The British luxury car producers Rolls-Royce are one of the most recognisable brands in the world.
The company was founded by two leaders of the motor car industry in Britain in 1904, Henry Royce and Charles Rolls. Although coming from completely different backgrounds, putting together their separate skills they unknowingly created an iconic British brand that is synonymous with reliability and luxury.
Rolls and Royce
Rolls started his career in the motor industry by studying mechanical engineering at Cambridge. He was the first undergraduate to own his own car, and had a daredevil taste for pushing the limits of his driving capabilities. By the time he completed university he was an accomplished motorist, unofficially breaking the world land speed record in Dublin by just reaching 83mph in 1903. The record was never officially given to Rolls due to the timing equipment never being approved. In the same year he set up one of the first car dealerships in Britain, CS Rolls & Co. Within this feat he imported European cars to sell in the UK.
Around 10 years older than Rolls, Henry Royce had worked as an engineer after his aunt invested in him to do an apprenticeship at the Great Northern Railway Works. He was a proficient worker with a natural talent for the work, initially focussing on the production of electrical components. After buying his first car and finding ways to improve it himself, he later became interested in building motor cars. In 1903 he had designed and built his first petrol engine, a twin cylinder 10HP.
The engineer was approached to meet Rolls after he had decided he wanted to sell his own cars at the dealership. In 1904 the two met in Manchester where Rolls drove the twin cylinder designed by Royce. Rolls was immediately taken by the car and offered Royce a partnership that he would sell ‘as many cars as Royce could build’ under the name Rolls-Royce.
Making a name for itself
The legendary Silver Ghost was produced in 1907. This began to uplift the brand with the notion of reliable and yet comfortable cars as it later impressively completed the 1913 Alpine Trial, a 14,371 mile drive over a mountainous area. It was soon nicknamed ‘the best car in the world’ giving a boost to the national awareness of Rolls-Royce.
In 1908 the company invested in a Rolls-Royce factory with the headquarters located in Derby. They later expanded to acquire the infamous Bentley models in 1931. At first these were seen as a sport versions of Rolls-Royce models, but after World War 2 the two names became very similar in design.
The latter end of the 1930s was a decade that proved the true capabilities of the Rolls-Royce engineers. The ‘Thunderbolt’ powered by 2 Rolls-Royce engines was driven by George Eyston and managed to break the world land speed record hitting 312.2mph in 1937. Later that year Sir Henry Seagrove broke the world sea record in ‘Miss England 2’ which was also powered by Rolls-Royce engines. Seagrove managed to reach 119mph in his attempt but unfortunately died seconds later after hitting a tree trunk hidden in the water.
During World War 2 the company shifted to designing engines for aeroplanes after being commissioned by the Air Ministry. Again, a Rolls-Royce engine conquered yet another world speed record by powering the Gloster Meteor which reached 606mph in the skies.
The existing relationship between Rolls-Royce and the Royal Family began in the 1950s, as the Rolls-Royce replaced the Daimler as their cars of choice.
The models continued to be in the public eye as an icon of luxury when throughout the 1960s Rolls-Royce were chosen as cars to symbolise the success of famous actors and musicians.
Rolls-Royce is still at the forefront of innovation with a Rolls-Royce powered car breaking the land speed record again in 1983, reaching 633mph.
In the 1990s the BMW group bought the rights to produce Rolls-Royce cars, moving the home of production to their famous Goodwood headquarters. The company continues to hold its throne as an iconic symbol and the luxurious car manufacturer of Britain.