John Lennon's Rolls-Royce

Amazing Facts

A Colourful Examination of the Rolls-Royce of John Lennon

 John Lennon's Rolls-Royce
John Lennon's Rolls-Royce
(photograph courtesy of
the Royal British Columbia Museum)

The Analytical Research Laboratory of CCI was recently given the unusual opportunity to examine paint samples from a 1965 Rolls-Royce automobile once owned by former Beatle John Lennon (1940-1980). The car was purchased by a Vancouver entrepreneur at Expo 86 and later donated to the Royal British Columbia Museum, where it currently resides. As seen in the photograph, this is not just an ordinary Rolls-Royce. In 1967, the car was painted in a brightly coloured floral motif on a yellow background by one of Lennon's friends, known as 'Gypsy Dave'. Knowledge of the type of paint used would help conservators determine the best way to clean the surface of the car and protect it from paint losses and other damage, so Valerie Thorp, Chief of Conservation Services at the museum, requested the paint analysis from CCI.

Samples were mounted as cross sections to determine the structure of the paint layers. Paint chips were also analysed using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, X-ray microanalysis, and polarized light microscopy. The analysis revealed that both cellulose nitrate and an oil-modified alkyd resin media had been used and that the surface of the paint had been coated with an oil-modified alkyd resin varnish. A colourful array of pigments was identified, including chrome yellow, titanium white, ultramarine blue, and toluidine red.

Based on the materials identified, cleaning and waxing the car was recommended; the analysis showed there was nothing in the paint that would be harmed by water or by the application of a protective wax coating. To minimize damage to the varnish and painted surface, it was also recommended that the car not be exposed to direct sunlight for long periods as this could cause deterioration of both the cellulose nitrate and the alkyd resin.

Although teenagers today may prefer the Tragically Hip to the Beatles, the staff of CCI is nonetheless pleased to have been able to contribute to the longevity of this tangible reminder of 1960s' pop culture.