Rolls Royce Cars
Rolls Royce Cars
Rolls Royce Cars :: History

Charles Stewart Rolls 27 August 1877 to 12 October 1910 - 33 years.

Charles Rolls was born at 35 Hill Street, Berkeley Square, London into a wealthy landed family with much property. In London these properties derived rents of £46,000 per annum and in addition there were large estates in Monmouthshire, South Wales. His father, John Allan Rolls, was a Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff of the County and later became Baron Llangattoch of the Hendre in August l892. The Hendre is Welsh for Winter Dwelling or main house.

At the time Rolls was born F. H. Royce was resident in the Old Kent Road, London and may well have been a tenant of the Rolls' Estates and as he was a Post Office messenger until September 1877 when he was apprenticed to the Great Northern Railway, quite possibly delivered congratulatory telegrams to Mrs. Rolls on the birth of Charles. The Rolls family soon acquired a permanent London address - South Lodge, Rutland Gate, South Kensington. Rolls attended Mortimer Vicarage Preparatory School in Berkshire and then Eton until March 1894. He installed a dynamo at The Hendre and wired part of the house. He crammed to gain entrance to Cambridge University at Trinity College where he was a keen cyclist and gained a half Blue in 1896 and made Captain 1897.

In October 1896 he went to Paris and purchased with his father’s assistance a 3 3/4 hp Peugeot Phaeton - the first ever car based at Cambridge. He became known as "Dirty Rolls" and "Petrolls" because of his ‘hands on’ approach. Rolls graduated in January 1898 with Class II Ordinary Bachelor of Arts degree by Special Examination in Mechanism and Applied Science, and gained a Master of Arts in 1902. He was accepted as student member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in February 1898. Rolls spent time in the workshops of London and North Western Railway at Crewe. He had a reputation for being very careful with money, economical with food and a very modest intake of alcohol.

CSR made his first balloon flight on 8 September 1898. This is shown above.

In 1900 Rolls won the 1,000 miles reliability trial promoted by Lord Northcliffe and organised by his partner, Claude Johnson, also a founder member and Secretary of the Automobile Club. A picture of a similar Panhard motor car is shown below.

Above, Claude Johnson.

In 1903 Rolls established a world land speed record of 93 mph in Dublin driving a 30 hp Mors. This was a French car models of which he imported and distributed.

In 1904, via a mutual friend and another founder member of the Automobile Club, a Mr. Henry Edmunds introduced Rolls to Royce about 4 May at the Midland Hotel, Manchester. Edmunds, pictured below, is known as the Godfather of Rolls-Royce and Claude Johnson The Hyphen in Rolls-Royce.

Rolls-Royce came into being at Christmas 1904 and from then on the 10 hp cars were so named as they were previously called Royce cars.

Rolls went to the New York Motor Show to exhibit Rolls-Royce cars in 1906 and also attended an exhibition organised by the Aero Club of America and was introduced to the Wright Brothers. This meeting gradually directed Rolls' interest from balloons to powered flight.

In April 1910 Rolls purchased the French Wright with a Wright Bariquand engine. It was not Rolls-Royce powered because Royce, having collapsed at work in 1902, was yet to design a Rolls-Royce aero engine. This was a tail-less wheel-less model aircraft really of 1909 specification. Rolls was relieved Rolls-Royce Limited of some duties in January 1910 to pursue aircraft interests.

Rolls completed the first double crossing of the Channel - England/France/England on 2 June 1910 in total flying time 95 1/2 minutes and is pictured below.


A French built moving tail plane was fitted 10 July 1910 to his Wright plane. On 12 July in a 20 - 25 mph wind he crashed when tail plane broke at the Bournemouth International Aviation Meeting in celebration of the town’s centenary. Rolls was the first Briton to die in an aviation accident. At this time Rolls' exploits had built up such a following in Great Britain that Lord Montague of Beaulieu interrupted his speech in the House of Lords to announce the death. Rolls was buried at St. Cadoc’s Church 16 July 1910. Rolls' grave is shown in the following picture:


Fredrick Henry Royce 1863 to 1933.

In contrast to Rolls Royce, pictured below, described himself simply as mechanic. came Sir Henry was knighted in 1930 for his part in success in the Schneider Trophy races with his R engine giving 2,300 HP at 3200rpm.


James Royce, Royce’s father came from a family of millers and he married Mary King at Woodham Ferrers, Essex, on 30 March 1852. She was a farmer's daughter and the family lived at nearby Edwin's Hall. The family later moved to Alwalton in Huntingdonshire where James Royce ran a steam and water powered mill but was he was not noted for his reliability or application and died in 1872 in a poorhouse. Royce’s early life was hard and left lasting unpleasant memories ever since his birth the family was in money troubles and before he was four years of age he was earning money bird scaring near Alwalton. At 10 years old he was selling newspapers at Clapham Junction in London. He spent a year at school and when he was 14 was delivering telegrams in Mayfair, London. In September 1877 an aunt living on the outskirts of Peterborough paid £20 per year for him to be apprenticed at the local Great Northern Railway works. At this time he lodged with a Mr. Yarrow from whom he learned machining and fitting and became dexterous with all hand tools. In his limited spare time he went to evening classes in English and Mathematics and sold more newspapers.

After 3 years at Peterborough the aunt was unable to provide further support but Royce quickly found work with Greenwood and Batley in Leeds as a tool maker. He earned 55 pence for a 54 hour week. Evening studies rendered him knowledgeable with electricity and he obtained work with The Electric Light and Power Co. in London. Evening classes again helped his electrical knowledge and his work impressed Hiram Maxim whose electric light bulb patents the company acquired. Just before Royce's 21st birthday he was sent as first electrician to do theatre and street lighting in Liverpool for which he had full technical responsibility. The work was accepted by the Corporation in March 1884. There was more trouble for Royce when in May the company failed but Royce had saved £20 and his friend, A. E. Claremont pictured below, also with electrical training, had £50 and together they formed F. H. Royce & Co. electrical engineers and traded from rented premises in Cooke Street, Manchester.


The company produced small electrical items such as electric bell sets powered by Leclanche cells, bulb holders with bayonet fitting, switches, fuses, filaments, probably complete bulbs, and electrical registering instruments. Profits enabled complete installations, dynamos, motors with sparkless commutators winches and cranes to be made and they earned a reputation for quality and reliability. Royce was the technical partner and Claremont dealt with the sales and business side. In 1893 the partners married the Punt sisters. In 1894 F.H. Royce and Co. became a limited company and by 1899 the share capital was increased to £30,000 to allow extra works to be built at Trafford Park, Cooke Street being too small, gantry cranes were built at Trafford Park and one is still in use at the Derby works.

Opposite Royce’s factory was that of W. T. Glover, a cable making firm, of which Henry Edmunds, referred to above, was a director. Royce and Minnie Grace, his wife, lived at Brae Cottage shown below, Knutsford a house designed by the same architect, Waterhouse, as designed Manchester Town Hall and many other public buildings.


As can be seen above the term cottage was typical of Royce the mechanic’s understatement. The property was electrically lit including the gardens because his work interfered with his hobby!

It should be remembered that in 1902 Royce collapsed through overwork and irregular meals. The extra work of dealing with the erection of the Trafford Park works and commercial competition from cheap imports had caused Royce to work too hard and long.

Royce was persuaded to buy a car, after spending some months in South Africa with his wife’s relatives to recover. A French 10 HP two cylinder Decauville was duly acquired. Royce was dissatisfied with its quality and reliability and in 1903 obtained, somewhat reluctant, Board permission to build in Cooke Street three cars of his own design. Royce Ltd. now added Royce petrol motor cars to its list of products on the firm’s headed notepaper. The new products were to compensate for business lost as a result of German and American competition in the electrical field. By September 1903 the twin cylinder 10 HP engine ran for six hours. It was installed in a chassis somewhat similar to the Decauville except that the engine and gearbox units were isolated from chassis distortion, the engine had positively opened inlet valves, a single lever quadrant change for the 3 speed gearbox, steel on bronze bearings replaced steel on steel and a more efficient radiator was fitted. On 1 April 1904 Royce drove the first model home for its test without any troubles, largely reflecting his electrical skills. Henry Edmunds borrowed the car to demonstrate his company’s Parsons chains in the “Side Slip Trials” driving it on the first day some 145 miles at average 16.5 mph.

