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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Ex-Col. J.B. Maclean 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Limousine

1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Hooper Limousine 98 EF, just after it emerged from its resting place inside the owner's garage, where it has remained for nearly one full year. After some adjustments, the old Rolls fired right up and settled into a comfortable and characteristically quiet idle.  
It never ceases to amaze me when I stop to consider all the wonderful classic cars in the world and their fascinating stories. This 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I carries a particularly rich history, in addition to the fact that it is a Derby, UK-built Phantom I and an undisputed automotive landmark as the successor model to the iconic 40/50 HP Silver Ghost.

While cloaked in its relatively mundane (a colleague's assessment and not mine) but original Formal Limousine coachwork by Hooper, this Phantom I is significant in Canada  by virtue of its original owner, Lt. Col. John B. Maclean, the founder of the Maclean-Hunter publishing empire and one of Toronto's most legendary business figures of the first half of the 20th Century. The car's decidedly non-flamboyant coachwork appropriately mirrored Col. Maclean, who began his publishing business with a farmers' publication in the late-19th Century.

The Phantom was a faithful servant to Col. Maclean and his wife and frequently used for trips to his rural properties in Crieff in Puslinch Township, Ontario near the city of Guelph and every spring and fall, it transported Mrs. Maclean to the couple's winter home in Florida. In fact, the car's rear passenger compartment retains the substantial brass stanchion that was used to secure the wheelchair of Mrs. Maclean.

An interesting story related by the current owner sheds light on the surprisingly prodigious performance of the Phantom I. On one occasion, Mrs. Maclean's chauffeur was reportedly stopped by police in Georgia for speeding. According to the story, the car was travelling at nearly 100 mph!

The car was acquired from the estate of Colonel Maclean, who had passed away in 1950 (just one day shy of his 88th birthday) by the next owner, who sold it to the current owner in 1955. The car's subsequent history is more remarkable under the current owner, who used the Phantom I for many years as a wedding car for hire, as a fun weekend side business for him. He would always dress in period chauffeur's uniform, as evidenced by the image on the front of his business card. He and his wife toured the car enthusiastically and extensively and on one trip, they even drove the Phantom from London, Ontario to New York City in order to purchase a proper replacement Waltham "8-Day" clock for the car!

When I visited the owner this past August, he drove 98 EF out of its resting place in his garage for the first time in a year. The car was kept on a trickle charger and it fired right up with just a few deft adjustments to the steering-wheel spark and mixture controls by the owner. It has only had one repaint (not terribly high quality, with lots of flaws) over the years and the interior was re-trimmed in gray broadcloth about 33 years ago (admittedly a bit tatty now), and some minor engine work was performed a few years ago. Nonetheless, its sound operating condition and story are quite remarkable, not to mention its use in a street scene in the 2002 hit musical movie Chicago! and an episode of TV's Anne of Green Gables.

Sadly, the beautiful former Toronto residence of the Macleans was demolished a few years ago and the land was redeveloped, leaving this fascinating Rolls-Royce Phantom I as one of the few physical artifacts of its famous first owner. Simply put, 98 EF remains a wonderfully tangible and drivable link to the founder of one of Canada's media dynasties, seeking only a new caretaker.


  1. Hi David
    We have now acquired 98EF and I was wondering if you knew who the 2nd owner of the car was between MacLean & Kerr.



    1. Hi Sue,
      Thanks for reaching out. Please email me at to discuss further.