Launched in 1925, the Phantom I was boldly billed as the "Best Car in the World." Power came from a straight eight engine, and stood out as a symbol of high society around the world. Astaire's car was a cabriolet town car, with Hooper bodywork finished in Brewster Green with black wheel arches and a black leather roof. In keeping with the air of prestige, Astaire was ferried around by a chauffeur at all times.
As was convention at the time, leather was only used for the chauffeur's quarters up front. Astaire's section of the car was distinguished from the workers' quarters with its delicate fabric trim, a touch described as the "rolling embodiment of the 'upstairs, downstairs' distinction prevalent at the time" by Leslie Kendall, Chief Curator of the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.
Owners would often have their cars upgraded to match the fashions of the day. Having initially ordered his Phantom I in 1928, Astaire sent the car to Inskip in New York for a rework. The changes were subtle: scalloped door trims, valance panels on both sides of the car and art-deco indicators were added to the existing shape.
Along with its coach built good looks, the Phantom I to be shown in Mayfair includes some unique accessories, including a Louis Vuitton motoring suitcase housing a top hat, white bow tie, cuff and collar boxes, a silk scarf, picnic set and dancing/tap shoes. The trunk also holds a tennis racquet, cricket bat and shooting sticks, while a hidden locker holds a full set of golf clubs. Luxury motoring was a very different game in the '30s.
Astaire reportedly kept the car until the 1950s, by which point he was part of the furniture in Hollywood. He was known for his charm on (and off) screen, and partnered with starlets like Audrey Hepburn and Ginger Rogers in his many movie and musical roles. Reports also suggest they, er, partnered off the screen, but we'll leave those rumors alone.
Fred Astaire's Phantom I will be on show at "The Great Eight Phantoms" exhibition, starting on July 27 this year. The exhibition will be held in Mayfair, London.
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