Transport and Exhibit of the John Lennon Rolls Royce, Part 1
By Derek Swallow – Royal BC Museum
Dedication: To the team of Nordic registrars who sponsored the fabulous European Registrar’s Conference, 2014, I attended in Helsinki, Finland and to all collections managers who measure their artefacts with precise accuracy (see part two of this article).
The rumor percolated through the museum for nearly a month then reality slammed home while scanning my email that cold late January morning of 2013. My eye caught the subject line: Loan Lennon Rolls. I hesitated then opened and read the message. So it’s true, we have five weeks to plan and transport the Rolls from here to Montreal. It’s huge and heavy: 6 meters long and 2.2 meters wide weighing 2,700 kgs. It has to travel 5000 kms., cross country, during Canada’s most severe winter month, possibly through fierce cold, driving blizzards and on treacherous highways. I drew a deep breath, concerned partly with the tight time-line, the vehicle’s mass, potential hazards caused by inclement weather, but also due to my lack of experience with a project like this one. Despite decades of coordinating hundreds of loans I’ve never done a car before. This unease escalated, knowing this was also no typical museum-collected car, representative of its time period, style, and make. This vehicle, a venerated pop-cultural icon and an original work of art, made it unique and precious beyond its appraised value.
The John Lennon Rolls Royce:
A working automobile:This fully functioning, 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom Touring Limousine, now catalogued and in the collection of the Royal BC Museum, originally owned by rock music legend John Lennon, transported the Beatles around for three years.
Pop-Cultural Icon:The 60s generation elevated Lennon and the other group members to the stratum of popular cultural “demi-gods”. To some their physical presence within the vehicle transferred to it such a power of association that it took on a “shrine” like quality. In later years, the vehicle, lent for use by such musical superstars as the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues and Bob Dylan, only enhanced its mystical quality.
Work of Art:In 1967, Lennon chose to transform this expensive yet utilitarian object into a work of art. He commissioned artist Steve Weaver to convert the somber “valentine black” body of the car into an explosively vibrant painting. Weaver primed his metal “canvas” with several coats of chrome yellow paint then for six weeks applied by hand bold motifs inspired by Romani designs using strident colours akin to the saturated pigments found in “psychedelic” art, a popular European style in the 1960’s. The end product, with designs flowing over the entire body of the car, was a powerful, unique composition. This transformation created more than just a three-dimensional work of art. The Rolls Royce, a quintessential emblem of prestige and traditional “establishment” now morphed into a powerful symbol of 1960s counter-culture and a striking icon of anti-establishment values. The Beatles were destined to represent a generation of youth eager to flaunt the “establishment” and kindled the phenomenon called “Beatle mania”.
Association with the Nordic Countries:In 1963 “Beatle mania” swept Great Britain and surged north to this beautiful Nordic region. Karlstad, Sweden was chosen as the first stop outside the UK. For five days the pop group toured even appearing on Swedish TV. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-clOQdFRyig Also, in 1963, the youth of only one world country pushed the seminal Beatles song “Twist and Shout” to the top of the music charts. That country was Finland. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVlr4g5-r18&feature=kp(Twist and shout video). On June 4th ,2014, Beatles enthusiasts in Denmark celebrated the 50th anniversary of the group’s concert in Copenhagen, the city which was the official launch point of the Beatles two year “World Tour”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_zzoJYoeao (video of the Beatles in Denmark)
Despite their British origin, the Beatles, their music, and the “Beatle mania” phenomenon remains an enduring part of the 60’s pop cultural history of Scandinavia, Europe, and North America and the Lennon Rolls itself, one of its most recognized symbols and icons. The Royal BC Museum cares for the Rolls not just for the people of British Columbia, or Canada, but for the entire world. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imXZS6WTxEw (Victoria news cast about the Rolls)
The move of the Lennon Rolls from the Royal BC Museum, in Victoria to Montreal, Quebec was to showcase this icon as part of the anniversary of “Beatle mania” and the group’s concert in Montreal during their “World Tour”. It also was a celebration of the Beatles for the entire world.