Charles Rolls

Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster

English Engineer Motoring and aviation pioneer, business man and co-founder of Rolls-Royce, Charles Rolls was born in Berkeley Square, London, 27 August 1877. After attending Mortimer Vicarage Preparatory School in Berkshire, he was educated at Eton College where his developing interest in engines earned him the nickname dirty Rolls. In 1894 he attended a private crammer in Cambridge which helped him gain entry to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied mechanical and applied science. In 1896, at the age of 18, he travelled to Paris to buy his first car, a Peugeot Phaeton, and joined the Automobile Club of France. His Peugeot is believed to have been the first car based in Cambridge, and one of the first three cars owned in Wales. An early motoring enthusiast, he joined the Self-Propelled Traffic Association which campaigned against the restrictions imposed on motor vehicles by the Locomotive Act, and became a founder member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain. Rolls was a keen cyclist and spent time at Cambridge bicycle racing. In 1896, he won a Half Blue and the following year became captain of the Cambridge University Bicycle Club.

Rolls graduated from Cambridge in 1898 and began working on the steam yacht Santa Maria followed by a position at the London and North Western Railway in Crewe. However, his talents lay more in salesmanship and motoring pioneering than practical engineering; in January 1903, with the help of £6,600 provided by his father, he started one of Britain’s first car dealerships, C.S.Rolls & Co. based in Fulham, to import and sell French Peugeot and Belgian Minerva vehicles. He was intorduced to Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester on 4 May 1904 . Royce first started an electrical and mechanical business and made his first car, a two-cylinder Royce 10, in his Manchester factory in 1904, and 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 agreement of 23 December 1904 agreed to take all the cars Royce could make. All would be badged as Rolls-Royces, 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.

Rolls-Royce Limited was formed on 15 March 1906, by which time it was apparent that new premises were required for production of cars. After considering sites in Manchester, Coventry, Bradford and Leicester, they moved to Derby. 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. During 1906 Royce had been developing an improved six-cylinder model with more power than the 30hp. Initially designated the 40/50 hp, this was the company’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 on the new model, and discontinue all the earlier models. After the First World War, Rolls-Royce successfully avoided attempts to encourage the British car manufacturers to merge. Tragically in 12 July 1910 Charles Rolls became the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display in the Southbourne district of Bournemouth. He was aged 32.

In 1922 Rolls Royce introduced the smaller, cheaper Twenty, effectively ending the one-model policy followed since 1908. After the introduction of the Phantom model in 1925 this 40/50 model was referred to as the Silver Ghost. The new 40/50 was responsible for the company’s early reputation with over 6,000 built. In 1921, the company opened a second factory in Springfield, Massachusetts in the United States (to help meet demand), where a further 1,701 “Springfield Ghosts” were built. This factory operated for 10 years, closing in 1931. Its chassis was used as a basis for the first British armoured car used in both world wars.In 1931 Rolls-Royce acquired the much smaller rival car maker Bentley after the latter’s finances failed to weather the onset of the Great Depression. From soon after World War II until 2002 standard Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars were often identical apart from the radiator grille and minor details.In 1933, the colour of the Rolls-Royce radiator monogram was changed from red to black because the red sometimes clashed with the coachwork colour selected by clients, and not as a mark of respect for the passing of Royce as is commonly stated.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley car production moved to Crewe in 1946 where they began to assemble complete cars with bodies from the Pressed Steel Company (the new standard steel models) for the first time. Previously they had built only the chassis, leaving the bodies to specialist coach-builders. Rolls-Royce also started to produce diesel engines in 1951. Initially, these were intended for heavy tractors and earth-movers but, later, they were installed in lorries (e.g. Scammell), railcars, diesel multiple units and Sentinel shunting locomotives. Rolls-Royce took over Sentinel’s Shrewsbury factory for diesel engine production in 1956. The Rolls-Royce diesel business was acquired by Perkins in the 1980s. In 1971, Rolls-Royce was crippled by the costs of developing the advanced RB211 jet engine, resulting in the nationalization of the company as Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited. In 1973, the car division was separated from the parent company as Rolls-Royce Motors. Rolls Royce also made Torque converters and railcar engines were often used with Twin Disc torque converters which were built by Rolls-Royce under licence from Twin Disc of the USA. “Twin Disc” is the name of the company (which originally manufactured friction clutches) and does not describe the construction of the torque converter.

Sadly in 1971 Financial problems caused largely by development of the new RB211 turbofan engine led – after several cash subsidies – to the company being nationalised by the government. (Delay in production of the RB211 engine has been blamed for the failure of the technically advanced Lockheed TriStar, which was beaten to launch by its chief competitor, the Douglas DC-10. In 1973 the motor car business was spun off as a separate entity, Rolls-Royce Motors. The main business of aircraft and marine engines remained in public ownership until 1987, when it was privatised as Rolls-Royce plc, one of many privatisations of the Thatcher government. Since then Rolls Royce has been bought by BMW and Bentley by Volkswagen.

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