The month of May, this year, marked the 115th anniversary of the founding of Rolls-Royce, following the very first meeting between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. They would no doubt be astonished by the cars being produced today under the marque they founded; cars that have not only stayed true to their founding ideals but, in many respects, surpassed them to become a global standard for automotive luxury and innovation.
The meeting at the Midland was, in effect, a meeting of two similar minds from very dissimilar backgrounds. Charles Stewart Rolls was the third son of Lord and Lady Llangattock, schooled at Eton, studied mechanical engineering at Trinity College, a motoring enthusiast and aviation pioneer, and founder of one of the earliest car dealerships in Britain. In contrast, Henry Royce started working at the age of nine, selling newspapers and delivering telegrams, followed by an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway Works. He taught himself algebra, French and electrical engineering, and co-founded a company that innovated, manufactured and sold electrical devices.
Rolls wished to sell high-quality, British-made cars instead of imported ones, while Royce, dissatisfied with his French-made Decauville, had designed and built his own car, the Royce 10hp by 1903. Driven by his philosophy: “take the best that exists and make it better,” Royce had built an exceptional automobile. One of his shareholders, Henry Edmunds, raved about the car to his friend Rolls, and arranged for Rolls and Royce to meet at the Midland. Within minutes of seeing the 10hp, Rolls knew he had found what he was looking for, and after the first drive, the two men shook hands to manufacture and sell cars under the Rolls-Royce name.
The task of publicising the quietness and reliability of the Rolls-Royce cars fell on Claude Johnson, often referred to as “the hyphen in Rolls-Royce.” It was he that orchestrated many of Rolls-Royce’s headline-grabbing adventures, including the famous record-breaking 14,371 miles journey by the Silver Ghost in 1907. Following this success, Johnson came up with the tag line that has become synonymous with the marque: “Rolls-Royce – not one of the best, but the Best Car in the World.”
In the past hundred-plus years since the founding of the marque and the establishment of its guiding philosophy by the three pioneers at its helm, the Rolls-Royce name has delivered some remarkable vehicles; each an icon and often associated with royalty, heads of state, actors and rock stars. This is not including its contributions to the world of aviation, such as the ‘R’ engine which set a world air speed record before evolving into the Merlin engine of the Spitfire and Hurricane fame, as well as playing a leading role in powering the jet age.
The past hundred years also saw Rolls-Royce acquire and divest in other entireties, change owners and management cultures; but the one thing that remained consistent throughout was its sheen, its mystique. The most robust and creative period, since the marque’s early days, began with the BMW group acquiring the rights to produce Rolls-Royce cars in the 1990s. The Rolls-Royce renaissance had begun, starting with an all-new interpretation of the Phantom (VII), a car that redefined what it means to be an ultra-luxury car. The Phantom was followed by the Drophead Coupé and the hardtop Coupé in quick succession.
The current line-up includes the Ghost, named after the Silver Ghost of 1907, is a smaller sibling to the Phantom; Wraith, a four-seat luxury grand tourer; and Dawn, a four-seat luxury convertible. Last year saw the launch of the latest generation of the Phantom (VIII). Last year also witnessed Rolls-Royce realise T. E. Lawrence’s assertion that “a Rolls in the desert is above rubies,” with the launch of the Cullinan super-luxury SUV. Not just a pretty face, the Cullinan was put through a gruelling 12,000-mile proving run through some of the harshest terrains and environments, and it passed with flying colours. It is a Rolls-Royce that can certainly traverse the desert in style.
“We are deeply conscious of our heritage: it is a tremendous privilege to be continuing and building on work that began 115 years ago. But we also understand that our founders were visionaries, always looking to do things in new and different ways. It’s that spirit of excellence and innovation that Rolls-Royce Motor Cars embodies and celebrates today.”Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO, Rolls-Royce
In its endeavour to rediscover its heritage and bring it into the twenty-first century, Rolls-Royce has unveiled new programmes that will also take the concept of ‘luxury as individualistic choice’ to the next level. For one, the marque made a return to coachbuilding in 2017; a practice not seen since the 1960s. And what a triumphant return it was in the form of the ‘Sweptail’ – a fully bespoke, coachbuilt commission for a customer seeking “the ultimate grand tourer.”
Black Badge is another customisation service catering to a new generation which has its own understanding of luxury. The Black Badge models are darker, edgier, and more performance-oriented variants of standard models. We have already seen captivating Black Badge variants of the Wraith, Ghost and Dawn.
In 2018, Rolls-Royce delivered 4,107 of its ultra-luxury models to customers in over 50 countries. These included not only standard models but also the many bespoke creations. To facilitate the exalting demands of its customers, Rolls-Royce has developed a common platform that underpins all its new models. Known as The Architecture of Luxury, it comprises an aluminium spaceframe scaled to fit by using different-sized floor pans and cross members. This, coupled with new production processes, ensure stiffness and integrity while delivering the company’s signature “magic carpet ride.”
What can we expect, in the not too distant future, to roll out of the award-winning, state-of-the-art Rolls-Royce manufacturing facility and headquarters in Goodwood? “Imagine a future,” says the marque, “where each Rolls-Royce is as unique as your own fingerprint. Dimensions, form, space and materials – the drawing board is limitless, and you are the architect.” These ideals have been exemplified by Rolls-Royce with their first ever vision vehicle – the stunning 103EX.