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Rolling on Rolls

This ageing beauty is still magestic and can be found at the National Motor Museum in Birdwood.

You'd never think that driving a Rolls-Royce would be so difficult. But that's what happens when you get a 1924 version of the brand that for decades was recognised as the world's best and most famous marque.

This 1924 Silver Ghost, housed in the National Motor Museum, in Birdwood, is long, the 3.5m distance between its 21in diameter spokes wheels alone equalling that of a small car. Its top-hinged bonnet runs forward to the famous Spirit of Ecstasy lady.

Under the bonnet sits a long, inline six-cylinder engine of about seven litres, dressed in brass tubing. There's even an oil can attached to the bulkhead.

“There are so many grease and oil points that it could take you hours to grease it up,” museum director Kym Hulme says. But in those days cars were high maintenance items for their owners, or probably in this case, the chauffeur. The car was driven by an eccentric Irishman to Australia. For about 30 years in Adelaide it was owned by Ray Pank, who donated it to the museum a few years ago.

Step over the footplate embossed with 'Coachwork by Maythorn & Son, London and Bigglesworth' and the back seat boasts enormous leg room. Your valet and lady-in-waiting can sit on the jump seats facing you. There's even a tiny glass sunroof.

But to the driving; best get in from the left and slide across because the gearshift and handbrake lever block access from the right.

Now, to the multi-stage starting procedure. There's a carburettor switch on the dash for 'starting' or 'running.' The steering wheel hub has just four controls - a lever for spark adjustment on the right, one for idling on the left, a fuel mixture control at the top and in the centre the ignition switch button which pulls out and rotates. They can get in the way of crossed-arms steering so it's the old push-and-pull routine with hands on the sides of the steering wheel. Steering lightens up at speed but for slow-speed corners it's heavy.

The four-speed floor shift has gates but requires moving to the left on its way from first to second but then to the right on the way to third. Or something.

It easily moves off in second gear despite its over two-tonne weight and it will idle along in third, such is the torque of this big engine.

Downshifting is another matter - double-de-clutching while wrestling with this complicated gear change is difficult.

It's a majestic car to travel in - even more so in its day - but you do feel for the chauffeur.