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Magnificent Marriage: Rare Rolls-Royce Chassis and Fine Parisian Coachwork

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Picmonkey1934 Kellner-bodied CabrioletBy Rich Taylor

January 14, 2015 - While most of the 1678 Rolls-Royce Phantom II chassis built between 1929 and 1936 were bodied by coachbuilders in England or America, a special few high-performance Continental versions were clothed by Kellner et Cie at their fashionable factory right on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Kellner dates back to 1861, when Georges Kellner first began making carriages. He switched to automobiles in 1903. His son Georges Jr. took over in 1910.

Jacques Kellner inherited the company from his father in 1931 and brought it to new heights. Kellner coachwork graced only the most prestigious chassis: Bentley, Bugatti (including the Type 41 Royale), Hispano-Suiza and, of course, Rolls-Royce. Unlike many coachbuilders, Kellner survived the Great Depression.

In 1942, however, Jacques Kellner, along with Georges Paulin of Carrosserie Pourtout, was arrested and shot by the Nazis as a spy. The two French heroes had used their drawing skills to supply details of German installations to the Resistance. Kellner et Cie died with Jacques Kellner.

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The magnificent 1934 Kellner-bodied Three-Position Cabriolet, which will soon to be offered at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a happy marriage of a rare Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental chassis with the striking coachwork of this most respected Parisian carrosserie. This beautifully unusual car was originally delivered in May 1934 to Monsieur Edmond Blawl of St. Cloud. Price new was the equivalent of roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars. At the time, one could buy a new Ford V8 DeLuxe Roadster for $525, so a Kellner-bodied Rolls-Royce P-II Continental was almost unbelievably extravagant.

In October 1946 this Rolls-Royce went to K.C. Dobson in England, then to Sir Ashley Haveden in 1951. It arrived in the United States in 1956. It was completely redone by one of the premier restoration shops in the U.S., subsequently winning the Gwenn Graham Award for Most Elegant Open Car at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1990, Best of Show at the Chicago International Concours d’Elegance in 1991 and Best of Show at the Fisher Island Concours d’Elegance the same year. Newly refurbished, it remains immaculate.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom II replaced the Phantom I in 1929 and stayed in production for the next seven years. The Phantom II engine is derived from that in the Phantom I ‒ a 7668cc (468ci) inline-6 with pushrod-activated overhead valves and an efficient crossflow cylinder head. Nominally rated at 120hp, it has more than enough horsepower and torque to whisk a 5,000-pound car like our Kellner Cabriolet over 100 mph.

The drivetrain layout is very straightforward, with a 4-speed synchromesh transmission bolted directly to the engine block and driving the rear wheels through an open driveshaft and hypoid differential. Available in either a 144-inch or 150-inch wheelbase, the completely new Phantom II chassis uses a ladder frame, semi-elliptic springs front and rear, four-wheel servo-assist drum brakes, wire wheels and the clever Bijur “one-shot” chassis lubrication system.

The Phantom II on offer is one of only 278 special Continental chassis on the short 144-inch wheelbase. Compared to a standard Phantom II, a Continental has a high-compression cylinder head and short 3.4 to 1 differential ratio for quicker acceleration, plus stiffer five-leaf elliptical springs and Hartford remotely adjustable shock absorbers for sharper cornering.Picmonkey 3

The P-II Continental on offer shows Jacques Kellner at the top of his form. From the massive Rolls-Royce radiator, the belt line sweeps gracefully back and down. The Light Tan body contrasts beautifully with the semi-skirted fenders and running boards in Dark Brown. The rear styling is particularly well-handled, with Continental spare tire cover in contrasting Tan and Brown, split rear bumper, integrated rear trunk and symmetrical dual taillights. Wide whitewall tires and full wheel discs finish off the smooth good looks.

The mildly raked windshield fronts a right-hand-drive passenger compartment upholstered in unblemished red leather, highlighted with exquisite woodwork on doors and dash. As you would expect from a Best in Show-winning restoration, the chassis, engine compartment and trunk are as exceptional as the exterior and interior.

Let’s review. This rare 1934 Kellner-bodied Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental boasts an unmarked and brilliant restoration. It’s a CCCA Full Classic, exquisitely good looking, extremely durable and reliable, built with typical Rolls-Royce cost-no-object quality. Most mechanical parts are still available from either marque specialists or Rolls-Royce itself, so maintenance and repair are actually much easier than for lesser makes lacking Rolls-Royce panache. What’s not to like?

Editor’s Note: The Kellner-bodied Rolls Royce will be auctioned at an upcoming Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale. For further information visit www.barrett-jackson.com.