My Car Quest

May 27, 2024

Confessions: My (Near) Royal Experience

My first experience with a pre-war V12 Rolls-Royce Phantom III.

by Wallace Wyss –

The worst thing you can be as a car enthusiast is to be a know-it-all. Especially if you don’t know much.

So I am embarrassed, retroactively, about the time I told a Roll Royce driver that he was wrong about his car’s lineage. I was standing outside the Covent Garden Opera house one evening. My wife was an opera buff and didn’t mind flying to the UK to catch Pavarotti (or was it Domingo?) but I was always falling asleep at the first note so I went outside.

Rolls-Royce Phantom III

I am minding my own business when an old pre-war Rolls pulls up and discharges passengers. The bearded driver is standing about so I ask him what engine it has and he says a V12. I tell him Rolls didn’t make V12s before the war but he insists they did.

We didn’t come to fisticuffs but I was sure he was adding credentials to his Rolls that it didn’t have. We parted amicably.

Now decades later I look at Wikipedia and read,

The Rolls-Royce Phantom III was the final large pre-war Rolls-Royce. Introduced in 1936, it replaced the Phantom II and it was the only V12 Rolls-Royce until the 1998 introduction of the Silver Seraph. 727 V12 Phantom III chassis were constructed from 1936 to 1939, and many have survived. Although chassis production ceased in 1939 (with one final chassis being built in 1940), cars were still being bodied and delivered in 1940 and 1941. The last car, though the rolling chassis was completed in 1941, was not delivered with a body to its owner until 1947. The Phantom III was the last car that Henry Royce worked on – he died, aged 70, a year into the Phantom III’s development.

Now as to who the chap was, I’m guessing after seeing pictures of The Royals it was Prince Michael of Kent, a stalwart supporter of the classic car world. I look him up. Says Wikipedia:

He is a paternal first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, being a grandson of King George V and Queen Mary. Prince Michael is currently 48th in the line of succession to the British throne, but at the time of his birth was seventh in the line of succession.

Prince Michael occasionally represents the Queen at some functions in Commonwealth realms outside the United Kingdom. Otherwise, he manages his own consultancy business and undertakes various commercial work around the world.

He is a staunch supporter of such car clubs as the Royal Automobile Club, the Motor Sports Association, and the Brooklands Museum Trust.

So if he’s really a Royal, you may well ask “Why didn’t he have a bodyguard?”

I think the steady movement further out in the line of succession with each postwar royal birth explains that. Once he wasn’t in the top ten, he can pretty well put up his own defense, thank you very much.

What I really wanted to ask was why his pretty blonde wife, Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz, was re-dubbed “Princess Michael” when they married. Why couldn’t she keep her first name? I’m glad I didn’t ask. Remembering car models occupies most of my brain, never mind the rules of Royals.

So Mike, buddy, sorry, us ‘Mericans got a lot to learn and thanks for enduring the rudeness of a Yank rube that night at the opera…

Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent

Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car books. He is co-host of the Autotalk show broadcast weekly out of KUCR-FM Riverside.

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Confessions: My (Near) Royal Experience
Article Name
Confessions: My (Near) Royal Experience
I am minding my own business outside the Covent Garden Opera house when an old pre-war Roll Royce pulls up and discharges passengers.


  1. Chris Lackner says

    I worked at the Royal Opera House for nearly 30 years until retiring in 2019, so I would probably have been helping to entertain your wife on that occasion! Had I known that an example of my favourite RR, the V12 Phantom III was just outside, I might have found an excuse to slip outside to take a look! I saw the Duke of Kent in person quite recently. He was riding around in a superb Derby Bentley at the Hampton Court Concours last September. Here’s a picture of him about to award a prize to the owner of that same car.

  2. Wallace alfred Wyss says

    How coincidental–maybe you were there that evening and we could have met on your break and talked about the rear fender curves of the A3C vs, the production Strada. Maybe us car fans should wear little badges that say what car we like so fellow cognoscenti can recognize us…I think I corresponded with you in the early days of the Iso-Bizzarrini Owner’s Club but I fell away from the faith… (only to come back in Dec. 2020 as a new acolyte)

  3. Mike Stellato says

    A Brush with Royalty….

