John Lennon's Rolls-Royce Phantom is one of the most famous examples of one of the world's most famous cars. Painted in a beautifully psychadelic colour scheme — orange and blue and red and turquoise on a bright yellow body — and customised with a double bed, TV, phone and fridge as well as a record player and thumping sound system, it's a unique vehicle. Currently owned by a museum in Canada, it's travelling back to the UK for an exhibition celebrating the launch of the eighth-generation Phantom.
It's quite appropriate timing for the car to return to London, being the 50th anniversary year of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as well as the lead-up to the launch of the eighth-gen Phantom. From July 29 to August 2, the Lennon Phantom V will be on exhibition at Bonhams on New Bond St — an area that Rolls-Royce says the musician hung out around regularly in the late '60s in this very car.
More of the cars included in the exhibition are being teased before it opens, but the main event will be when the brand new Phantom itself is unveiled.
On 3 June 1965 – the same day that Edward H White left the capsule of his Gemini 4 to become the first American to walk in space – John Lennon took delivery of something rather special. It was a Rolls-Royce Phantom V in Valentine Black. He would later say that he always wanted to be an eccentric millionaire, and the Phantom would become an important step towards that dream.
Lennon had the Phantom V customised in true rock-star style. The rear seat was converted to a double bed, a television, telephone and refrigerator were installed, along with a 'floating' record player and a custom sound system (which included an external loud hailer). Then, in April 1967, just as the recording of the game-changing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was finishing, Lennon asked Surrey coachbuilders, JP Fallon, to give the Phantom a new paint job. The freshly-painted Phantom was unveiled days before the worldwide release of Sgt. Pepper’s on 1 June and it seemed part of the overall concept of the album.
The new colour scheme is often described as 'psychedelic' and certainly the colours, particularly the dominant yellow, reflected the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But look carefully and you will see it is no random swirl, but a floral Romany scroll design, as used on gypsy caravans and canal barges, with a zodiac symbol on the roof.
The Phantom V was used regularly by Lennon until 1969 (Lennon also owned a slightly less conspicuous all-white Phantom V). Having used it, pre-paint change, to collect his MBE with his bandmates in 1965, he then used it again in 1969 to return his MBE to the Palace, in protest against, among other things, the Vietnam War. The car was shipped to the USA in 1970 when Lennon moved there and was loaned out to ferry other rock stars around such as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Moody Blues. In 1977, after a period in storage, it was donated by billionaire Jim Pattison to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
‘The Great Eight Phantoms’ – a Rolls-Royce Exhibition, will take place at Bonhams international flagship saleroom and galleries in New Bond Street, London, from 29 July to the 2 August.
In the last 92 years, Rolls-Royce has made a storied line-up of amazing motor cars. I've driven one and it's not an experience I'll forget. But the Phantom is the most storied of them all, and Rolls-Royce is turning its eight great models into an exhibition open to the public in London's Mayfair.