One of the most famous car manufacturers in the world, Rolls Royce, is the foreword of luxury. Its distinguished and effortless class make it the go-to car for royalty and dignitaries alike. The Phantom V was possibly the pinnacle of this gliding gilded brand, with only 517 made the car remained an elusive and utterly exclusive vehicle. Until The Beatles’ John Lennon subverted its very core.
A mammoth vehicle, weighing 2.5 tonnes with a 3.6-metre wheelbase and the same 6.2L V8 engine as the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II, the Phantom was a car reserved for royalty. The British Royal family owned two of them, for the Queen and Queen Mother, but both were put to the metaphorical sword when John Lennon bought himself a Phantom in 1964.
Lennon bought a 1964 Mulliner Park Ward Phantom V, finished in Valentines black, which may well be the coolest colour name we’ve ever seen. Everything was black except for the radiator (though Lennon did ask for the radiator to be black but Rolls point-blank refused), even the wheels. The car then featured some incredible customisations including black leather upholstery, cocktail cabinet with fine-wood trim, writing table, reading lamps, a seven-piece his-and-hers luggage set, and a Perdido portable television. It’s guessed that Lennon paid £11,000 for it – roughly £190,000—which is quite a bit considering Lennon didn’t even learn to drive until 1965 at the age of 24.
But in 1965 black was no longer in fashion and so Lennon reportedly made a seven-page list of expensive changes. Some incredible adaptations would have left Xzibit on Pimp My Ride blushing. The changes included a backseat that could change into a double bed, a Philips Auto-Mignon AG2101 “floating” record player that stopped needless needle jumping, a radio telephone, and a cassette tape deck. Speakers were even mounted in the front wheel wells so that Lennon and whoever he was travelling with could talk outside via a microphone.
After using the car in Spain filming Richard Lester’s How I Won the War, it needed a new paint job and Lennon was decidedly bored of the all-black look. The Beatle commissioned a private paint job from coach makers J. P. Fallon Ltd. to be decorated like a Romany gypsy wagon—but more sixties.
Artist Steve Weaver painted the red, orange, green and blue swirls, gorgeous floral side panels and even a Libra on the roof. It was a clear message that Lennon was not going to be one of the establishment’s playthings, he was his own man. He even also went on to buy a second all-white Phantom V to match his burgeoning ‘white period’.
Lennon used the psychedelic Phantom V regularly until 1969 when the car was shipped to the USA with Lennon’s own move across the pond. The car was loaned out to a host of rock stars who fell in love with the Rolls, such as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Moody Blues.
In 1977 Lennon donated the now-famous Phantom V to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum at the Smithsonian Institute to cover a teensy IRS problem. The Cooper-Hewitt then sold the psychedelic car in 1985 for a whopping $2.3 million to a Canadian businessman and since 1993 it has been in the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada.