Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rolls-Royce Foundation Museum, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: August 27, 2015

Back on the road again: this time we headed down familiar Interstate 81 into Pennsylvania and stopped in Dillsburg (population 2,563) after an 8 hour drive, covering 770 kms.  We enjoyed the first night of a long weekend in the beautiful Blair Mountain Bed & Breakfast.  As of this writing the place has reverted to being a private home but it was one of the nicest B&Bs we have stayed in. Beautifully renovated with a huge living room window, the inn was surrounded by bird feeders and there was lots of activity every day, with flocks of cardinals and many hummingbirds.  There was a charming red barn on the property and a very friendly cat to welcome us.  And breakfast was great too!

After a good night's sleep in this quiet rural place, we set off in the Corvette for Mechanicsburg, a 20 minute drive that brought us to the Rolls-Royce Foundation and its museum.

Frankly, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania would not rank as the most obvious place to find the Rolls-Royce Foundation.  It is an adjunct of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club, which was founded in 1951 and is located directly next to the Foundation on the same property.  The Club is "members helping members preserve, restore, repair, use, drive and enjoy" their Bentley and Rolls-Royce automobiles. It has members around the world.  The Foundation, which has an education purpose, was founded in 1978 and the Museum was opened in 2004, celebrating the marque's 100th anniversary.

In addition to the cars and other displays in the museum, there is an extensive library open to researchers and restorers, with books, manuals, sales literature and periodicals, as well as documentation on individual chassis.  The museum has 5,000 square feet of display area and an extensive workshop area as well.

We were greeted by a friendly young woman who gave us a detailed tour of the museum (where we were again the only visitors present).  She was very knowledgeable about the mechanical aspects of the cars and explained that she grew up in a family that owned and restored Rolls-Royces.

The oldest car on display was one of the finest, an American-built 1929 Phantom I.  To meet demand and to address tariffs, Rolls-Royce opened a small factory in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1920 and it produced 2,944 cars before falling victim to the Great Depression in 1931 and closing.  The building in Springfield existed until fairly recently, being torn down only in 2011.  Many of the Rolls-Royce bodies were custom or supplied by Brewster & Co. in New York.

Another gem in the collection is a very fine 1936 Bentley 3 1/2 litre.

A 1948 Silver Wraith, already obsolescent technically when it was built but looking elegant in its Hooper bodywork
And nobody can resist a 1962 Silver Cloud II that was equipped with every option, including the picnic table!

At this point we were shown the workshop area , which also had a number of more modern cars on display.  The Foundation works with vocational schools to teach auto restoration technique in the hope that these old classics will be able to run forever.

One of the more unusual "modern" cars is a Rolls-Royce Phantom V, a model built between 1959 and 1968 in very small numbers, with only 516 being produced.  The Queen had two as state vehicles and there were other notable owners of this model, including John Lennon, who had his painted in groovy "psychedelic" colours.  When we lived in Hong Kong from 1989-91, we saw one used for official purposes by the Governor of the colony.  Following handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the car was shipped back to the UK on HMY Britannia, the royal yacht which also brought back Prince Charles and the last Gouvenor, Sir Chris Patton.

The Phantom V is a very impressive car, with a 6.2 litre V8 and a weight of 2500 kg.  It had a General Motors automatic transmission.  The car was followed by the even rarer Phantom VI, which was never exported to the United States due to lack of emissions compliance.

Not the Queen of England
In addition to the library, workshop and display area, there is a small giftshop offering Rolls-Royce and Bentley souvenirs and books.  The Museum is open Monday-Friday and is maintained by a volunteer staff.  We have a memorable visit and would recommend stopping by.

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