Mar 152018

On this date in 1906, Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce incorporated Rolls-Royce Limited as a business for car manufacture that quickly developed a reputation for superior engineering quality and for manufacturing the “best car in the world.” Later, Rolls-Royce became a leading manufacturer of piston aero-engines after it was led into building them by the economic necessities of the First World War.



From 1940, Rolls-Royce participated in the development of the jet engine and built for itself, and retains, a pre-eminent position in aero engine development and manufacture for use in military and civil aircraft. My father’s brother, my uncle Alec, worked in various divisions of Rolls-Royce aerospace engineering from the end of the Second World War until his retirement in both Scotland and New Zealand, so I feel a (minimal) connexion. He would pop in and out of our lives in both Australia and England because he was always flying all over the place on business, back in the days when only movie stars and millionaires traveled by plane. Hence, Rolls-Royce is sealed in my consciousness as the height of luxury, as if its image as a car manufacturer were not enough. There was a time when a Rolls-Royce automobile was not only identifiable by its shape, but also by the fact that its engine was so quiet that the sound of the tires on the road made more noise than the engine. “Ghost” was a deserving model name.

In 1884 Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business. He made his first car, a two-cylinder Royce 10, in his Manchester factory in 1904. Henry Royce was introduced to Charles Rolls at the Midland Hotel, Manchester on 4 May of that year. Rolls was proprietor of an early motor car dealership, C.S.Rolls & Co. in Fulham. In spite of his preference for three- or four-cylinder cars, Rolls was impressed with the Royce 10, and in a subsequent deal made on 23rd December 1904 agreed to take all the cars Royce could make. There would be four models:

a 10 hp, two-cylinder model at £395

a 15 hp, three-cylinder at £500

a 20 hp, four-cylinder at £650

a 30 hp, six-cylinder at £890

All would be sold under the Rolls-Royce label, and be sold exclusively by Rolls. The first Rolls-Royce car, the Rolls-Royce 10 hp, was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904.

When Rolls-Royce Limited was formed in 1906, it was apparent that new premises were required for production of cars. After considering sites in Manchester, Coventry, Bradford and Leicester, it was an offer from Derby’s council of cheap electricity that resulted in the decision to acquire a 12.7-acre site on the southern edge of the city. The new factory was largely designed by Royce, and production began in early 1908, with a formal opening on 9 July 1908 by Sir John Montagu. The investment in the new company required further capital to be raised, and on 6th December 1906 £100,000 of new shares were offered to the public.

During 1906 Royce had been developing an improved six-cylinder model with more power than the Rolls-Royce 30 hp. Initially designated the 40/50 hp, this was Rolls-Royce’s first all-new model. In March 1908 Claude Johnson, Commercial Managing Director and sometimes described as the hyphen in Rolls-Royce, succeeded in persuading Royce and the other directors that Rolls-Royce should concentrate exclusively on the new model, and all the earlier models were duly discontinued. The new 40/50 was responsible for Rolls-Royce’s early reputation with over 6,000 built. Its chassis was used as a basis for the first British armored car used in both world wars.

In 1907, Charles Rolls, whose interests had turned increasingly to flying, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Royce and the other directors to design an aero engine. On 12 July 1910, at the age of 32, Rolls was killed in an air crash at Hengistbury Airfield, Southbourne, Bournemouth when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, and the eleventh person internationally. His was also the first powered aviation fatality in the United Kingdom.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Rolls-Royce were taken by surprise. As a manufacturer of luxury cars, Rolls-Royce was immediately vulnerable, and Claude Johnson thought the bank would withdraw its overdraft facility on which Rolls-Royce depended at that time. Nevertheless, believing that war was likely to be short-lived the directors initially decided not to seek government work making aero engines. However, this position was quickly reversed, and Rolls-Royce was persuaded by the War Office to manufacture 50 air-cooled V8 engines under license from Renault. Meanwhile, the Royal Aircraft Factory asked Rolls-Royce to design a new 200 hp engine. Despite initial reluctance they agreed, and during 1915 developed Rolls-Royce’s first aero engine, the twelve-cylinder Eagle. This was quickly followed by the smaller six-cylinder Hawk, the 190 hp (140 kW) Falcon and, just before the end of the war, the larger 675 hp Condor.

Throughout World War I, Rolls-Royce struggled to build aero engines in the quantities required by the War Office. Rolls-Royce resisted pressure to license production to other manufacturers, fearing that the engines’ much-admired quality and reliability would risk being compromised. Instead, the Derby factory was extended to enable Rolls-Royce to increase its own production rates. By the late 1920s, aero engines made up most of Rolls-Royce’s business. Rolls-Royce’s Eagle, first produced in 1915, was the first engine to make a non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing by air when in June 1919 two Eagles powered the converted Vickers Vimy bomber on the transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown.

Royce, who lived by the motto “Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble,” was awarded the OBE in 1918, and was created a baronet, of Seaton in the County of Rutland, in 1930 for his services to British Aviation. Because he was childless, the baronetcy became extinct on his death. He died on 22 April 1933.

There is a cocktail called the Rolls Royce made of 2 oz. gin, ½ oz. dry vermouth, ½ oz. sweet vermouth, and a dash of Bénédictine. Look it up if you want more details. There is also a dinner roll called the Rolls-Royce, so named because of the play on “rolls” than any deeper significance. When I was a boy, “Rolls” was the diminutive of Rolls-Royce leading to some bad puns in advertising:

(Man talking to a boy eating chocolate covered cake rolls)

Man: What do you think of the rolls? (i.e. pun on Rolls[-Royce]).

Boy: They sure go fast.

There is a recipe for Rolls-Royce dinner rolls here – The joke is certainly old now, but the site cannot resist saying, “Be prepared to make extras because these delicious dinner rolls will go fast!”