On June 3, 1965, a brand new Rolls-Royce was delivered to John Lennon. The Phantom V model had been fitted with a limousine body and was finished in Valentines black. The car’s license plate was FJB111C. A guarantee was issued to John on June 10, 1965. The car was 19 feet long and weighed three tons.
A notoriously bad driver himself, John seldom drove the plush car himself, instead preferring to employ a chauffeur. John had two different chauffeurs during his Beatle years- Bill Corbett and (more frequently) Les Anthony.
John and his fellow Beatles were driven in the vehicle to the premiere of their second movieHelp! in July of 1965. On October 26, ’65, a very ambivalent John and his three comrades were chauffeured in the car to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBE medals from the Queen. While being driven, John loved to lie on his back and play with the car’s various control buttons with his feet.
In 1966, John had the back seat converted to a double bed. Later, a Sony television, a portable refrigerator, and telephone were installed. A “floating” record player (with perfect balance so it could be used without being effected by stops and bumps while driving) was also fitted inside. An interior and exterior sound system was included. John added blacked-out windows and was the first person in England to have this feature in his car.
In September of ’66, when John went to Spain to film his first solo movie How I Won the War, he had his beloved Rolls driven to Spain. “We were in Almeira, which was very sandy, and the local kids would write ‘el Beatle’ on the car,” recalled Les Anthony.
On January 7, 1966, a mileage check on the car showed 6,673 miles on the odometer. On March 28th, another check revealed it to have clocked 11,181 miles. By February 4, 1967, the total had risen to 29,283 miles.
In early 1967, Ringo Starr suggested to John that he should have the car painted in psychedelic colors. “We were passing the fairground one day,” remembered Les, “and they were admiring the fairground decorations and gypsy caravans. Ringo said why not have the Rolls painted the same way. John thought it was a great idea. It was painted all yellow first, then hand painted (with bright blue and red flowers and psychedelic designs). The first time i drove it, I was followed by hordes of photographers and Pathe news.”
John later told a story of a woman rushing at him and attacking him with her umbrella when she saw his car, shouting, “You swine! You swine! How dare you do that to a Rolls-Royce!”
The psychedelic paint job was done by a group of Dutch artists who called themselves “The Fool”. John had previously employed The Fool to paint a gypsy caravan he kept on the grounds of his home. The paint job cost around $4,200 (U.S. dollars).
On November 25, 1969, John decided to return his MBE medal. “I drove it (the Rolls-Royce) to Buckingham Palace in 1969″, said Les, “to hand back his MBE (medal). Well, not actually take it into Buckingham Palace. I had to take it to Lord Chamberlain’s office nearby.”
In 1970, after John had married Yoko Ono, the couple moved to the United States and had the car shipped to America. John loaned the car out to several rock stars, including the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues and Bob Dylan. John hardly ever used the car himself anymore and eventually had it put in storage.
In 1977, when John and Yoko were having some tax problems, it was handed over to the nation -in the form of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum at the Smithsonian Institute- in lieu of the $250,000.00 tax owed. A year later, the museum produced postcards of it. John sent one of these postcards to his uncle Norman in 1979. (“Dear Norman, Happy ’79. Cheers, love, John & family.”)
In 1985, the Smithsonian decided to sell the car to Sotheby’s for auction. It fetched $2.3 million dollars, making it the most expensive car in history. It was bought by the owner of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum in South Carolina. By 2011, it was being exhibited at a museum in British Columbia.