1960 Silver Cloud
A call came in through my website www.dennisbuyscars.com concerning two vintage Rolls Royce cars for sale. The caller explained that the cars actually belong to his sister in San Fransisco and he gave me her number.
I called the woman and almost before I finished telling her my complete name she interrupted me by telling me how much she wanted for the cars and that she was not negotiable.
I knew immediately this one would not be easy.
She also said that she would be calling dealers one by one until one of them paid her price. The cars were available for inspection and she would not call anyone else until I had made a final decision. I had first shot and it was up to me to carefully research these cars to make sure that I could buy them safely and make a reasonable profit.
I had my work cut out for me. This was my first Rolls Royce transaction and these cars are notoriously complicated, especially when they have been sitting for awhile. Plus, there was distance involved and I had to coordinate time away from the lot. I had bought a huge pick up truck earlier in the week and my plan was to drive from Los Angeles, make it a fun overnighter with my teenage son, Sam, with the plan of trailering one of the cars home with me in case she and I struck a deal.
It was suggested to me by a fellow car dealer that I get advice from a mutual acquaintance named Jim Toole concerning this deal. Jim is well known as an expert on vintage Rolls Royces. He has a large collection of pre-war cars some of which are displayed at the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles. He has also been a judge at many Concours events and I was delighted at the prospect of having him in my corner. One time at his garage in Santa Monica he gave me and my friend a detailed explanation of how gaskets were made out of leather soaked in oil during the Twenties before plastic and rubber products were perfected.
I called Jim and gave him a brief overview. He asked me about my experience in buying and selling these types of cars and what I knew about them. My father always told me never to lie to a doctor or lawyer so I told him the truth; I knew almost nothing about these cars except for lusting after them most of my life.
The first thing he told me was that under no circumstances should I try to start these cars on my own without going through a proper procedure first because I could cause major engine damage requiring a $10,000 rebuild per car. This involves taking the spark plugs out, squirting some oil and gently rocking the pistons back and forth, according to Jim.
Also, he said the brakes were probably shot from sitting and that could be easily $5,000 per car. I was already getting nervous. For $200 he said he would guide me through both cars completely and advise me on whether or not I should pay her price. "It will be the best $200 you ever spent," he said in his proper English accent. I believed him and I knew I had the right guy. He told me to bring a good flashlight and call him when I got there.
I had envisioned coming to stately manor with the Rolls Royces tucked neatly away in a Tudor style barn shared with a dozen thoroughbreds. Such was not the case. The woman lived in a modest two bedroom home with one of the cars crammed into a one car garage and the other one was unceremoniously parked outside. Apparently these were her husband's cars who had passed away about five years previously. The one that had been sitting outside for these five years was a 1960 Silver Cloud Bentley conversion. It had been running when it was parked according to her and not touched since.
Rare James Young Silver Cloud
The other really got my attention. It was a rare James Young Silver Cloud whose restoration was halted at the time of his death. It had a brand new paint job in a beautiful gold color but had not yet been reassembled. All of the chrome parts, the venerable Rolls Royce grill and hood ornament, all the windows, bumpers, headlights, most of the glass and windshield were all in various boxes throughout the garage.
I got Jim on the phone and we started with the Bentley. First he had me stick my arm over the front tire and measure the distance between my forearm the lower part of the fender. This test determined that the 80,000 miles indicated on the speedometer was probably accurate. Then, while I was in this position he had me poking and feeling for certain gaskets and seams. A lot of actual glass was used on these cars for reservoir tanks and he wanted me to make sure that they were all present and not replaced with modern plastic. He had me inspect, feel and smell all fluids to further help determine the related mechanical parts. There is a little metal door under the spare tire which when left open, according to Jim, is the favorite embarking destination for rats that love to chew on things in these cars. The main issue with these cars is rust and Jim guided my flashlight to common trouble areas. The car was relatively rust free with no major problems. The interior and the carpets were fairly worn and the wood needed refinishing. The silver paint still had some luster but this was a car that needed complete mechanical and cosmetic restoration.
The James Young car was a different story. The leather was excellent and the interior of the car had unmistakable smell of wealth. As mentioned earlier it had been freshly painted at the time of the owners passing and parts were in boxes everywhere. With Jim's help it was determined that all of the major parts of this giant English jig-saw puzzle were present. But because of the fact that these cars were all hand made and each example was pretty much one of a kind, he warned me that even if one small piece of trim or molding were missing it might be impossible to find and that would affect the value. He had me crawl under the car to inspect the rear leaf springs. A correct car should have them covered in leather.
They were. This car had all its original parts, would need to have the brakes done and assembly of all the parts that were scattered about.
As advised I made no attempts to start either car. After two hours of crawling, prying, inspecting, scraping, pulling, poking, squinting and peering Jim had his final analysis of whether or not I should pay the asking price. This would be a big job to get these cars and the related parts to L.A. and even a bigger job to make them sellable. He advised me that the asking price was too much and I should pass.
I was deflated and started doing the arithmetic in my head; $200 for Jim Toole, about $100 for the motel room, well over $200 in gas for that beast of a 10 cylinder pick up truck and maybe $200 in food and sight seeing. This was a fair investment already that I did not want to give up easily and I had a brainstorm.
In her backyard, resting against a rock wall with twenty tiers of weeds growing through it was an ancient, dilapidated, bright blue motor scooter. The woman believed it was a 1950 Cushman that her husband came home with years ago and it has sat there since.
I told her that I would take both cars for the price she was asking under two conditions. The first condition was that I give her a deposit now, take a bunch of pictures and would need 24 hours to find a buyer in Los Angeles. Then I would pay her via bank wire and my buyer would be responsible for picking up the cars.
The second condition was that she throws in the scooter and that I take with me now. If I don't find a buyer, she keeps the deposit and I keep the scooter. I thought this was pure brilliance on my part and she went for it.
We threw the scooter into the back into the back of my 6 MPG truck then Sam and I headed back to L.A.
My first stop the next morning was my friend Neil Jaffe, owner of Chequered Flag International www.chequeredflag.com in Marina Del Rey, CA. Neil has been a friend for over twenty years and has a solid reputation all over the world for his knowledge on classic cars. These cars were right up his alley and I thought this deal would be a perfect match.
I plugged my card reader into his computer, went through all the pictures and we struck a deal. The cars were picked up by Neil, came back to Los Angeles without a hitch and now I believe they are in residing in Australia.
About a week later Jim Toole himself, with his shock of white hair and two canes, showed up at my Venice Blvd. location to collect his $200. Sadly, within weeks of this encounter with him I learned that Jim had passed away.
I was grateful to have this small experience with such a legend.
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