    So I found myself standing outside one of the far gates of Westminster Castle one rare partly sunny summer’s day in 1979. From a long distance I see a cloud of dust and then hear the creaking of the gate opening behind me. There stood a Royal Servant as stiff as a board looking at the same cloud of dust. So I asked him “…expecting someone?” He responded in the most stiff lipped stogy voice with no emotion and said “Price Philip, I hope.”
    Before I knew it, a gray Aston Martin coupe comes screaming up the gravel road and I had to literally step back fast – as this thing would have undoubtedly hit me otherwise! Philp was driving with this manacle grin on his face as he whizzed past me into the cloistered grounds of the estate. What Diana saw in him, I’ll never know.

  4. It takes a gentleman to admit that. I am sure we have all been there but it does play to a persons character after the fact.

  5. “What Diana saw in him, I’ll never know.”

    She didn’t marry Philip, she married Charles.

  6. there i was as a know it all about cars person about 18 yrs old. we lived in cumberland lodge windsor great park, my father, george being the non academic goffa..first up last to bed.
    working on my austin mini one saturday..doing something well under the hood..
    and bang..the hood buried itself into my head..i fell down..still head under the hood..
    cussing and a-cussing…the air was blue..
    all of a sudden the hood opens..and the person advises..always happens to me too..are you ok..
    i thanked him and carried on under the hood..
    he went around the corner to see the improvements to some new apartments.
    the duke of edinburgh..proper bloke.
    we where walking toby the spaniel one nice afternoon in the great park..myself and george my father..
    a lovely two tone daimler DS420 pulls up silent and a dark window comes down, oh hello george ,how are you, such a nice day for a walk, shook his had and went on it forward journey (she lived next door)
    the queen mother..
    later on in life helping out at polo one weekday practice..a tiny aussie groom on a proper athlete of a polo pony was out of control in the polo lines..heading for two little boys playing, i acted very quickly and stood in the path of the horse..(a horse will not bowl you over if it can help it,and a polo pony is a ttained athlete to move on a it turned to my side and the eventauly was stopped..i screamed at the police person in the suit who was in charge of the aires to the thrown cussing like i did…and carried on with doing something..
    a few minutes later a very humble tall good looking lady appeared in geans and tweed coat..shook my hand and thanked me…for once i could not really speak..just saying boys will be boys..
    princess diana…a top human..stunning…

    in my small workshop at dell park farm, i restored many vehicles..i did like and still do,,oddballs…and i was working on a mischcon bentley special..again one saturday..and my client eddie arida..true gent of gents..arrived like he did when on a polo pony ride with friends to see what i was up to or arrange some future work..and he came in with a couple, real nice clean tidy my humble workshop..and the male friend was proper knowledgeable about the bentley set up…he advised he had several cars and i must come and see the workshop..(i did later that year, mercedes gull wings,,cosworths,,ferrari, the works…it seems he had two full time engineers and bought and sold a few, turned out his solicitor owned the bentley i was fettling)
    HRH king hussien of jorden and the lovely queen noor who went riding with eddie later on..
    eddie advised come to he did..loved to cook..a most proper host..after riding, i advised i only had jeans and a tee shirt on..nonesense see you at one..they left..
    i turned up walking from my humble workshop to eddie weekend retreat about 500 yrds away..turned the corner and many well dressed bodyguard where coming for me, oh boy..then eddie appeared and advised i was a guest and enjoyed lebanese lunch with the most amazing rice i have ever tasted..
    the king complaining about the invoice fergie had sent him for curtains, some £46,000 worth in around 1987, while they stayed at the kings guest house down the road while their new home was built..he gave them it rent free..

    oh i must tell you of a nice meeting..i normally went to the sun pub for lunch, and a pint..i was road testing the mishcon bentley and it was loud and awesome…i was sitting outside having a sandwich and pint and a most dear lady walked by smiling at the bentley and introduced herself, she was an encyclopaedia of bentley, and i showed he under the bonnet,,,a 4.5 V8 daimler majestic engine…she knew the engine..
    i asked would she like a spin..only if you go fast she this lady was 80 on a good day..
    we got in …she smiled like the best diamond..i went like a bat out of hell and i dropped her off near the pub..she lived in shelleys cottage (the cottage which was rented for Marilyn munroe when filming in uk) and we said our goodbyes..
    a few days later her book appeared..i still cherish it..she was some lady..
    diana barnato.walker..daughter of wolf barnato…both buried next to my parents in englefield green cemetry.

    be never know who your talking too.

  7. wallace wyss says

    Yes, great moments…I could recall more accidental meets….not Royals but let’s hear what names pique anybody’s curiosity

    Anybody for
    Bill Mitchell of GM
    Roger Penske
    Carroll Shelby

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