WWII General Bernard Montgomery’s Rolls Royce Phantom III Sells for Much Less Than Expected

Rolls Royce Phantom, circa 1936. Photographed outside the Hyatt Hotel Canberra December 2005 by AYArktos. CC-BY SA 2.5

On December 6, 2017, the 1936 Rolls Royce Phantom III touring limousine used by General Bernard Montgomery to drive such World War II notables as  Prime Minister Winston Churchill, HRHKing George VI and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to meetings.   The historical car sold by Bonhams’ Auction House had a list price of £180,000 or $242,175 but sold for only £143,750 or $193,000. The average sale value for a vehicle of this type without historical significance is £101,180 or $135,581.

The limousine was built in 1936 and was originally owned by Frederick Wilcock, the CEO of Talbot Motor Company at the time.  Once the war started, the British Ministry of War’s Transport Section commandeered the vehicle for use by General Montgomery.  Wilcock asked that the car stay in Great Britain to avoid any wartime damage.

The Phantom III was used by General Montgomery to travel between either of his two homes, one in Surry and the other in Southwick House near Portsmouth, to London and to bring King George VI, Churchill and Eisenhower to Southwick for planning meetings for D-Day.

Field Marshal Montgomery stands up in his Humber staff car as he crosses the River Seine at Vernon, 1 September 1944.
Field Marshal Montgomery stands up in his Humber staff car as he crosses the River Seine at Vernon, 1 September 1944.

The green and black Rolls – inside and out and trimmed with wood – has a 7338cc V12 engine and was updated to modern standards.  It has also been refit with a new carburetor and exhaust system.  The Phantom III was the first Rolls produced with a V12 engine, one-piece aluminum alloy crankcase and cylinder blocks, cast-iron wet cylinder liners and aluminum head, as well as an independent front suspension.  It also still has the unique cigarette lighter, built into the back seat console, especially for Churchill’s signature cigars.

It was the last Rolls Royce model designed by founder Henry Royce before his death in 1933, and only seven hundred and ten were produced.  Of that number only three hundred are known to have survived.  Included with the car was a letter from Wilcock to the Ministry of War in London, dated November 18, 1943, acknowledging the request for the vehicle.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery and Major General Arne Dagfin Dahl in Narvik July 5, 1951.
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery and Major General Arne Dagfin Dahl in Narvik July 5, 1951.

After D-Day, it was reassigned to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army Air Force, General Carl Spaatz. In the 1950s, a Malaysian planter in Penang purchased the vehicle and the history after that is unknown to the public, other than it was sold by a private collector.  Extensive paperwork of the car’s history after the war was included in the purchase price.

The limousine made an appearance at a celebration of the anniversary of D-Day in 2014 at Southwick, attended by Churchill’s grandson Patrick and Lady Arabella Stuart-Smith, the granddaughter of General Montgomery, among other important dignitaries.

Ablack and yellow Rolls Royce Phantom III was featured in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger. Both Goldfinger and Odd Job, Goldfinger’s assistant, drove the car in the movie.  The license plate AU1, a play on the periodic symbol for gold, was offered at auction by Bonhams in 2008 but failed to sell.  Michael G. Wilson, a producer of several Bond movies, was chauffeured to the SkyFall World Premiere at the Royal Albert Hallin the iconic limo.  In 2012 several former Bond girls and Richard Kiel, the actor who portrayed Jaws in Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me, gathered together with the vehicle in Stoke Park for the Bond Blu-Ray Relay Tour, and again in 2013 for the first official James Bond Golf Day.  In 2014, the Phantom III became part of the Bond In Motion exhibition in the London Film Museum.

Other luxury cars formerly owned by celebrities have been sold by Bonhams, including the Lotus Esprit Submarine Car driven by James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me, Sir Paul McCartney’s 1964 Aston Martin DB5 Sports Saloon, Ringo Starr’s 1966 Austin Mini Cooper ‘S’ Sports Saloon, a 1959 Bentley S1 Continental Sport Saloon and a 1960 Bentley S2 Continental Flying Spur Sports Saloon,owned by Sir Elton John and the 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud used in the Scotland wedding of Madonna and Guy Ritchie.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE