by Paula Bosse
People seem to expect stories about painfully wealthy Texans to have larger-than-life outrageous elements. The April 5, 1948 issue of Life magazine devoted several pages to the Southwest’s “New Crop of Super Rich.” The photo showing Col. and Mrs. H. E. Russell at their Preston Hollow home appeared with the following caption:
New Rolls-Royce (price $19,500) was bought by Colonel Henry Russell of Dallas as a birthday present for his wife. She liked it because “it goes with my blue hat.” The Russells claim they are just “camping out” in their house, plan to turn it over to the servants and build a bigger one for themselves as soon as they get around to it.
One can only hope this was just gross exaggeration. Or a misinterpreted joke. Or just amusing fiction. Because if not … yikes.
Henry and Alla Russell had not been in Dallas very long when they took possession of their fabulous Rolls Royce — a Silver Wraith. When production of this model was announced in 1946, it was described as “the world’s most expensive automobile.” The Russell’s purchase made local news, with this blurb appearing in The Dallas Morning News on Feb. 12, 1948:
Col. and Mrs. H. E. Russell, 4606 Park Lane, have taken delivery on their new Rolls-Royce. Known as the Silver Wraith model, the silver and blue car features a bar, vanity and other luxuries. The price? $19,274. Dealers S. H. Lynch & Co. said the car was the first Rolls-Royce sold in the Southwest.
That postwar price would be the equivalent in today’s money of about $200,000. In a 1956 Dallas Morning News article, Frank X. Tolbert wrote that Col. Russell “is still driving his ’48 model, and it’s the only one we ever see around town although there may be one or two more” (DMN, “Rolls-Royce Hard To Find in State,” Nov. 15, 1956).
There had been Rolls Royces in Dallas before 1948, but according to S. H. Lynch — the Dallas dealer of imported British vehicles including Jaguars, Bentleys, MGs, Morris Minors, and James motorcycles (as well as other high-ticket British items such as English china) — he had sold only five or six of the prestigious automobiles while he had the dealership, and that only that first one bought by the Russells had stayed in Dallas.
In 1948, S. H. Lynch (located at 2106 Pacific, at Olive) was one of only three Rolls dealerships in the county, the others being in New York and Los Angeles. In postwar Britain, American dollars were in such demand that a Rolls spokesman said that at least 75% of his company’s production was earmarked for the U.S. — American orders would take priority over their U.K. counterparts.
Even though a Roller’s always going to wow the hoi polloi, it wasn’t always easy to find a trained mechanic, as Roy Lee discovered:
We all have our bad days, I suppose.
Sources & Notes
The two photos of the Russells are from the Life magazine article “Southwest Has a New Crop of Super Rich” (the top photo was not published).
Col. Russell, an Army veteran of both world wars, appears to have been retired by the time he got to Dallas. The only clue to the source of what must have been fabulous wealth was the final line in the obituary of Mrs. Russell, which noted that he was the son (or possibly the grandson) of the founder of the Russwin Lock Co. Mrs. Russell died in a massive fire which destroyed the large Park Lane house in January, 1976; the colonel died about 15 years earlier, in New York.
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