Weston, Mass. — It's the most famous Rolls-Royce automobile of them all.
The 1907 Silver Ghost - there is really only one Silver Ghost, although many people refer to all 40- to 50-horsepower Rolls-Royce cars built up to 1925 as Silver Ghosts - was designed and built by Henry Royce himself. That same year ( 1907) it was driven by the Honorable Charles Stewart Rolls, a car distributor and race driver, in the famed durability trials between London and Glasgow.
Running day and night, it broke the world's record for reliability and distance, covering 14,371 miles without an involuntary stop.
Inspected by engineers of the Royal Automobile Club, the car showed, according to the club, no measurable wear in the engine, transmission, brakes, or steering gear.
''Had the car been in the hands of a private owner,'' a report by the Royal Automobile Club said at the time, ''no replacements would have been considered necessary to bring the car up to a condition indistinguishable from new.''
The shiny-bright car, which was on ''tour'' in the US last summer, has now returned to its own turf, England. While it was trucked from place to place in the US, it was driven about wherever it was on display.
Let's go for a ride in this magnificent machine. On its US tour, a few people did just that. Not drive it, mind you, but sit up all regal-like either in the front seat or behind.
Riding in the spacious back seat makes one feel like a maharajah.
Not a reproduction, this, but the real thing: the finely maintained body and fittings; the 10-leaf springs and dead forged axle in front and 13-leaf springs and fully floating axle behind; a transverse 11-leaf spring anchored to two diagonal chassis members and ends of the leaf springs; the 6-cylinder engine in two blocks of three; side valves and two spark plugs per cylinder; coil and magneto ignition; and a nickel-steel forged crankshaft running in seven main bearings.
All exterior fittings are silver-plated.
The car was clearly built to last. And last it has: The odometer registers 570,000 miles at latest count.
After winning many long-distance trials and endurance runs in its early days, the car was sold to a Rolls-Royce employee who drove it about a half-million miles before it was returned to the factory in 1948.
Only a few people in the world are allowed behind the wheel of the Ghost in motion, one of them being Dennis Miller-Williams, head of public relations for Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd.
Indeed, driving the car looks hard, even from the left-front passenger seat. (Remember, the car is British and the steering wheel is on the right.)
I, equipped with a straw topper but no goggles, did make a contribution to the spin, however, as I pumped up the pressure in the fuel tank so that the engine didn't stall for want of gas. While there is a foot brake, it does little to slow the car; thus, the driver relies almost entirely on the hand brake.
The Ghost - which predates the well-known Flying Lady, the jealously guarded hood ornament which was designed by British sculptor Charles Sykes in 1911 - is smooth running, and the engine is remarkably quiet when underway.
Yet, we slowed almost to a stop for even the slightest bump in the roadway, and the car would be no match for the potholes of spring.
The company is reported to have turned down $2 million for the car. Indeed, the 75-year-old Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is an automotive-history book on wheels.