Rolls was to meet Royce in May 1904. Rolls was, with his manager Claude Johnson, then selling Minerva and Panhard cars, but wanted a good British car with at least 3 cylinders. Royce and Rolls were mutually impressed and Rolls agreed to sell all the cars that Royce could make. By December 1904 Royce was to produce for the Paris Salon 2,3 and 4 cylinder cars and a 6 cylinder engine. It took until February 1905 for a complete 6 cylinder car to be at the Olympia Show.

For publicity purposes Claude Johnson entered Rolls and Northey in two 20 HP cars for the 1905 Isle of Man T.T. Roll’s gearbox failed on first lap but Percy Northey came second in the race. In 1906 CSR won the Isle of Man T.T. at an average of 39 mph touching 70 mph on some stretches. Also at that 1904 meeting the shape of the radiator top tank was changed. The hot water from the top of the cylinders was fed to the middle of the top tank and had to be spread across the top of the radiator block to travel down it. As there would be a decreasing amount of water to be accommodated as it moved towards the sides of the radiator, it was logical progressively to reduce the cross section of the tank. This maintained a constant water velocity and reduced the amount of material used in the radiator's construction. Thus technical correctness and fitness for purpose were the real reasons for the world famous Grecian Radiator.

For similar logic and mechanical perfection the 2 cylinder engine crankshaft had a centre bearing. The 4 and 6 cylinder engines had groups of the original twin cylinder block. The 4 cylinder crank form was the well established two 180 degrees twins back to back balancing out primary forces and couples. The 6 cylinder being probably three twins in a row was very rough running and early attempts with a light flywheel at the front showed Royce the principle of the Lanchester crankshaft torsional damper.

Royce did not immediately make use of this discovery but solved the problem by using two 3 cylinder cranks in mirror image form about the middle of the engine. This principle was adopted for the 40/50 HP engine producing 48 BHP from 7,036 cc at 1,200 rpm. This the configuration of the engine in the Silver Ghost AX201 of 1907, pictured later.

The crankshaft was a fully machined heat treated nickel-steel forging, drilled for full pressure lubrication (about 10 lbs/psi) running in 7 bearings. Grossly oversimplified, Royce’s obsession with smooth quiet operation using first class materials to obtain long life, was exemplified in this model that far surpassed its contemporaries. A dual ignition system was employed a coil for starting and slow running, the magneto being the main ignition, separate switches permitted this to be done. Remember Royce was an electrical expert in his day. The gearbox gave 4 forward speeds with ‘overdrive’ 4th (47 mph per 1,000 rpm). The steering lock was very good and the car’s weight was taken on fully enclosed oil retaining thrust ball races.

Rolls-Royce did not produce coach work for their chassis at this time. In 1904 the 10 HP with a tonneau body cost £395. The entrance to the passenger compartment was at rear like a dog cart. The Silver Ghost chassis cost £895 in 1907.

In 1906 Rolls-Royce Limited had been formed absorbing C.S.Rolls & Company that traded in Conduit Street, London, selling cars and carriage and upholstery work. An appeal for £200,000 capital was made successful at the last minute by £10,000 from A. H. Briggs, pictured below, who joined the new Rolls-Royce Limited Board.


Claude Johnson set up the 15,000 mile trial in 1907 - “We will run our 40/50 Silver Ghost for 15,000 miles and the RAC shall see to it that we do no tinkering by the way”. There was just one involuntary stop of 36 seconds to rectify a petrol tap that had shut off. Complete restoration of the car after the test cost £2.14. The drivers were C. S. Rolls, Claude Johnson, Eric Platford and Macready.

