10 March 2011

1939 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Vutotal Cabriolet

The 1939/47 Rolls-Royce Phantom III "Vutotal" Cabriolet by Labourdette, now in the John Rich Museum collection, started off as a standard Phantom III designed by Henry Royce. It was re-bodies by coachbuilder Hooper and Co. in 1938 with a Sedanca de Ville body style (as the car in the picture below), then showed off in Europe before being tweaked for the U.S. market.

When the very same show car ended up in the Parisian studio of Henri Labourdette in 1947, as a commission by the flamboyant Louis Ritter, he let Labourdette go all out. It was the designer's last and arguably most daring work. He threw out everything but the running gear and rebodied the car in gold-plated-and-brass-adorned aerodynamic bodywork that swooped back into a boattail. He also got rid of anything that identified it as a Rolls, save for its mascot and a couple of interior trim pieces. The car takes it's name from the Vutotal windscreen, a thick slice of glass that appears to support itself.
The whole conversion cost $44,000 (equivalent to about $500,000 now) at a time when the average price of a home was about $4,000...

After it was transformed into Labourdette’s creation, the car was sold off to different owners, including a New York plastic surgeon, a drug dealer who ended up in a Cuban prison and even S. Mars, possibly of the Mars (as in chocolate) empire. In the winter of 2005 John W. Rich (how appropriate) of Pottsville, Pennsylvania purchased the car for his extensive collection.

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