On 25th May 1967 John Lennon was inspired by an old gypsy caravan he had bought for his garden to paint his Rolls-Royce in a Romany motif.
In 1965, shortly after getting his driver’s license at age 24, the famous Beatle bought a sports car and a luxury car. The latter was a Rolls-Royce Phantom V Limousine, serial number 5VD73, painted a sober shade known as “Valentine black.” The Phantom was the carriage of choice for the upper classes. The Fab Four rode in Mr. Lennon’s new limousine to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) medals from the Queen.
Soon after, Mr. Lennon had the rear bench modified to convert into a Pullman-style double bed, a shagadelic bit of interior decorating. A radio telephone was added, followed by a television, a refrigerator, and a floating turntable for some 45-rpm rock ‘n’ rolls. A loud-hailer was also installed, so that he could address people outside the cocoon of his luxury ride.
The Rolls was shipped to Spain, where Mr. Lennon was portraying Gripweed, a private, in the filming of the anti-war comedy How I Won the War. A chauffeur drove him to and from the set, and the blowing sands of the arid Spanish soil, as well as the limousine’s low clearance, necessitated repairs on his return to England.
Inspired by an old gypsy caravan he had bought for his garden, Mr. Lennon ordered his Rolls to be painted in a similar motif. An English coach builder commissioned the artist Steve Weaver to paint the Romany-inspired flourishes, which are often mistaken for psychedelia. The repainted car was delivered to Mr. Lennon, along with a bill for £290, on May 25, 1967.
One tale, perhaps apocryphal, describes an elderly woman setting upon the car with her umbrella while yelling, “You swine! You swine! How dare you do this to a Rolls-Royce?”
The vehicle followed Mr. Lennon and Yoko Ono to New York after the Beatles broke up, though the crowded streets of Manhattan did not prove welcoming to a behemoth stretching more than six metres.
The couple donated the car to a museum in 1978 in exchange for a tax credit. It soon wound up in storage. In 1985, five years after Mr. Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan, the car was placed for auction with Sotheby’s, which expected to fetch about $300,000 (U.S.).
A fierce bidding war was won by Jimmy Pattison, the Vancouver entrepreneur and car dealer, who bid a shocking $2.2-million for the car, which he wished to place in his Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museums. It was displayed for a time in South Carolina, before being put on exhibit in a glass case outdoors during Expo 86 in Vancouver.
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