Demand for the 40/50 HP was commercially fine but Cooke Street now with 200 employees was too small. In 1907 Rolls-Royce in the Autocar of 6 April 1907 stated : “The location of the new Rolls-Royce works has now been definitely settled. Rolls-Royce Limited has acquired a considerable tract of land on the Osmaston Estate, Derby. It is expected that building operations will shortly be commenced.” The new works at Nightingale Road were officially opened on 9 July 1908.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu declared the factory open and switched on the electricity. The opening is shown below:


This event was no doubt arranged by Claude Johnson who thereby ensured that Rolls-Royce achievements were fully reported in The Car Illustrated and, as an MP, Lord Montagu would continue to support motoring interests as he had the 1903 Motor Car Bill raising the speed limit to 20 mph. The current Lord Montagu is a great motoring enthusiast too! His father was successfully competing with Rolls in the 12 HP Panhard and in a Daimler in the 1900 1,000 miles trial. Later, in 1908, Lord Montagu took delivery of a Type 70 a 40/50 with overhead inlet instead of side valves of which only about five were built. The “Silver Rogue”, being one of these cars, was the winner of a huge trophy in the 1908 International Trials. In keeping with the horse based practice of naming of vehicles in those days the Lord’s Type 70 was called “Dragonfly”. This is shown below:


Charles Sykes was the principle illustrator for The Car Illustrated and rode with Lord Montagu in “Dragonfly” during the 10th anniversary run of the 1,000 miles trial. Sykes knew Claude Johnson by whom he was commissioned to illustrate the Company’s 1910 Catalogue. One of these illustrations is shown below:


Claude Johnson was pleased with Sykes' work and in 1911 commissioned him to produce a Rolls-Royce mascot. Some of those mascots in use at this time were not deemed to reflect suitable taste for the Best Car In The World.


The Spirit of Ecstasy, pictured above, represented speed with silence, absence of vibration and the mysterious harnessing of great energy. "This spirit had selected road travel as her supreme delight and had alighted on the prow of a Rolls-Royce car to revel in the freshness of the air and the musical sound of her fluttering draperies” said Claude Johnson.

Originally Sykes called his sculpture “The Spirit of Speed”. Some historians suggest that Eleanor Thornton, Lord Montagu’s secretary, was the model.


Eleanor Thornton is shown above.

This lady had previously been secretary, while at the Automobile Club, to Claude Johnson. She was a career girl in current parlance and a very attractive lady. The mascot has changed in size over the years and in the period 1932 to 1950 an option of a kneeling type mascot was available and often used for Wraiths, the first Rolls-Royces with independent front suspension, and Phantom IIIs.

In 1911 Royce, who had been on holiday at Overstrand in Norfolk, was taken ill and was operated upon in Norwich. To recuperate he went to France in August and Claude Johnson, who had hired nurse Ethel Aubin to tend to Royce on a temporary basis, met him. Having been given only a few months to live Royce recovered well but was advised to remain in a warmer climate and follow a more relaxed routine. Claude Johnson had a villa at Le Canadel and nearby Royce built Villa Mimosa, the bureau for the design office and Le Rossignal to house the designers on handy.

The idea was to winter in Le Canadel and spend the summer at “Westwood” in Crowborough. Royce had a recurrence of cancer of the bowel and in London a colostomy operation. He and Nurse Aubin returned to Le Canadel but Minnie, Royce’s wife and her niece, Violet, his adopted daughter, could not get along with Ethel Aubin and stayed at “Westwood” until 1921. Nurse Aubin stayed with Royce until the end of his life in 1933 at Elmstead, West Wittering, pictured below:


From 1911 Royce did not "interfere" by visiting the works, his abrupt dismissal of staff for less than perfection and continual detail improvement to the vehicles design hindered production. Royce now had a team that produced design schemes only, with detailing done at Derby under the direction of R. W. Harvey Bailey (By), pictured below, who was also well versed in materials’ properties.


