My Car Quest

October 23, 2020

Ugly Car Department: The 1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua

The Italians don’t always do it better…

by Wallace Wyss –

OK time was, as late as the ’60s, you could go to the ultimate luxury brand, Rolls Royce, and order a chassis and then send the design over to a distinguished Italian coachbuilder for a redesign with a little Continental flare, as it were, and hope for a winner. What could go wrong?

Ah, plenty. This designed-in-Italy and bodied in Switzerland Rolls has to be one of the ugliest Rolls Royces ever built. First of all the chassis was not just a Silver Cloud but oh, no, one giant step above that, the Phantom. And not just a Phantom, but the Phantom VI. The last of the line on that particular model.

1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua

By the time the Phantom VIs were being ordered, though, few customers were having the chassis sent to a coachbuilder outside England, most just ordering one of the body styles Rolls offered by say, Mulliner or James Young.

So this Swiss buyer decides he still wants a coachbuilt body. And a drophead (British for “convertible”). He commissions Pietro Frua to do it. Frua was a well established coachbuilder known most for his Maserati body styles. The Swiss customer must have been a patient man, as he had to wait three years for it plus gets one of the ugliest cars ever built bearing the flying lady mascot.

One reason for its ugliness is its size, 23 feet long. That’s aircraft carrier-sized. The customer in 1971 was a diplomat, H.E. Consul Simon van Kempen.

1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua

And once he paid for the chassis it was assembled not in Italy but at the Garage de’l Athinee in Geneva, where it was completely hand-built according to Frua’s design. What made it more expensive was the customer was monitoring the build and kept changing his mind. At one point he decided the nose was too tall so what had been done had to be cut out and replaced. At another point he wanted the radiator angled, whereas usually in a RR they are straight up.

Reportedly one reason the car percolated along so slowly was Frua spoke only Italian and there were language and measurement problems. But the customer loved it and drove it for 20 years.

And he had a unique car. Here’s how rare it is. According to Bonham’s auction Co. “374 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI were built. All but six received bodies by Mulliner Park Ward. Out of this number, 355 were limousines plus eleven landaulets using the Mulliner body. Four chassis-cum-engine assemblies were supplied to the funeral trade. The only exception was two chassis that were bodied by Pietro Frua.”

The dashboard still had that acres of wood thing going like you expect in a Phantom. And in the rear seat, you had a wood cabinet for pouring yourself a drink just before you tackled the pass over the mountains to Italy.

Now this car is so ugly I would like to say there is thankfully only one. But there are actually two, because the same design was re-created for a four door version in 1992 in red, that one continued being built even after Frua died years earlier, in 1983.

That second car was first drawn up as a Sedanca DeVille (open compartment up front, closed in the rear), but later modified into a full fledged drophead like the first car. But that one is more for say, Presidents to use as parade cars, not a daily toodler of the Avenues like van Kempen’s metallic green bolide.

1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua

Both are object lessons that lead one to conclude that sending a chassis to Italy for a design instead of having it tailored in its native country does not necessarily make it better….

And by the way, despite my quips about the car, somebody loves the body style, so what do I know? The green one sold for $553,833 at the Fredericksen auction in September, 2015. RM Auction sold the red one at Monterey in 2018 for $385,000.

1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss announces he is looking for a connection to Netflix to apprise them of his anthology of 30 car fiction short stories, under the working title FULL DRIFT. He can be reached at photojournalistpro2@gmail.com.

 
 
 
 
 

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Ugly Car Department: The 1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua
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Ugly Car Department: The 1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua
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This designed-in-Italy 1973 Phantom VI Rolls Royce by Frua has to be one of the ugliest Rolls Royces ever built.
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Comments

  1. Trevor Gaunt says

    Hi Mike,
    I’m glad you cleared up the Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato conundrum. The fact it had had a colour change was the cause of confusion.
    This Rolls-Royce is certainly odd-looking. It appears from the final photograph to have an excess of negative camber on both front and rear axles, which would cause the tyres to wear rapidly on their inside edges. Perhaps the body created by Frua was just too heavy for the suspension. You say the original owner drove it for twenty years, but you don’t say how many miles he covered. It may have spent most of its life hidden from view in a garage. That would save the Swiss public from the ugliness, particularly of his revised front end. Let’s not blame Pietro Frua for carrying out his client’s wishes.
    Best regards, Trevor.

  2. Looks like the took some notice of the Frua Rolls when making the RR Dawn from 2015. At least the front has some styling cues!

  3. While this Rolls Frua is certainly unattractive, especially from the front, the king of the hill for ugly cars is still, for me, this Spohn (from any angle):

    See more photos here: https://mycarquest.com/2015/12/the-ugliest-car-at-amelia-island.html

  4. Wallace Wyss says

    We could do an article on the five ugliest one offs, I can see how Spohn was thinking, ie.”If the Americans like chrome, we’ll give it to them”’

  5. Richard Holmes says

    I like it, especially comparing most ’70s designs, but then I loved my ’66 Cadillac 60 Special Brougham–guess I’m just unwoke.

  6. Wallace Wyss says

    The woman driver does not look happy. Maybe she was thinking of Swiss cheese. Driving the most expensive convertible probably ever made isn’t impressing her.

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