Brewster Rolls-Royce Phantom II Henley Roadster
The early history of Rolls-Royce in America is inextricably intertwined with that of the Brewster & Co. Coachworks, which contributed some of the most elegant, sporting and attractively proportioned bodies fitted to any Rolls-Royce chassis. At the turn of the 20th Century, Willie Brewster was the pre-eminent American coachbuilder, and by 1914, he became a Rolls-Royce agent, importing chassis from England and building bodies for his well-established and discerning clientele.
Then in 1925, Rolls-Royce bought the company, making Brewster its primary supplier of coachwork in America. Eventually, well over 400 Springfield-built Rolls-Royces were Brewster-bodied. Phantom I production continued in Springfield, Massachusetts after the Phantom II was introduced in England in 1929, but the Springfield Phantom I was then phased out in 1931 in favor of the Derby-built, left-hand drive Phantom II. The Phantom II offered a more refined, updated chassis and an improved engine with an improved cross-flow cylinder head, with the engine now mounted in unit with the transmission. Chassis improvements included hydraulic shock absorbers and semi-elliptic springs front and rear. A considerable reduction in ride-height resulted, lending itself to sleeker and more modern body designs.
In 1930, the Rolls-Royce of America operation in Springfield knew it was in trouble. The magnitude of the Depression was becoming obvious, and the Springfield manufacturing operation was closed, with Brewster now becoming an importer-distributor for Rolls-Royce in the US. The problem was that the new Phantom II, as introduced in Britain, was not considered suitable for the US market, because it lacked many of the advanced features of the final Springfield-built Phantom Is. For example, the Springfield Phantom I was left-hand drive, had thermostatic radiator shutters, a complete 'one-shot' chassis lubrication system, easier to maintain chrome brightwork, smaller and more stylish 20-inch wheels, a carburetor air cleaner and a silenced intake system.
Springfield agreed to buy 200 left-drive Phantom IIs if the British factory would make all the improvements considered necessary for the US market.
The result was a car with an improved top speed, a lower chassis and quieter operation than the sophisticated Springfield-built Phantom I. In fact, the improvements inspired Derby to incorporate all of them (except left-hand drive) into all Phantom IIs. The first deliveries of the left-hand drive Phantom II chassis began in the spring of 1931.
The Brewster coachworks was ready with its designs for the new Phantom II chassis when it arrived. While some of the designs were warmed-over Phantom I body styles, some were indeed fresh. The Newport Town Car for traditional chauffeur-driven use and the Henley Roadster for the owner-driver represented the first of the new designs. Ultimately, the contract for 200 left-drive cars from Derby was never fulfilled, but 116 were sold in North America and six more in Europe. While sales were limited, this group of cars is recognized nonetheless among the most desirable of all Classic Era Rolls-Royces.
Only 9 Henley Roadster bodies were constructed in the Phantom II chassis.