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1925 Round Door Rolls-Royce at the Petersen Museum

By April 24, 2008

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1925 Round Door Rolls-Royce Phantom IWe have wanted to visit the Petersen Automotive Museum for many years. It is internationally recognized for its innovative design, and is dedicated to the interpretive study of the automobile and its influence on our culture and lives. What finally got us out there - an invitation to see the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Aerodynamic Coupe, aka, the Round Door Rolls.

The Rolls-Royce Aerodynamic Coupe is the centerpiece of the museum newest “Treasures of the Vault” exhibition, which will highlight a selection of important, but seldom seen Petersen Automotive Museum acquisitions. This car has been described as an unlikely combination of extravagant European coachwork on a conservative British chassis - we call it amazing.

Originally the car was a 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I with a body built in 1934 by Jonckheere of Belgium. Like all other prewar Rolls-Royce motorcars, this Phantom I was delivered new in chassis-only form to a coachbuilder. Hooper & Co. was the chosen body maker and in 1925, the completed vehicle was delivered with cabriolet coachwork to its first owner, a Mrs. Hugh Dillman of Detroit. Mrs. Dillman reportedly did not like the car and it appears never to have left England.

The Rolls-Royce was purchased by the Raja of Nanpara before being passed on to an unknown number of other owners and by 1932 was seen in Belgium. Two years later its then owner sent the car to Jonckheere of Belgium to be stripped of its cabriolet body and fitted with fashionably aerodynamic coachwork complete with twin sunroofs, a large fin, a sloping radiator shell, and round doors.

Although the design was controversial and not highly regarded by most Rolls-Royce aficionados, the car was well received by Concours d’Elegance judges of the day and was reported to have taken a Prix d’Honneur at the August, 1936 Cannes Concours d’Elegance.

The prize winning car then passed through the hands of several other owners, and was observed in Bar Harbor, Maine before World War II being driven by a chauffeur who was supposedly so obese, that he could not get out of the car to assist his employer to disembark. The Round Door Rolls was next discovered in the 1950’s, in New Jersey, in a junk yard.

It is not known who rescued the car from being scrapped, but East Coast entrepreneur Max Obie eventually acquired the unusual Rolls-Royce and had it refurbished. Obie would take it to shopping malls, making claims that the car had been owned by royalty and charged admission for people to look at it.

In the Spring of 2001, the Peterson Automotive Museum took possession, and Mr. and Mrs. Petersen decided to bring the car back to its concours winning glory. Every component was removed, checked for wear and authenticity, then reconditioned or replaced as needed. The car was painted black which highlights its subtle contours and striking profile.

All the cars at the Petersen Museum can be driven, but the Round Door Rolls-Royce requires a great deal of driver involvement when underway. It is difficult to steer at slow speeds, requires double-clutching when changing gears, and cannot be stopped easily in an emergency. While fashionably low, the lack of ground clearance virtually assures that the extended rear deck will scrape the ground if a driver does not approach curbs and speed bumps slowly enough and at the proper angle.

For more pictures of the Rolls-Royce Aerodynamic Coupe, and other fabulous cars at the Museum, go to our Petersen Museum Photo Gallery.

Photo © Petersen Automotive Museum

Information regarding the Rolls-Royce History, courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum

April 25, 2008 at 11:02 am
(1) Matt Wright says:

What an amazing car. It’s almost as if they took the Spirit of Ecstasy off the radiator and sent it to the design room with orders to make the flying lady into a car. I love the story behind it. How could a car as rare as this languish in a bone yard? Who decided somewhere along the line to toss it aside? Thank goodness somebody decided to rescue her. She’s a true piece of history, and not so hard to look at, either.

April 25, 2008 at 12:40 pm
(2) Basem says:

What a gorgeous car! I can’t imagine how much it’s worth now…

October 12, 2008 at 1:10 pm
(3) g league says:

i have found a postcard that had been given out by max & cecile obie in the early 50′s which states this car was built for king edward viii the duke of windsor. the cars color on this large postcard gold, and the car has a front bumper alone weighed 200 lbs. total weight of car 7200 lbs. seats red and white leather, fold back to a bed, with a white fur rug. 468 cu. in. engine. 2 spark plugs for each cylinder. top speed over 120 mph. the obies were from paramus new jersey

July 30, 2009 at 12:41 pm
(4) steve brummer says:

I have been looking for this car for over 20 years. My father,George A. Brummer, was the person who restored this car in the early 50′s. His body shop was located at 541 Jackson Ave ,bronx,new york. I have pictures of this car at my father’s shop as they were getting it ready for the 1954 World motor show.It took the GRAND PRIZE.This was no small accomplishment considering the extremely rotted condition it was in.

