John Lennon's psychedelic Phantom V returns to Britain
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John Lennon’s psychedelic Summer of Love Rolls-Royce Phantom V is heading back to Britain to celebrate the marque and the 50th anniversary of Beatle's Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
It is one of seven historic Rolls-Royce Phantoms belonging to influential figures - including dance legend Fred Astair, speed record breaker Sir Malcolm Campbell and war hero Field Marshal ‘Monty’ Montgomery - being brought together to celebrate the launch of the new eighth generation Phantom.
The launch will occur in London's Mayfair on Thursday next week and the brightly painted John Lennon is on loan from current owner the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada.
It will travel from Canada to London to join ‘The Great Eight Phantoms’ – A Rolls-Royce Exhibition, at Bonhams on Bond Street, an area visited regularly by Lennon in the late 1960s in this very car.
Lennon took delivery of his car on on 3 June 1965 – the same day that astronaut Edward H White left the capsule of his Gemini 4 to become the first American to walk in space.
Originally the Rolls-Royce Phantom V was in Valentine Black. But Lennon had it customised in true rock-star style.
The rear seat was converted to a double bed, and 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 ground-breaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was finishing, Lennon asked Surrey-based coachbuilders JP Fallon to give the Phantom a new paint job which was carried out by local artist Steve Weaver, who charged them £290 (close to NZ$10,000 now).
Rolls-Royce said: ‘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 colour scheme is often described as "psychedelic" and certainly the colours, particularly the dominant yellow, reflected the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’
The company added: ‘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.’
There are conflicting reports of how the inspiration for the Phantom’s new appearance came about. Lennon's first wife Cynthia, claimed in her autobiography: 'The idea came to [John] when he bought an old gypsy caravan for the garden.'
Other accounts say it was Marijke Koger of Dutch art collective The Fool (which designed clothes and painted instruments for the Beatles) who suggested the scheme after spotting the caravan at Lennon's home, in Weybridge.
By contrast, Lennon's chauffeur Les Anthony thought it was Ringo who first mooted it, after driving past a fairground.
But not everyone liked it. One outraged female passer-by attacked Lennon with an umbrella while screaming: ‘You swine! You swine! How can you do that to a Rolls-Royce?'
The Phantom V was used regularly until 1969 by Lennon, who also owned a slightly less conspicuous all-white Phantom V.
Lennon would later say that he always wanted to be an eccentric millionaire, and the Phantom would become an important step towards that dream.
So having used it, pre-paint change, to collect his MBE with his bandmates in 1965, he then used it again in 1969 to return his MBE to the Palace, in protest against, among other things, the Vietnam War.
The car was shipped to the USA in 1970, when Lennon moved there with Yoko Ono, and was loaned out to ferry other rock stars around such as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Moody Blues.
In 1977, after a period in storage, it was donated by billionaire Jim Pattison to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Rolls-Royce noted: ‘But now, exactly 50 years since the launch of the iconic Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the colourful Phantom is coming home.
‘Back in its day, the car would have spent plenty of time in Mayfair, when Lennon was visiting the Apple Corp’s HQ in Wigmore Street and, later, Savile Row.
‘So it is fitting the "psychedelic" Rolls-Royce will be back in its old W1 haunts when it joins the Great Eight Phantoms Exhibition at Bonhams this summer, as the brightest in the pack. You might even want to wear shades.’