Fred Astaire, a man of consummate style, the embodiment of elegance, habitue of Savile Row and Jermyn Street, had an enduring affection for Rolls-Royce. His first Rolls-Royce was a black 20bhp ‘baby’ Rolls, and in 1928 he moved on to a Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royce Phantom I.
As Astaire gradually cemented his place in the Hollywood firmament, the Phantom also underwent a makeover. In those days it was perfectly usual to update a car, even a Rolls-Royce, to reflect the latest styles. And so, sometime in the mid-1930s, Inskip – a New York agent well known for its own coachwork – was commissioned by Astaire to refurbish the Phantom. Changes included scalloped wood door fillets, special door handles, valance panels on both sides and Art Deco arrowed indicators.
The Phantom today has some charming accessories – an extremely rare Louis Vuitton motoring trunk, which carries a top hat, white bow tie, cuff and collar boxes, a Turnbull & Asser silk scarf, a ‘tea-for-two’ picnic set, plus both dancing and tap shoes. In the lid of the trunk are a period tennis racket, cricket bat and shooting sticks. A secret locker contains a full set of vintage golf clubs.
Astaire kept the Phantom until 1950 (although it wasn’t his last Rolls-Royce), by which time he was famous for his partnership with Ginger Rogers, in movies such as Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936). Despite announcing his retirement in 1946, he was back and entering a new Golden Age with musicals such as The Band Wagon (1953), opposite Cyd Charisse; Funny Face (1957) with Audrey Hepburn; and Silk Stockings (1957), once more with Cyd Charisse.
If you want to relive that first pre-war Golden Age, when he was picking up his top hat, putting on the Ritz and flying down to Rio, make a date to see ‘The Fred Astaire Phantom I’ at ‘The Great Eight Phantoms’, a Rolls-Royce Exhibition in Mayfair, London, U.K. late in July.