Any Phantom V is a very special motor car, although the two described here are particularly significant thanks to their official duties in Australia – and their fascinating careers ever since
The Sir Henry Royce Foundation of Australia has a Rolls-Royce Phantom V with a remarkable history, which I’ll detail here in three separate sections. Act I: It provided luxurious transport for the Australian Governor-General, visiting royalty and heads of state. Act II: It completed the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. Act III: Now in the Foundation’s collection, it has toured every state in Australia, attending numerous events of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club of Australia. As a prologue to Act I, the Australian Government places an order with Rolls-Royce. In Act I, Scene I, the main character appears: 1967 Phantom V, chassis number 5VF159, a Mulliner Park Ward seven-seater limousine. The car was delivered in December 1967 and issued with a Commonwealth of
“In Act I, Scene I, the main character appears: a 1967 Phantom V, chassis number 5VF159”
Australia registration number, ZSF571. These number plates were used when the car was not on royal duty. Commonwealth drivers were trained in ceremonial driving and protocol procedures, and were required to replace the registration plates with painted crowns on a shield fixed to the front and rear bumper bars when the Governor General and members of the Royal Family were in the vehicle. Facsimiles of the original plates are now on the car for its normal road registration. Instructions for drivers of Rolls-Royce cars are not new. Handbooks issued to owners of Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts from about 1911 provided advice as to how they should instruct their drivers. When 5VF159 was on royal duty, its Commonwealth driver followed strict procedures, including a particular drill for his cap: “When the royal person/s approach the car, the driver will sit at attention with cap on. As soon as the door opener opens the door for the entry of the royal person/s into the car, the driver will remove his cap with his right hand and hold it by the peak across his left breast. When the detective or equerry travelling on the front seat next to the driver has taken his seat, the driver will place his cap on his head and drive off.” In Act II, the drama reaches breathtaking heights. In Act II, Scene I, 5VF159 is 5000 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau in the People’s Republic of China, taking part in the 1997 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. John Matheson and Jeanne Eve, members of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club of Australia, had entered
the car, which they had purchased from the Australian Government in 1993. Inspired by a 1907 epic race from Peking to Paris, the event of 10,000 miles in 45 days was for vintage and classic cars. Jeanne Eve, who is a trustee of the Sir Henry Royce Foundation, wrote about their experiences in her book, Rallying in a Royal Rolls-Royce, in which she recalled “being stranded on the Tibetan Plateau in freezing conditions, avoiding collisions with Baluchi truck drivers, exercising restraint with stone throwing boys in Iran and driving in dust storms”. The team raised money for the Australian Epilepsy Association.
STRIPPED BACK Scene I in Act III is set in a mechanic’s garage, where the special equipment installed for the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge is dismantled. 5VF159 had been equipped with three plates for undercarriage protection, raised suspension, a trip meter, an extra fuel tank, an extra passenger horn, enhanced headlights, extra radiator fans and radial tyres. The two oxygen tanks set behind the driver’s seat for coping with high altitudes were removed, and the two occasional seats were reinstalled. The damage from stones pelted at the car by youths in Iran necessitated panel-beating and a respray in the original black. In the final scene of Act III, John Matheson and Jeanne Eve donate 5VF159 to the Sir Henry Royce Foundation of Australia in 2002. It now resides in New South Wales, under the care of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club, and is regularly driven to motor events and public display days as part of Australia’s proud motoring heritage. As the curtain falls on the heroic saga of 5VF159, there is an amazing sequel. In 1967, the Australian Government in fact ordered two Phantom Vs, both with identical Mulliner Park Ward coachwork.