Staff from the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) wore white cotton gloves as they gently manoeuvred a massive, three-tonne vehicle into their lobby.
The 1965 Phantom V Rolls-Royce belonged to none other than John Lennon, making it one of the most popular – and certainly the most expensive – items to ever come into the museum’s collection.
“The car always generates a lot of excitement, enthusiasm and inspiration,” said Paul Ferguson, collections manager for the history division of the RBCM. “For some, apart from the music, this is as close as you can get to John Lennon in British Columbia.”
Lennon ordered the car in 1964, and received it in 1965 as an all-black vehicle. To celebrate The Beatles’ release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, he had it custom-painted bright yellow with Romany-inspired designs.
B.C. businessman Jimmy Pattison bought the car in 1985 for more than $2 million, and donated it to the province in 1987, allowing it to make regular visits to the museum ever since.
The paint, while dazzling, has been tricky for museum conservators.
“It’s one of our most challenging items in the collection,” said Kasey Lee, conservator at the RBCM. “It was painted by an artist and not a vehicle detailer using a paint that’s not necessarily going to last in the winter.”
This means staff need to be exceptionally careful with the exterior, avoiding polishing cloths or any contact with the body except on the chrome bumpers. It also means the use of minuscule paint brushes to maintain any details.
On the mechanical side, the car needed some loving.
“It was poorly maintained, it sat for a long time and with the fuel from sitting, carburetors were jammed,” said Tom Munro, a mechanic with Coachwerks Restoration. “It needed some electric work and we looked at brakes, but it purrs like a kitten in a creamery now.”
Al Carter, another mechanic with Coachwerks said it was special to be able to work on the car.
“I find it a bit of a thrill… I was in England and I remember the car being done like this, back in the day,” Carter said. When asked if he ever thought he’d work on the car he laughed. “Oh absolutely not. That’s the thrill of it, it’s such an iconic car that you feel a little bit of love for it.”
The Rolls-Royce will be on display for free at the Royal BC Museum at 675 Belleville St. until the end of February.