The three speed London Edinburgh type 40/50 HP had failed to climb an Alpine Pass in 1912 due to the high gearing employed in the car and the 1 in 3 incline encountered. The “Best Car In the World” could not be permitted to fail in a test others passed. Rolls-Royce prestige could not allow this. Therefore in 1913, the year of the 1,650 mile and 19 Pass Alpine Rally, and James Radley was again driving the car and in 1913 this time with a four speed box, larger fuel capacity, improved cooling and various additions to permit starting without opening the bonnet, thereby breaking the seals. Eric Platford was team manager and No. 2 driver was Ernest Hives who was Rolls-Royce No. 1 experimental driver.


Technically James Radley was a private entrant but he was involved as part of the team. Radley’s chassis No. 2260E is believed to survive. Side valve engines, if they were to remain smooth could not be much further developed, and transmission brakes were out, being replaced by concentric dual brakes on the rear wheels, torque tube back axle and better springs as well as the 4 speed box were improvements effected as a result of Rolls-Royce last formal entry in car racing.

Towards the end of its production the 40/50 HP series had servo operated four wheel brakes, electric lighting and starting and by 1925 a more efficient overhead valve engine was used in the New Phantom. The Silver Ghost, pictured below, had run its course and set the standard for 19 years.


From 1906 to 1959 a six cylinder engine became the norm for Rolls-Royce except for a short time in the late thirties for the PIII and its V12 configuration. In 1959 a V8 was introduced with the Cloud II. In normal Rolls-Royce practice this V8 engine has already been improved over 40 years.

Recent Specification Changes on Rolls-Royce Cars

Silver Spirit

Introduced in 1981 to replace the Silver Shadow. The car featured fully automatic airconditioning from the outset.

In 1987 fuel injection and anti-lock brakes were fitted to the cars.

1990 models had styling changes, a revised dashboard, alloy wheels and active damping fitted. The cars became known as Silver Spirit IIs.

In 1994 engine revisions were made and the car featured a four speed automatic and 20% more power. Twin airbags were the norm and the cars were called Silver Spirit IIIs.

In 1996 larger wheels and electric steering adjustment was added.

Silver Spur

A long wheelbase version of the Silver Spirit. In 1996 a 300hp turbo charged engine was fitted.

Silver Seraph

Introduced in February 1998, just before the Bentley Arnage. 5.3 litre V12 engine and five speed gearbox were standard.

The car was updated in late 1999 with additional legroom and GPS.

Production Numbers and Dates

Pre 1946

Dates Model Number Produced
1904 - 1906 10hp 16
1905 15hp 6
1905 -1906 20hp 40
1905 - 1906 30hp 31
1905 - 1906 V8 Legal Limit 3
1907 - 1925 40/50hp Silver Ghost 6,173
1921 - 1926 40/50hp Springfield Ghost 1,701
1922 - 1929 20hp 2,940
1925 - 1929 New Phantom (Phantom I) 2,212
1926 - 1931 New Phantom Springfield 1.225
1929 - 1936 20/25hp 3,827
1929 - 1935 Phantom II 1,672
1936 - 1938 25/30 1,201
1936 - 1939 Phantom III 710
1938 - 1939 Wraith 491

Post 1946

Dates Model Number Produced
1947 - 1959 Silver Wraith 1,783
1949 - 1955 Silver Dawn 785
1950 - 1956 Phantom IV 18
1955 - 1959 Silver Cloud 2,359
1959 - 1962 Silver Cloud II 2,716
1962 - 1966 Silver Cloud III 2,376
1959 - 1968 Phantom V 832
1965 - 1976 Silver Shadow 19,493
1965 - 1976 2 door/drophead 1,111
1968 - Phantom VI
1977 - 1981 Silver Shadow II 10,560

Some examples of Rolls-Royce Cars

The 10hp car, SU 13, and 40/50hp, AX 201, The Silver Ghost, at Windsor Castle in April 2002.

15hp car

The 40/50hp known as The Silver Ghost.


20hp with body by Hooper.

1929 Phantom II limousine.

1938 Wraith with body by Gurney and Nutting.

1965 Silver Cloud III Flying Spur by Mulliner.

Phantom V limousine by James Young.

Royal Phantom VI 1977.

1981 Corniche fixed head coupe.

Silver Spirit III.

2002 Silver Seraph Mulliner edition.

2002 Corniche.

2003 Phantom.



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