Rolls-Royce is a set of companies derived from the British car and aero-engine manufacturing company founded by Henry Royce and C.S. Rolls in 1904. The companies are:
• Rolls-Royce plc, by far the most significant in economic terms, a British engineering firm specializing in turbine-based products, particularly aircraft engines, which has recently added marine propulsion and energy systems to its portfolio (R-R have provided marine-engines to the Royal Navy for at least 30 years), providing civil and military engineering products and services.
• Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited, a new manufacturer of luxury automobiles, owned by BMW, which started deliveries of its single model, the Phantom, in January 2003 (see below).
• Bentley Motors Limited, the continuation of the original Rolls-Royce automobile division. Since 1998 the company has been owned by the Volkswagen Group. Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars shared much mechanically since the 1931 takeover of Bentley by Rolls-Royce, often differing in little other than the radiator grille. Confusingly, from 2003 the company is no longer allowed to produce cars called Rolls-Royce, the trademarks being licensed to BMW rather than to Volkswagen.
Nicknames for Rolls-Royce cars are “Rolls”, “Roller” and “Double R”, although in Derby, where the headquarters of Rolls-Royce plc is located, the firm is commonly known as “Royce’s”. The former Rolls-Royce motor car factory in Crewe, Cheshire, which now builds only Bentley cars, is also often known by locals as “Royce’s”. The term “The Rolls-Royce of x” is often used informally to describe anything that is the best of its type. The company is aggressive at protecting its trademarks whenever commercial use of the term is mentioned. (One noted example was a coachbuilder marketing the Custom Cloud, which used a Chevrolet Monte Carlo with Rolls-Royce cues. The company was forced to shut down production after a heated lawsuit.) The company did allow the creation of a futuristic pink Rolls-Royce for Thunderbirds in 1965.
Column-mounted automatic transmission shifters are still used today on all Rolls-Royces.
In 1884 Frederick Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business. He made his first car, a “Royce”, in his Manchester factory in 1904. He was introduced to Charles Stewart Rolls at the Midland Hotel in Manchester on May 4 of that year, and the pair agreed to a deal where Royce would manufacture cars, to be sold exclusively by Rolls. A clause was added to the contract stipulating the cars would be called “Rolls-Royce”. The company was formed on March 15, 1906, and moved to Derby in 1908.
The Silver Ghost (1906-1925) was responsible for the company’s early reputation. It had a 6-cylinder engine, 6173 were built. In 1921, the company opened a second factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the United States to help meet demand, where a further 1701 “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 the company acquired rival car maker Bentley, whose finances were unable to weather the Great Depression. From then until 2002, Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars were often identical apart from the radiator grille and minor details.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley car production moved to Crewe in 1946, and also Mulliner Park Ward, London, in 1959 as the company started to build bodies for its cars for the first time – previously it had built only chassis, leaving the bodies to specialist coachbuilders.
Financial problems caused largely by development of the new RB211 turbofan engine led – after several cash subsidies – to the company being nationalized by the Heath government in 1971. (Delay in production of this engine has been blamed for the failure of the technically advanced Lockheed TriStar – it was beaten to launch by its competitor, the Douglas DC-10.) In 1973 the automobile 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.
In 1980 Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was acquired by Vickers. In 1998 Vickers sold the company on to Volkswagen. A year later Rolls-Royce plc acquired Vickers plc for £576m.
The VW and BMW deal
In 1998 Vickers decided to sell the Rolls-Royce car business. Although Volkswagen Group also made offers for the company, the leading contender seemed to be BMW, who already supplied engines and other components for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. However their final offer of £340m was outbid by VW, who offered £430m.
This was far from the end of the story, though. Rolls-Royce plc, the aero-engine maker, decided it would license certain essential trademarks (the Rolls-Royce name and logo) not to VW, but to BMW, with whom it had recently had joint business ventures. VW had bought rights to the “Spirit of Ecstasy” mascot and the shape of the radiator grille, but it lacked rights to the Rolls-Royce name in order to build the cars. Likewise, BMW lacked rights to the grille and mascot. BMW bought an option on the trademarks, licensing the name and “RR” logo for £40m, a deal that many commentators thought was a bargain for possibly the most valuable property in the deal. VW claimed that it had only really wanted Bentley anyway.
BMW and VW arrived at a solution. From 1998 to 2002 BMW would continue to supply engines for the cars and would allow use of the names, but this would cease on January 1, 2003. On that date, only BMW would be able to name cars “Rolls-Royce”, and VW’s former Rolls-Royce/Bentley division would build only cars called “Bentley”. Rolls Royce’s convertible, the Corniche, ceased production in 2002.
Main article: Rolls-Royce plc
The company’s first aero engine was the Eagle, built from 1914. Around half the aircraft engines used by the Allies in World War I were made by Rolls-Royce. By the late 1920s, aero engines made up most of Rolls-Royce’s business.
