Honk if you love research: Classic car donation funds cancer studies

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Richard Solove in his 1931 Rolls Royce Phantom-- his first classic car and the only one he will keep. He donated his unique assembly of Silver Ghosts to the James Cancer Hospital.(Photo: Elsa Youngsteadt)
Richard Solove in his 1931 Rolls Royce Phantom-- his first classic car and the only one he will keep. He donated his unique assembly of Silver Ghosts to the James Cancer Hospital.(Photo: Elsa Youngsteadt)

A Columbus philanthropist donates to Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital, but not merely in dollars. In August, a unique collection of classic Rolls Royce cars will be auctioned to benefit cancer research.

Richard Solove bought his first classic car nearly 40 years ago. It was a 1931 Rolls Royce Phantom, and getting the car was a dream he never thought he’d indulge.

“When I was a little boy, my father worked in a factory here in Columbus,” he said. “I lived just a half a block from Children’s Hospital. I saw Packards and Rolls Royces and LaSalles and different big classic cars, never dreamt I’d be able to afford them.”

But Solove later began a successful career as a real estate developer. He worked 80 hour weeks, and even now, at 82 years old, he’s not retired.

So it turns out he has been able to afford the cars he glimpsed in his youth. And in February, he completed his magnum opus. It took nine years, and a lot of persistence and persuasion. But he succeeded in assembling the world’s only complete series of Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts, one for each year they were made between 1907 and 1915.

California auction house owner David Gooding says the Silver Ghost model is the epitome of elegance.

“It was just absolutely undoubtedly the finest car of its era,” Gooding said. “It was superior in quality, it was also one of the most expensive cars you could buy. But in performance quality, versatility, and quietness it outperformed all of its contemporaries.”

Solove traveled the world to find the cars, which he restored to immaculate condition. Some have beveled glass windows or silver plated fixtures, others were owned by Indian kings.

But Solove didn’t complete the unique collection just to admire it. Even before he bought the ninth and last car, he knew he would donate all of them to OSU’s James Cancer Hospital to fund research.

“Now I’ll see it all go to an outstanding cause because my personal goal in life is to see cancer eradicated,” Solove said. “And that takes a lot of money. Everybody has been, is, or will be, affected by cancer.”

Solove himself is among those affected. As a young man, he watched his father suffer from cancer, and became friends with the late Dr. Arthur James of the OSU cancer hospital during the treatments. Solove has since served on the board of the James Hospital and made other donations but the cars are the largest.

In fact, they are the single largest donation in automotive history, and are expected to bring in 10 million dollars or more at the auction. Dr. Dave Schuller, Executive Director of the James Hospital, says the donation is worth more than its face value.

“He’s not just donating dollars from these spectacular cars, but giving us an opportunity to elevate our national and international stature with all this exposure,” Schuller said.

Solove also hopes that others, seeing his gesture, will be inspired to donate.

“I hope that it’s contagious,” he said. “I got a letter from a woman in St. Petersburg, she wrote and told me she was so inspired by what I’m doing that they’re making a very substantial gift to cancer research at St. Jude’s.”

Whether money goes to the James or elsewhere, Solove says he’s pleased it will make a difference to research that could ultimately be available everywhere.

The cars will be auctioned in Pebble Beach, California, on August 19. The proceeds are not earmarked for work on a specific cancer, but will go in the hospital’s general research fund.

Elsa Youngsteadt WOSU News

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