Classic car with amazing history rolls into town
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
ONE of the country’s most famous vintage cars returned to Teesdale for its annual health check.
Bubbles, an iconic Rolls Royce owned by London’s oldest surviving restaurant Rules, spent a brief time at Carrosserie, in Barnard Castle, for a new battery and a check-up before returning to the capital. The vehicle, which has a fascinating history across three continents, was completely refurbished by Carrosserie about 12 years ago and has been maintained by the firm ever since.
Dick Francis, of Carrosserie, said the vehicle, a Rolls Royce 20/25, would have been bought as a chassis and engine and taken to a coach-builder who would have made the body.
He said: “It was built in the mid-1930s. It was converted to this configuration for big game hunting in Africa. During the Second World War it was taken over by the occupying Axis forces and used as a staff car.”
Evidence that it was used for hunting is confirmed by its windows which can be folded down to allow for people to shoot out of it, and by the modifications on the bumper which allow for an awning to be placed over the vehicle and protect its occupants from the heat of the African sun.
At some point it was bought by chewing gum company owner William Wrigley and taken to his private island off the American coast. Mr Francis said: “Hence, its name Bubbles. It is just a thing of wonderful beauty. You will never see another like it.”
The vehicle was later bought by Lartington Estate’s John Mayhew, who also owns Rules restaurant, in Covent Garden. Bubbles is just one of many projects underway at Carrosserie. Work continues to rebuild a Phantom 1 prototype that once appeared in the 1960s TV show The Saint starring Roger Moore.
It is the only remaining vehicle of its kind and is being rebuilt for a client from Europe. Mr Francis explained that the Phantom 1 carries a red Rolls Royce badge, while Bubbles carries a black badge. He explained the badge colour changed as mark of mourning when Sir Henry Royce died in 1933.
The vehicle attracted attention from the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club when members visited the Carrosserie workshop earlier this year. Asked how long the rebuild would take, Mr Francis said: “The downside of what we do is only time. There are only eight of us here. You can't do it overnight. You can't do it in a couple of weeks. If you want a car restored, you have to prepared to wait a couple of years.”
The handmade ash frame Mr Francis has designed for the car is all but complete, and soon new panelling will begin to be installed.