1949 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith: Head turner

Staff reports
Farm Forum

Richard Branyan is not your typical Southerner. Born in New York, reared in England, and now living in Mississippi, Branyan speaks with an eloquent British accent. But his accent is not the only thing that differentiates the 49-year-old Branyan from his friends, co-workers, and neighbors down in Natchez.

Branyan owns a 1949 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, and it’s not likely that any of his neighbors can boast the same. In fact, we’d say that none of them can.

When Branyan was a youngster growing up in Kingswood, south of London, his father bought the Silver Wraith, one of 80 of this design and only one of 18 saloons with the same lush leather interior. Branyan’s dad bought the car in 1975, long after it had fulfilled its duty as a corporate limousine for the Gor-Ray Company of London.

“Dad’s office was next door to the Jack Barclay Rolls dealership in London,” Branyan explains, “and he saw Rolls-Royces every day as he walked past the showroom from the tube station.” The elder Branyan, however, ultimately purchased the freshly-repainted Silver Wraith from another London Rolls dealer.

A chrome plate that identifies the dealership — Frank Dale & Stepsons, Farm Lane, London — is still affixed to a panel near the front passenger seat. Established in 1946, the family-run Frank Dale & Stepsons dealership is still open today, specializing in buying, selling, and restoring vintage Rolls-Royce and Bentley automobiles.

Like Branyan’s Rolls, vintage luxury vehicles at the time were often coach built, meaning a custom body was constructed separately to be installed on the factory chassis. Just on top of the Frank Dale plate is a plaque stamped “H.J. Mulliner & Co. Ltd.,” identifying the coachbuilder that manufactured the body, which sits on the Rolls-Royce chassis of Branyan’s Silver Wraith.

“This is the newest car you can get with the big headlights,” Branyan says. “It’s a pretty car.” Indeed, the fabulous old right-side-drive Rolls-Royce is more than “pretty.” It’s an original classic still in mint condition with an all-walnut dashboard. Everything inside the car is original, save two seat covers. The odometer reads only 30,000 miles.

“It’s not often that it takes 65 years to turn 30,000 miles on a car,” Branyan smiles. “It’s barely broken in.” Branyan inherited the car in 2002 when his father died, and drives it rather than trailers it. While one of the reasons is that the car is fairly heavy at nearly 3 tons, the real reason, Branyan says, is “I’d much prefer to drive it.”

Back in the fall, Branyan drove it to Baton Rouge, where we had a chance to drive down River Road along the Mississippi River Levee to Houmas House Plantation. The Silver Wraith was the lead car in a long line of other vintage automobiles at the annual L’Auberge Euro Fest Classic European Auto and Motorcycle Show.

And wherever it goes, the 1949 Silver Wraith puts on quite a show, turning heads and sparking conversations all over town. The brown and beige Rolls-Royce got more than its share of looks in the police escort to the Houmas House, down river from Baton Rouge.

“You get a lot of looks,” Branyan says, “a lot of attention. The new scary thing I see people do is use their iPhones to film the car on the Interstate.”

The engine in the Silver Wraith is a small bore Straight 6, the original Rolls-Royce engine. When asked what horsepower the Straight 6 develops, “Adequate,” Branyan replies, which is the best response he can offer, as at the time it was built, Rolls-Royce declined to publish horsepower figures on its engines. The engine is paired with a four-speed manual transmission.

Branyan, an antique shop owner, explains he prefers to do as much work on the car as he can. But he says repairs and parts are expensive because everything is made by hand. Getting tires to fit the 17-inch wheels is a “complete pain in the posterior.” Fortunately, the 65-year-old car has never left Branyan on the side of the road.

“Besides,” he sniffs in his best British accent, “Rolls-Royces don’t break down. They fail to proceed.”

Branyan explains that, since he didn’t pay for it, he’s not sure about the value of his Silver Wraith, although he adds it is insured for $65,000.

Branyan generally drives the car when the weather is nice and no rain is forecast; however down in the Delta, the temperature and humidity can be brutal in the summer.

“I don’t drive it very often when it’s 100 degrees because there’s no air conditioner,” he claims.

But when asked where he generally drives his beautiful 1949 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, Branyan replies with a grin, “Anywhere I want to.”

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