August 12, 2009 at 12:40 pm
(5) robert jacobson says:

my father tom jacobson from edgewater nj was a owner of the Rolls-Royce Phantom round door he founr it in a place in edgewater before my time he told me he paid 2400 and a trade for a nother car from stictel pence was the owner after a few years he sold it to Max Obie back in the 1950,s my father is 83 and still alive his number is 570 2563211 he now is in pa love to here from any one that wants to know about the car robert jacobson thank you

December 8, 2009 at 7:57 pm
(6) trilby227 says:

Mrs. Hugh Dillman of Detroit was Anna Dodge, the widow of Horace Dodge, of the Dodge brothers automobiles.

June 18, 2010 at 12:22 am
(7) richard h says:

I remember seeing this car as a kid back in the 50′s. I lived in a small town in W. Tn. This car was brought in on a truck or trailer ,I don’t recall which and put on display for a small fee you could look at it. There was a long story about it being custom made for the Prince of Whales or King Edward. I had loked on line for it and never found any info on it and today I got an email with pictures of prewar cars and there it was with a name for the car. I was able to do a search and find all kind of info about it

September 9, 2010 at 5:49 am
(8) Rolls Royce says:

Well, I always wish to see a car like this with so many luxurious facilities really it should be appreciated,well done.


January 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm
(9) Arnold Friedlander says:

Cecile worked as a model for my uncle, Henry Rosenfeld, 498 7th Ave. NY. I was working for North American Plywood. Max asked if I had any plywood that he could use to line the exhibit trailer. There were two trailers one for the car and one that Max and Cele lived in while they were on the road. They were both 18 wheelers Cele drove one and Max drove the car trailer. Cele was all of 100 pounds. They showed the Rolls all over the country at state and county fairs, charging a quarter a look. In the end they made a living and retired in Florida, where they showed the cars occasionally. I remember when the Rolls was restored. The body work was done by Hummer Binder and the paint was gold leaf. Yes there were round doors and the door windows opened from the center to complete the circle. The carpet was red Mouton. The seats were red and white leather. The Duke of Windsor wouldn’t be caught dead in it. It bristled with chrome, the back window was louvered and actually opened to give the driver rear vision. This wasn’t Max’s only car he had several more but the one I most remember was a 1936 V16 Duel cowel cadillac phaeton, which I got to drive. This experience lead me into the world of exotic cars. One of mine went to a California museum. It was a 1953 Jaguar XK 120 Drop Head Coupe with a JCNA score of 99.82 You can see the car every month in Hemmings Motor News, they use it as an example of a proper ad. I Am a classic car judge and considered an expert on Jaguar XK’s.

May 13, 2012 at 2:40 am
(10) karl says:

Dear all,
It is a great pleasure to read about this car. I’m planing to do a 3D model of this round door, my only problem… I don’t have size information… can someone help with a link or with some book references, or even better with the overall sizes of this splendid piece of art.
Thanks to all.
Best regards

July 4, 2012 at 9:51 pm
(11) vic bogetti says:

my friend traded a packard darrin convertible for the round door rolls to max obie

August 22, 2012 at 11:36 pm
(12) Robert S. Ripley Sr. says:

Robert S Ripley Sr
Past Associate member of the “Rolls Royce-Bently Owners Club”

Monday August 20, 2012- As my wife & I were just talking, while I was reading the October 2012, Hemmings Classic Car Magazine. I was reminiscing, about the mid to late 1950′s, when she & I saw the GOLD “Round Door Rolls Royce”. At the Chemung County Fair in Elmira Heights, New York.
2 years ago, I saw an exact scale model replica of that car in a private collectors possession. And he was very surprised that I even knew of the existence of that car.
I remember that it was owned by a couple, whose name was OBIE. Joyce suggested that I try to find it on the internet. You would not believe, the excitement, the jump in my heart rate, & the joy, that just flooded my whole body as I found this article. You just gave me more information, on the automobile that is so rare, but we have experienced seeing it. I also bought the picture card of it, for a life time treasure. I will check here often to look for any update on this car.

Thank you.
Bob & Joyce Ripley Sr
Pine City, New York

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