Mr Radley’s Mountain Drive
In 2013, Rolls-Royce was looking for an appropriate way to introduce the new Wraith that the company billed as the most powerful, dynamic motor car in Rolls-Royce Motor Car’s 109-year history. R-R chose the timing to coincide with the centenary of the 1913 Alpine Trial.
At the same time that the Wraith was launched, Rolls Royce produced limited number of Ghost models, called the Alpine Trial Centenary Collection.
The Alpine Trial Centenary Collection cars celebrated an extraordinary moment in Rolls-Royce and automotive history. A century before, four Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts embarked on the Austrian Alpine Trials, the most arduous test of automotive endurance of the time.
In performing without fault for more than 1820 gruelling miles of near impassable mountain terrain, privateer entrant James Radley and the Rolls-Royce works team helped cement the marque’s reputation for peerless reliability and mechanical excellence: establishing the legend of Rolls-Royce as maker of the ‘Best Car in the World’.
The limited edition Rolls-Royce Ghosts featured exquisitely crafted design cues that paid tribute to these extraordinary motor cars. The exterior paint hue, for example, took close inspiration from Radley’s Silver Ghost.
The Radley car’s distinct black grille and wheels were also replicated across the collection, making it the first time a painted grille adorned a contemporary Rolls-Royce motor car.
The cabin played host to bespoke details that told the story of the Alpine Trials: the clock displayed the rally’s timing schedule and inlays on the rear picnic tables and the front fascia expressed the topography and distances of the Alpine route.
A hand-painted coach-line referencing the four participating Rolls-Royces and headlining that colour-matched the hood of Radley’s car completed the beautiful homage.
“The 1913 Alpine Trial was an extraordinary moment in the rich history of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars,” said Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in 2013. ”The bespoke Alpine Trial Centenary Collection is a fitting tribute to these achievements.
“It is testament to the enduring quality of a Rolls-Royce motor car that this 2013 car stands side-by-side with a participant in the original trials: the 1913 Radley Silver Ghost.”
The Alpine Trial Centenary Collection cars were painted in a distinctive shade of blue, with silver bonnets and radiator surrounds, to replicate the colour scheme of the early model Ghost that had participated in the 1913 Alpine Trial.
1913 James Radley, Brown’s Hotel London.
That privately-campaigned Ghost is the star of this story, because its owner, James Radley, not only won every stage of the event, leading the three works Rollers to victory, but the very same car was driven by its new owner, John Kennedy, over the same route 100 years later.
2013 John Kennedy, Brown’s Hotel, London
John Kennedy acquired the Radley Silver Ghost in 1985 and set about restoring it to its 1913 specification. Fortunately, he managed to contact Radley’s stepson-in-law, David Scott, who had various artefacts and Radley’s scrapbook.
The Austrian Alpine Trial
“The sight of a group of cars running up a mountain road at high speed with a superb easy gait, to which little variation in the road surface gave the semblance of a greyhound in its stride, was inspiring…” The Autocar, June 1913.
Leading that group through every stage in 1913 was James Radley, but it wasn’t like that the year before. Radley had entered his previous Rolls Royce Ghost in the 1912 event, but pulled out when it became obvious to him that the gearing made success impossible.
1913 The Works Specials assembled in Vienna
He was back again in 1913, in one of the Works Special Alpine models. R-R themselves had entered three similar cars, following evaluation of changed specifications after the 1912 debacle.
The Works Specials had subtle changes, including deeper-reduction final drive gearing, to suit the very steep grades; revised carburation with mixture variation to suit rapidly changing altitudes and curious radiator cap extension tubes.
These extensions had been used by Fiat in previous mountain events and Rolls-Royce adopted the idea as well.
James Radley’s new car was delivered in cowl/chassis form to his workshop, where bodywork was crafted, before he set off for Vienna in May 1913, supported by Rolls-Royce mechanic, ‘Tubby’ Ward and the mandatory two passengers required by the rules. One passenger was Radley’s friend, Reginald Hope, who took photographs.
Fortunately, both the car and the photo album survived, making it possible to re-enact the 1913 journey 100 years later.
1913 Falzarego summit, Italy
The four R-R cars joined up in Vienna and then dominated the steep, endurance event. The route started and finished in Vienna, passing through Salzburg, Toblach, Innsbruck, Riva, Trieste and Klagenfurt, before finishing in Vienna.
John Kennedy’s reenactment was fraught with challenges, because many of the 1913 roads and tracks had been bypassed in the intervening century.
2013 Falzarego summit, Italy
‘Mr Raddley drives to Vienna’
This the title of a book that’s now out of print, but if you can find a copy it’s well worth acquiring. The foreword was penned by Rolls-Royce’s then director of global communications, Richard Carter:
“As a lover of motor cars and fine motoring experiences – naturally focussed on Rolls-Royce – it was with great expectations that I travelled to Northern Italy, to join the Alpine Centenary Rally.
“To meet John Kennedy and to know that the car he was driving – the famous Radley car – was the only surviving Works Special Alpine model was extraordinary in itself, but to be invited by John to join him for the Stelvio Pass drive day was something I could not refuse.
2013 near Klagenfurt
“Thursday, June 20, 2013 turned out to be the most exceptional day’s motoring I have ever experienced: ascending the dramatic Stelvio Pass; being caught in a thunderstorm; driving into a small village and sitting out the afternoon deluge in a local pub; before finally arriving at the shore of beautiful Lake Garda at sunset were all experiences that I shall never forget.
‘To cap it all, we were joined for her evening by almost 100 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts – the largest number ever assembled in one place.
“The event marked 100 years, almost to the day that the original 1913 Alpenfahrt Rally would have been preparing to set off from Vienna.
“Among all the emotions that this experience created, two things are cemented in my mind: driving in a wonderfully original and smoothly powerful, 100-year-old Rolls-Royce and the exceptional company I enjoyed that day. Was I with James Radley or John Kennedy? The two seemed almost indistinguishable, when John got behind the wheel of his motor car.
“I can only wish John Kennedy and the Radley car many more motoring miles together.”
Well, Richard, when Historic Vehicles spoke to John Kennedy in New Zealand, in July 2021 he was doing exactly that.