Former Hollidaysburg resident has turned his love for Rolls-Royces into more than just a hobby
Although he’s never owned a Rolls-Royce himself, former local resident Bill Wolf has spent many years writing about and photographing the classic car.
He said his love affair began when he started driving the car while working at an imported car dealership in New Jersey. In the late 1980s, when he first became interested in the car, a new Rolls-Royce sold for about $140,000. Today, the cost is closer to $400,000 – but it’s worth every penny because the cars often feature beautiful leather and wood, Wolf said.
“These cars have a very special history,” said Wolf, who now lives in Union, N.J., about 40 minutes from New York City. “A tradition that goes back to the early 20th century. They were always made for the elite, and they were always expensive.”
Part of that tradition, Wolf said, is until the end of World War II, the Rolls-Royce company made only the chassis or undercarriage while the owner had to have the upper part or body made and then installed on the chassis.
Rolls-Royce had agreements with “coachbuilders,” who would fit the body to the chassis so that people could buy a Rolls-Royce already made, Wolf said.
But some more discriminating owners wanted custom-made bodies and would then have the coachbuilder fit a certain Rolls-Royce chassis to their custom-designed bodies. That’s why many of the Rolls-Royce cars are unique in their appearance, Wolf said.
The practice disappeared in 1966 when coachbuilding ended for both Rolls-Royce cars and also another classic car, the Bentley, which Wolf also writes about for various publications.
“Because of this, part of the enjoyment of the hobby is becoming familiar with the art of the various coachbuilders,” Wolf said.
Because the cars were so well built, an amazing number still survive today, Wolf said. Of the 134,601 Rolls-Royce and Bentleys built between 1905 and 2002, 105,044 still exist, he said.
About 10 years ago, Wolf started writing about the classic cars for such publications as “The Flying Lady,” a newsletter for Rolls-Royce and Bentley car owners. He later became editor of “The Atlantic Lady,” a regional edition of the newsletter, which covers the mid-Atlantic section of the United States.
He has won honors for his work, such as the Rolls-Royce Owners Club’s (of which he is a member) MacFarlane award for best regional publication in 2009. He’s also branched out in his writing. In August, his first fiction work, a novel set in Altoona called “Dora Dutch,” will be available through Amazon.com.
Wolf wasn’t born here, but moved to Hollidaysburg from Pittsburgh when he was in ninth grade with his family, including his sister, Lucy, who works at the
Blair County Courthouse as the law librarian.
After graduation, Wolf worked as a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) volunteer, which is where he met his wife, Doris, and moved back to Altoona, where they lived for about 10 years. He earned a degree from Penn State Altoona and he worked as a teacher for most of his working life before he retired and started writing about classic cars.
One man who has met Wolf, and has himself spent many years writing about the legendary cars, said the former Hollidaysburg resident has done his adopted hometown proud.
“His essays are always correct, painstakingly researched, highly readable,” said Malcolm Bobbitt, who lives in England and has written several books on the cars.
“He is also highly regarded in automotive circles, particularly Rolls-Royce and Bentley.”
Bobbitt, who has written 35 books and several magazine articles on Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, said some of Wolf’s photos have appeared in his books. He said he has also often asked Wolf for advice when he’s writing his books.
“I have to say that Bill has always been a constant source of help,” Bobbitt said.
Closer to home, another Rolls-Royce fan said he started appreciating the classic cars when he bought one that once was owned by a local entrepreneur who struck it rich making life easier for guitarists.
Sam Bonasso of Altoona bought a 1974 Silver Shadow Rolls-Royce that he saw one day while he was driving down the street. It turns out the car was once owned by inventor Sam Sottile of Patton, who patented and sold scratch-free guitar straps to world-famous guitarists, Bonasso said.
“I saw it and I fell in love with it,” he said.
Bonasso bought Sottile’s Rolls-Royce in 2000 for an amount Bonasso declined to say, but he said he spent about $3,000 to restore it. The car had been outside for awhile and the paint needed major work. The car has very low mileage on it, however, only about 50,000 miles, which is not much more than it had when he got it.
One of his favorite things to do is drive friends on specials occasions, such as to proms or out to dinner on anniversaries, Bonasso said. Gas mileage is only about eight miles to the gallon, but that’s not a priority with a Rolls-Royce, he said.
“This is not a car you want to drive every day,” he said.
Rolls-Royces will retain their value if properly maintained because owners like him usually don’t put a lot of miles on them and keep them in pristine condition, Bonasso said.
“It’s the uniqueness of it that attracts me,” he said. “It’s just an amazing car.”