Arlan Ettinger, the New York City-based founder and president of Guernsey’s auction house, on his 1933 Rolls-Royce 20/25 Shooting Brake, as told to A.J. Baime.
In the mid-1980s, I heard a rumor about an old woman who lived in Georgia who had a vintage Maserati racing car. This piqued my interest because, at the time, my auction house had a specialty in rare sports and racing cars.
By coincidence, I got a call from a Georgia man who called himself a picker—a person who finds old items that have value. I told him about this rumor. I never expected to hear from him again, but a couple weeks later, he called me back with this woman’s telephone number.
Photos: This 1933 Rolls-Royce Rolls On
An auctioneer shows off his rare 20/25 Shooting Brake model that predated the modern station wagon
Her name was Dorothy Lewis. It turned out she had many amazing cars in many barns on her property. Her husband had died around 1960, and she had put all the cars they owned in barns and shut the doors, and had never opened them again.
Over the years, Ms. Lewis and I became great friends. I made many trips to her home, and each time, she would show me more cars. On one occasion, she opened a barn door and there was this 1933 Rolls-Royce with a wooden body. It was sensational. My wife and I had always had a passion for “woodies.”
Ms. Lewis was reluctant to sell, but eventually, she sold me her 1953 Maserati in 1986. When she died in 1998, her will stated that I would auction her cars for her. I obtained permission from her estate’s lawyer to bid on the 1933 Rolls-Royce myself and was able to acquire it.
During the prewar years, Britain’s Rolls-Royce was known to be the finest and most expensive of automobiles. A customer would purchase a chassis, and a coachbuilder would build the car’s body according to the customer’s wishes. So it was extremely rare for there to be two cars that were alike.
This Rolls-Royce is what is known as a shooting brake—the British term for estate wagon [or station wagon]. It came with paperwork detailing its history. It had originally been bodied by a company called Corsica. But in the 1940s it was re-bodied by Jersey, a coachbuilder on the island of Jersey, off the coast of northern France.
I refinished the wood myself, and a Rolls-Royce specialist in Vermont rebuilt the engine. I keep the car at our weekend home in Connecticut—the perfect place for drives with my family and our dog, Rascal, on beautiful country roads. The car ticks along like a clock. It’s a joy, in every single way.
—Contact A.J. Baime at Facebook.com/ajbaime.