Attention car buffs. Attention Beatles fans. Attention lovers of nostalgia—especially in the psychedelic realm.
Rolls-Royce, in celebration of the 50th anniversary year of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band, is releasing images of John Lennon’s so-called “Psychedelic Rolls,” a tricked out Rolls-Royce Phantom V which debuted shortly before the Fab Four’s eighth studio album. Ars is publishing a few of those photos and others of the 1965 vehicle because, well, they have prompted me to imagine driving with Lennon—one of my heroes—as we drift by tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
The 6.23-litre V8 is owned by the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada and is being showcased as part of Rolls-Royce’s new exhibition, “The Great Eight Phantoms.”
Lennon had the Phantom V customized in true rock-star style. The rear seat was converted to a double bed, a television, telephone, and refrigerator were installed, along with a ‘floating’ record player and a custom sound system (which included an external loud hailer). Then, in April 1967, just as the recording of the game-changing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was finishing, Lennon asked Surrey coachbuilders, JP Fallon, to give the Phantom a new paint job. The freshly-painted Phantom was unveiled days before the worldwide release of Sgt. Pepper’s on 1 June, and it seemed part of the overall concept of the album.
The new color scheme is often described as ‘psychedelic’ and certainly the colors, particularly the dominant yellow, reflected the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But look carefully and you will see it is no random swirl, but a floral Romany scroll design, as used on gypsy caravans and canal barges, with a zodiac symbol on the roof.
Rolls-Royce is also piggybacking on Lennon’s vehicle to help promote its latest model, the Phantom VIII. The $450,000 ride comes with a full-length glass dashboard that can be customized.
“We’ve opened a door to allow the license to ‘subvert,’ which goes back to where Lennon went originally. It’s a license to express yourselves,” Giles Taylor, the design director at Rolls-Royce, told Rolling Stone.
So how much did Lennon’s rig cost? It’s unclear, but there are some estimates, according to Rolling Stone.
Commissioned from R.S. Mead Ltd., a retailer based in nearby Maidenhead, the custom-made Phantom V would take six months to complete. Its chassis was manufactured at the Rolls-Royce factory in Crewe, Cheshire, and in late January 1965 work began on the bespoke limousine carriage at Mulliner Park Ward in Willesden, Northwest London. For all of the paperwork accumulated during the car’s construction, the total price of the vehicle is not recorded. An educated guess from historian Steve Clifford, who profiled the car in an extensive 1999 article for Beatleology magazine, put the figure at around 11,000 pounds (nearly $240,000 in today’s value). However, with publicity at a premium and Lennon being one of the most famous people on the planet, odds are good that he received some sort of Beatle discount.
Lennon donated his masterpiece to the Smithsonian Institute in 1977. In 1985, it sold at auction for $2.3 million to Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison. He gifted it to the Canadian government, and it eventually landed at the Royal British Columbia Museum. Lorne Hammond, a curator at the museum, said Lennon’s ticket to ride has a $5.2 million appraisal value.
However, he tells Rolling Stone, that “its value as a piece of cultural history has become priceless.”
Listing image by Keystone-France/Getty Images
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