Andrew Davidson’s spring-break trip to Florida produced two experiences – both involving a classic Rolls-Royce and a lawn chair – that will remain fixed forever in his memory.
The first wasn’t much fun. He spent nine hours in the chair – cold, hungry, thirsty and feeling abandoned as dusk descended – beside the trailer containing his 1936 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Sedanca de Ville, pulled over in a deserted highway lay-by, awaiting the return of his broken-down tow vehicle.
The second memory is better. Same lawn chair, but this time, Davidson was sitting in it behind his polished and primped-to-perfection Rolls on a rolling green fairway of the Amelia Island Golf Club, hard by the Ritz Carleton, looking out over the field of 300 wonderful automobiles taking part in the 18th Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida.
A third and fourth memory aren’t too bad either, receiving the second-place award in the Pre-War European Class at one of the world’s most prestigious classic car events. And scoring 100 points and receiving a Premium Award at a Classic Car Club of America’s Mount Dora meet in Florida the following weekend.
The tale of Davidson’s recent Amelia Island adventure began with the purchase of the rare Rolls-Royce Phantom III in 2006, from a “really strange old duck” in the United States who’d owned the car since 1961, but driven it only 500 miles.
This Phantom III – one of a series of 727 majestic, 7.3-litre, V-12-engined cars introduced by Rolls-Royce in 1935 and built until 1939 – had attracted unique individuals. It was originally shipped in rolling chassis form to the Paris workshops of renowned coach builder Henri Binder, and is one of just two Sedanca de Villes he worked his sheet-metal magic to create.
Binder, who also bodied two of the six Bugatti Type 41 Royales, delivered it to its first owner, the Marquis de Villeroi. The Marquis and his notorious pal, King Karel of Romania, reputedly trolled the streets of Paris for ladies of the evening in it. Its post-Paris adventures’ provenance was more hazy than racy.
Davidson is another character, but of a different stripe. Not every classic Rolls-Royce owner drives a 1933 Phantom II – his other Rolls – from Bolton Ont., to a Chicago event, in a rainstorm, and then home again with a first-in-class trophy on the dash.
Born in Montreal, his early years were spent under the influence of a Scottish engineer father who messed about with Austins, Hillman Minxs and Jags. Davidson’s first car, purchased at 14, with $225 earned in a summer job, was a 1950 Jaguar Mark V – “a big old slug, with the engine banging like hell.”
It was his father’s idea that Davidson, who’d learned to drive at 12 in the Minx, would get to know all about the Jag before getting his licence at 16. The pair rebuilt it and Davidson drove it while attending Toronto’s York Mills Collegiate. “It was different. Everybody else was driving Cougars, Mustangs, GTOs, and things like that.” The Jag helped cement a “love/hate” bond with British cars that remains strong today.
University followed, in Windsor and then Newfoundland, where he began racing a 1962 ex-works Sebring Austin-Healey, and then a 1965 427-engined Cobra, also an ex-factory car, that was “just a rocket.”
Now semi-retired from running three paint companies, Davidson, who lives in Bolton, is devoting more time to enjoying a collection of classics that includes the 1933 Phantom II, a four-and-a-quarter Bentley Gurney Nutting Pillarless Coupe, Fixed Head and Drop Head XK150 Jags and an E-Type, a 1975 Jenson Interceptor III, a 1962 Studebaker Grand Tourismo and a 1980 Bentley T2 daily driver.
While he doesn’t race any more, he still likes to “play with fast cars.” And insists all his cars run perfectly.
“Probably the nicest thing I’ve been described as is anal,” he says. “I just want things to be done right.” And that led to a “micromanaged” restoration of the Phantom that consumed four years and a not-inconsiderable amount of money.
“We started it at Andrew’s plant, and only heard it run for a few seconds, as the spark plug wires were bare, and the carburetor leaking. We elected not to run it again until we’d resolved the fuel and electrical issues – and then it began,” says Martin Beer, who with brother Steven, operates Reg Beer Coachbuilder/CMC Enterprises in Bolton.
With Davidson’s proclivity for wanting his cars to be done just so, one thing led to another. With “another” in the badly neglected Phantom’s case escalating from fixing the carb and the wiring, and then painting the wiring conduits, just to make them look a little better, to a complete body-off restoration.
The Beer brothers spent countless hours – well, actually they counted all of them as Davidson, who was paying the bills, will attest – bringing the car to its current state of concours grace. Doing the Phantom “right” involved expenditures such as $27,000 on the chrome and $35,000 on the interior.
“The work they did was just outstanding,” says Davidson. “The fact it won Best in Class and Best of Show at British Car Day in Bronte. Was voted Most Beautiful Car [from outside the United States] at the U.S. Rolls-Royce Owners Club National Concours. And invited to St. John’s [previously the Meadowbrook concours] and Amelia Island is proof they did a phenomenal job.”
Davidson says taking part in the Amelia Island concours was an unforgettable experience. “It was overwhelming. The quality of the cars was just breathtaking. It was a trip through history, fascinating to see how cars have evolved, the European flair and the North American flair. Many were absolutely stunning, works of art. I felt really honoured to be part of it.”
Back in 1936
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