SI Vault
October 19, 1959
Seeing Double
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October 19, 1959

Events & Discoveries

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In the excitement surrounding the unveiling of Detroit's economy car lines these past weeks it wouldn't have been hard to overlook a note concerning quite an opposite automotive move. That genteel English firm Rolls-Royce Ltd. is coming out with a new model that, at two inches under 20 feet, is longer, more powerful and more expensive than ever.

To be known as the Phantom V, this new supersedan will sell for roughly $24,000, provided you don't want such extras as an espresso coffeemaker or hot running water.

The thought that a Rolls-Royce has grown to be longer even than, well, say a Cadillac, may disturb traditionalists who have come to revere an automobile company so conservative it hasn't changed its radiator grille design in 55 years. Now, as reassurance that a Rolls is a Rolls is a Rolls, comes another item.

This concerns the Danish Veteran Car Club, which not so long ago got a tip from a coachman's son that a car had been walled up in Beldringe Castle on Zealand Island for years. The club remembered that the old Baron Raben-Levetzau, the castle owner, once owned a Rolls-Royce which disappeared 30 years ago.

Would the present baron let the club look around the castle grounds? Of course, said Johan Otto Baron Raben-Levetzau. The search led finally to an old carriage house, long since remodeled as a granary. There a brick wall seemed to seal off a dead space behind it. Hammer a hole, said the baron. Through the wall they went; and there, inside, was a magnificent 1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, its tires rotted, leather seats hard as stone, but metal work and engine flawless. At first crank the motor turned over, and in short order the reconditioned Silver Ghost (cost in 1911 $16,000 or so, length one inch under 18 feet) was on the road, with the baron enthusiastically behind the wheel.

A man who thought he had no interest in automobiles, the baron, at 52, has joined the car club. "Very badly bitten," he says now.

Wait Till Next Year

When Mickey Thompson was a teen-ager in El Monte, California he somehow missed out on the common idol worship of his generation for Joe DiMaggio; his mind was too full of the doings of England's John Cobb as Cobb broke automobile speed record after speed record on Utah's Bonneville salt flats. When Cobb's twin-engined special set a land record of 394.2 mph in 1947, Mickey Thompson promised himself that he would beat that record some day. Early last week, in a home-built, four-engined special of his own called Challenger I, 30-year-old Mickey made Bonneville smoke with his speed. John Cobb's record still eluded him, but if ever a man was entitled to tell the world "wait till next year" it was Mickey Thompson.

His Challenger is a sky-blue guided missile of a car, designed on the exquisitely logical principle that if one engine drives a vehicle 100 mph, four engines will drive it 400 mph. Challenger won't get out of low gear until 210 mph, needs a parachute to slow it down and an oxygen supply for the driver to keep him from being gassed in the tiny cockpit where he lies nearly horizontal, rather like Mme. RĂ©camier on her chaise longue. The car's four Pontiac engines sit in pairs at the front of the 30-inch-high hood. The forward engines, with transmissions facing the front, are linked to the front axle by two differential gears, while the rear engines power the rear wheels through a drive shaft.

Behind this mass of exploding energy, fueled with nitro and alcohol, is the driver, Mickey, working four clutches through a single operating arm and hoping he can keep the aluminum craft from taking off like an airplane.

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