This 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Is Still Going Strong
M. Allen Swift faced a difficult decision in 1928. Shortly before his 26th birthday, his father had made him a deal: Stay in the family’s gold leaf business and watch your two younger brothers go off to college at MIT, and you can have any car you want. On the advice of a friend, Swift pointed his Marmon north and made the short drive up from West Hartford, Connecticut, to the Rolls-Royce of America plant just across the border in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“Someone had advised me to go to the Springfield plant,” Swift told the Springfield Museums in a 2003 interview. “I went all through it and watched them making the parts. It reinforced my idea that it was well made. I saw all the ways they tested the cars. Every engine was tested. Then when they got the engine finished, they set it up on a concrete block and ran it a specified number of times and a specified number of hours.
“Someone would come around periodically with a stethoscope and listen to it and so forth. Then it was completely dismantled and checked and reassembled and put back in to the chassis. Then a bench was mounted on the chassis, and a test driver drove it 200 miles before it was released.”
Swift chose the all-new Rolls-Royce Phantom I painted in two-tone green because, he would later recall, you didn’t see many green cars. The family business being gold leaf, he had gold leaf pinstripes added to separate the greens, plus a gold leaf monogram on the doors. Swift chose the Piccadilly roadster body style built by Brewster & Co. Coachworks with a convertible roof and a deployable rumble seat with a third door on the passenger’s side.
Swift drove the Rolls daily until 1958 and continued driving it regularly until 1991, when he was 88 years old. By the time of that 2003 interview, Swift estimated he’d put 172,000 miles on the car and never had a breakdown (though he did rebuild the engine at one point).
In 1994, Swift entered the Rolls-Royce history books for having owned his car longer than any other in history. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars presented him a crystal statue of the Spirit of Ecstasy in recognition.
Just two months before his death in October 2005, Swift donated $1 million to the Springfield Museums for the purchase and construction of a museum of innovation. Upon his death, the Phantom was bequeathed to the museum and is now the centerpiece of the Wood Museum of Springfield History’s transportation exhibit. It sits next to a 1925 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster owned by S. Prestley Blake, co-founder of Friendly Ice Cream.
Swift and Blake are in good company. Howard Hughes, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Dempsey, and Woodrow Wilson all owned Springfield-built Silver Ghosts, and Fred Astaire, Joseph P. Kennedy, and Charlie Chaplin owned Springfield-built Phantoms.
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