In our previously published car stories, we’ve taken you on race track journeys to podium places. In this month’s article, we’re taking a much more sedate drive. We’re delighted to introduce you to Katie Forrest and her unique 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, Nellie.
The Return from India:
Despite being almost thirty years ago, Katie Forrest remembers the moment she first met Nellie as clear as day. “She rolled off the back of a transporter, she was big and grey and came from India. My sister and I instantly called her Nellie the Elephant”. Katie recounts how the car exuded a great deal of character from day one. She says, “It was a little like having a slightly mad, long-lost auntie turn up out of the blue. She looked like she could tell a great number of stories!”
With a wasp’s nest in her radiator, a damaged leather interior, and a legacy battleship-grey paint job from being requisitioned in the war, the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was in a sorry state. Fast-forward three decades and this same vehicle was awarded the Club Trophy at the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace. Except, of course, it’s not quite as simple as fast-forward, there’s a love story involved…
In 1990, having spent several years searching for an original Silver Ghost, Tim Forrest was told of an extraordinary car arriving in the UK from India. He headed down to the docks on the day she was due to arrive, eagerly awaiting her appearance. He wasn’t disappointed and purchased the car there and then.
Restoration of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost:
From the outset, Tim wanted the car’s restoration to be as authentic and sympathetic as possible. The first step in his restoration roadmap was to trace her original sales record.
Nellie’s life began as a ‘Trials Car’ ordered by Rolls-Royce Bombay in 1912. She had been specifically designed to be shown off to the Maharajas and dignitaries in India. Her sales record listed her original paint colour, trim colour, and several ‘special features’ specifically designed for the Indian market. These included her Taj Mahal nameplate, rug rail, guard’s seat, louvred bonnet, tropical carburation system, a larger fuel tank, and a pair of unique ‘chain mail’ front mud flaps to prevent oxen shoes from flicking up and puncturing the rear tyres!
It took around two years to restore Nellie to this former royal glory. All work was completed under the watchful eye of Jonathan Harley. Jonathan was widely renowned for his work on Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts. The Forrest family has since spent many years and around 75,000 miles enjoying her splendour. They have taken journies ranging from family outings and school pick-ups right through to an Australian outback tour.
Katie Forrest on Juggling Ten Balls at Once:
Katie Forrest, Nellie’s current custodian, first began driving her in 2016. Her father had organised a trip around France for the 20-Ghost Club. Unfortunately, in the weeks leading up to the tour, both he and Katie’s mother were in ill health and unable to drive. These circumstances meant the baton was passed to Katie. She readily admits to being slightly terrified at the thought of driving a fifteen-foot elephant on the right-hand side of the road. Thankfully, the wide French avenues were the perfect setting to master her ‘Nellie’ skills.
Katie had spent much time as a passenger in the car but recounts how no amount of observation prepares you for the reality of driving Nellie. She says, “It’s like juggling ten balls at once. It’s a very physical experience”. Nellie weighs around two tons, and with no power steering, a driver needs both hands on the wheel most of the time while also needing a free hand to brake. A further hand is required to change gear and another to indicate. If it’s raining, the windscreen wipers need to be operated, and finally, one needs to pump fuel if her fuel pressure is getting low. Katie sums up, “If you had eight pairs of hands, you’d find it easy, but in the absence of those, it all comes down to timing, and it can get quite complicated!”
All that said, Katie appreciates the processes involved, calling it ‘Mindful Driving.’ She says, “You have to concentrate so much on what’s going on, you forget about everything else or any worries you might have.” She continues, “You have to be on the ball and preempt what might be around the next corner or over the next hill. She’s quite fast and happily cruises at 55 – 60 mph. Other motorists assume you’ll be slow, so pull out right in front of you. You just have to be conscious of your lack of brakes and expect the unexpected!”
Katie believes it’s better to dance with Nellie than drive her. She explains, “When I initially got behind the wheel, I struggled with the way she wandered around the road. Any bump or pothole would send us off course. I was constantly correcting her steering in a rather frantic and panicked manner. I eventually learned not to fight against my partner, but to relax and go with the flow. Now, both Nellie and I follow the rhythm of the road. When we move in harmony, it’s far more enjoyable.”
More than Driving:
But owning a car as unique as Nellie is not just about the driving. The Forrest family continues to work with P & A Wood to preserve the vehicle, who Katie describes as “Absolute masters at everything they do.” There’s also a long list of regular maintenance that Katie carries out herself. Far from being a chore, Katie genuinely loves the hours she spends on the car. Tim Forrest passed away recently, and Katie says, “Nellie is a bit of a gateway between my father and me. Whenever I’m in the garage working on her, I remember the hours we’d spend together doing the same. I often chuckle that he’s looking down, rolling his eyes because I’m doing something wrong or slightly different from how he’d do it! So, really Nellie restores me as much as I restore her.”
In fact, that mad, old aunt of a car seems to restore everybody she meets. Katie says the reactions she gets from complete strangers when driving Nellie always fill her with delight. She says, “You simply can’t have a bad day while driving her. People smile, cheer, and salute as you pass by; it really is a magical feeling.” Katie considers herself extraordinarily fortunate to have Nellie in her life. It gives her great joy to share her with others. She continues, “It’s so important for people to see these vintage cars being driven and remaining relevant in a world where sometimes we’re very quick to forget the past.”
Asked what plans she has for Nellie in the future, Katie offers up a list of ambitious tours and events. These include a round-the-world fundraising trip for Cancer Research UK. She says, “I want to do this in memory of my father; without him, none of our family adventures in Nellie would have ever been possible.” Katie adds that it seems appropriate to plan this for 2022, Nellie’s 110th birthday year, saying, “I have no doubt that Nellie could complete a world tour, I might just need to work on my stamina.”