was a Detroit financier who backed the Fisher brothers at Fisher Body prior to its 1928 acquisition by General Motors. It accumulated only about 32,000 miles in Mendelsohn's ownership before being acquired by Henry Lauve in 1956, an important designer at General Motors, sometimes thought to have been Harley Earl's first choice to succeed him as head of GM's Design department. Lauve is widely credited for being the designer of the first Motorama Corvettes and for such important concepts as the Buick Wildcat. He also is credited with design innovations like Buick's ventiports and bombsight hood ornaments. It may well be Lauve's handwriting that wrote the "Corvette" stamped into early Corvette valve covers. Born in America, Lauve was educated and worked for years in France before joining GM on the eve of World War II. He left GM after being passed over in favor of Bill Mitchell in 1958 but continued his career as an independent designer, eventually designing the Citroen-Maserati SM. This Rolls-Royce Wraith's Hooper coachwork with razor-edged design, an electrically operated division window and a sliding sunroof was still the ultimate in elegance and refinement in 1956 when Lauve bought it. Right-hand drive, its coachwork has a single enclosed side-mounted spare, rear wheel spats with Hooper's characteristic lower edge swoop to expose the hubcaps, the Wraith's signature standalone headlights and a single center-mounted fog light. It received regular attention while in Lauve's hands including a rebuilt engine in 1968, repaint in 1974, new exhaust system in 1981 and brake work in 1984. In 1962 it was displayed at Greenfield Village, then was featured at Eyes on Design in 1989 and 1992, where its appearance -- a rare coachbuilt Rolls-Royce owned by an important Detroit automobile designer -- was particularly apropos to the show's theme. The interior has a pair of burl walnut tables in the rear compartment complementing the wealth of high quality burl wood trim throughout the interior, an electrical communication system for the chauffeur, Tan leather upholstery and a slide-out fitted case under the passenger's seat for tools and spare parts. Pull-down roller blinds provide privacy to the rear compartment occupants; a pair of clever, roller sun visors snuggle up tight to the top of the opening wind screen. It is an important, luxurious automobile fit for captains of the industry that was Detroit from the Thirties through the Fifties and remained in Lauve's family until 2009, following his death in 1998. An elegant, rare automobile, it also has an intriguing story to tell.

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