Henry Royce’s last design was the Merlin aero engine, which came out in 1935, although he had died in 1933. This was developed after the R engine, which had powered a record-breaking Supermarine S6B seaplane to almost 400 mph in the 1931 Schneider Trophy. The Merlin was a powerful V12 engine and was fitted into many World War II aircraft: the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, De Havilland Mosquito (two-engine), Avro Lancaster (four-engine), Vickers Wellington (two-engine); it also transformed the American P-51 Mustang into possibly the best fighter of its time, its Merlin engine built by Packard under license. Over 160,000 Merlin engines were produced.
In the post-World War II period Rolls-Royce made significant advances in gas turbine engine design and manufacture. The Dart and Tyne turboprop engines were particularly important, enabling airlines to cut times for shorter journeys whilst jet airliners were introduced on longer services. The Dart engine was used in Argosy, Avro 748, Friendship, Herald and Viscount aircraft, whilst the more powerful Tyne powered the Atlantic, Transall and Vanguard, and the SRN-4 hovercraft. Many of these turboprops are still in service.
Amongst the jet engines of this period was the RB163 Spey, which powers the Trident, BAC 1-11, Grumman Gulfstream II and Fokker F28.
During the late 1950s and 1960s there was a significant rationalisation of British aero-engine manufacturers, culminating in the merger of Rolls-Royce and Bristol Siddeley in 1966 (Bristol Siddeley had itself resulted from the merger of Armstrong-Siddeley and Bristol in 1959). Bristol Siddeley, with its principal factory at Filton, near Bristol, had a strong base in military engines, including the Olympus, Viper, Pegasus and Orpheus. They also manufactured the Olympus 593 Mk610 for Concorde.
In the early 1970s, following Rolls-Royce’s bankruptcy and nationalisation, the aero-engines and automobile division were separated. The Rolls-Royce aircraft engines company was privatised in 1987.
Today Rolls-Royce is the world’s second-largest aero-engine manufacturer and continues to power many of the world’s civil and military aircraft.
Current products include the RB211 and Trent three shaft civil turbofan series plus many engines made in collaboration with other manufacturers e.g. V2500, RB199, EJ200, RTM322, etc.
Rolls-Royce cars 1904-1939
• 1904-1906 10 hp
• 1905-1905 15 hp
• 1905-1908 20 hp
• 1905-1906 30 hp
• 1905-1906 Legalimit
• 1906-1925 40/50 Silver Ghost
• 1922-1929 20 hp
• 1925-1929 40/50 Phantom
• 1929-1936 20/25
• 1929-1935 Phantom II
• 1936-1938 25/30
• 1936-1939 Phantom III
• 1939-1939 Wraith
Bentley Models (from 1933)
• 1933-1937 Bentley 3? L
• 1936-1939 Bentley 4? L
• 1940-1940 Bentley 4? L Mk V
Rolls-Royce cars 1945-1998
Main cars in this period:
• 1949-1955 Silver Wraith
• 1949-1955 Silver Dawn
• 1950-1956 Phantom IV
• 1955-1966 Silver Cloud
• 1959-1968 Phantom V
• 1965-1980 Silver Shadow – the first Rolls-Royce with a monocoque chassis; started with a 6.23 L V8 engine, later expanded to 6.75 L; shared its design with the Bentley T-series
• 1968-1991 Phantom VI
• 1971-1996 Corniche
• 1975-1986 Camargue with a Pininfarina body
• 1980-1998 Silver Spirit/Spur/Dawn – design shared with the Bentley Mulsanne
Bentley models were produced mostly in parallel with the above cars. The Bentley Continental coupés (produced in various forms from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s) did not have Rolls-Royce equivalents. Very expensive Rolls-Royce Phantom limousines were also produced.
Rolls-Royce cars from 1998
• 1998-2002 Silver Seraph – This shared its design with the Bentley Arnage, which sold in much greater numbers.
• 2000-2002 Corniche – This two-door convertible shared its design with the Bentley Azure and was the most expensive Rolls-Royce until the introduction of the 2003 Phantom.
• 2003 Phantom – Launched in January 2003 at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, this is the first model of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited, a BMW subsidiary having no technical or corporate connection with the original Rolls-Royce company, apart from the trademarks mentioned above. The car has a 6.75 L V12 engine from BMW, but most other components are unique to the car. Most parts are made in Germany, but the assembly and finishing is in a new factory in Goodwood, Sussex. The price starts at around £250,000. It is available in normal and extended wheelbase.
Rolls-Royce cars timeline
Rolls-Royce road car timeline
1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Independent Vickers BMW
Saloon 20/25/30 Wraith WWII Dawn Cloud Silver Shadow Silver Spirit/Spur
Premium Rolls-Royce 10 H.P. Silver Ghost Phantom I II III Silver Wraith Camargue Seraph Phantom
Convertible Corniche II III IV C 100EX
• Rolls-Royce 100EX
• Rolls-Royce 101EX