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The Day Rolls-Royce Went Psychedelic: John Lennon’s Phantom Was Like No Other Limousine of its Time

John Lennon's Rolls Royce

The Rolls-Royce Phantom V was launched in 1959 to replace the venerable Silver Wraith. It was a much larger car, meant to be driven by a chauffeur.

In fact, it was the ultimate limousine of its time. 

Most of the original Phantoms were black. They were either used for formal occasions or privately by members of wealthy families.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom first made worldwide headlines in January of 1965. On that date, the Duke and Duchess of York were traveling home from Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral when their Phantom veered off the road and down a shallow embankment, turning over three times and landing on its roof. Due to the Phantom’s great design and sturdy construction, none of the occupants was seriously injured. The incident showcased the strength and resilience of the James Young coachwork. That same 5AT30 model was rebuilt and continued to serve the family for years.

John Lennon Rolls-Royce Phantom

But let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?

It was 1964. The Beatles took over the world with the release of their film A Hard Day’s Night.  In December of that year, John Lennon special ordered a Rolls-Royce Phantom V from R. S. Mead of Maidenhead. He wanted his car to be black inside and out. In fact, even all of the brightwork (normally finished in chromium plate or stainless steel) was black. Built by Mulliner Park Ward, the car was covered in an all-black gloss paint, including the wheel discs and bumpers. Only the iconic Pantheon grille and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot retained their conventional chrome finish, at the marque’s insistence.

John Lennon in his Rolls-Royce Phantom

Lennon’s car was one of the first cars in Britain to have blacked-out windows, made from darkened, reflective Triplex Deeplight glass. It also was 3/16” thick in the rear doors and 3/4” in the rear quarter lights and had backlight and division glass.

“People think they’ve got black windows to hide. It’s partly that, but it’s also for when you’re coming home late,” Lennon told a Rolling Stone interviewer in 1965. “If it’s daylight when you’re coming home, it’s still dark inside the car – you just shut all the windows and you’re still in the club.”

The interior featured black Bedford cord cloth and black nylon rugs in the rear compartment, and black leather in the front. 

John Lennon next to his customize Rolls-Royce Phantom

Later, the car was repainted in a psychedelic electric yellow, embellished with flowers, Romany scrolls, and signs of the zodiac. 

According to The Atlantic, John Lennon reportedly loved to tell the story of a London woman who was so upset by what the musician had done to his Roll-Royce Phantom that she went after it with her umbrella.

Besides the huge V8 engine Lennon’s Phantom included a cocktail cabinet, portable TV, a refrigerator, and some of the first tinted windows ever fitted to a British car. 

After months of use, with his driver – Les Anthony – getting him to meetings and recording sessions in style, Lennon returned the car to Rolls in December of 1965 for service. He spent about $49,615 in today’s dollar, on a number of upgrades, some of them very custom.

John Lennon Rolls-Royce Phantom Interior

Among other things, Lennon had the Rolls team replace the more conventional back seat with a seat that could be converted into a double bed, install a radiotelephone that occupied most of the trunk; and build a record and tape player as well as hidden loudspeakers that could scare anything or anyone outside the vehicle. And later, the most rebellious move of all – a psychedelic paint job. Lennon called on the services of coachbuilder, JP Fallon.

In 1967,with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in full swing, the car went back again and the Rolls team pained a base coat of bright yellow and then artist Steve Weaver hand-finished the Phantom with swirls, flowers, and a zodiac sign. Blue, green, and red hues replaced the all-black exterior paint on the original. 

John Lennon’s Phantom

A day before the release of Sgt. Pepper’s the paint job was completed and unleashed on the world, grabbing a ton of media coverage. People were upset. Lennon was thrilled.

It was everything Lennon hoped it would be “extravagant, unique and disruptive,” according to The Atlantic. 
Sound familiar? It’s the very essence of Rolls-Royce, after all.

After the shock wore off, we think the founding founders of Rolls-Royce might have dug it.

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