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The History of the Rolls-Royce Century

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Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in the early 1920s

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in the early 1920s

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Rich Man, Poor Man:

Rolls and Royce were in fact people before the history of Rolls-Royce as a company every began. Frederick Royce was a British electrical equipment manufacturer who built the first Royce cars in 1904. The three two-cylinder, 10-hp cars he built attracted the attention of Charles Rolls, a longtime car enthusiast from way back in 1894 and son of a baron. He owned a dealership in London, where he first encountered a Royce. He was so taken with the engineering that he partnered with the car's creator. Royce would built the cars, and Rolls would sell them.

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Racing for Recognition:

Like many manufacturers of the day, Rolls entered the first Rolls-Royces in races in order to promote them. These cars were similar to the first one built by Royce. Real fame came with the 1907 introduction of a 6-cylinder engine inside a silver-painted four-passenger chassis dubbed "The Silver Ghost." This car was driven 15,000 continuous miles with little wear, cementing the R-R reputation for reliability. Unfortunately, Rolls' passion for excitement ended in 1910, when his biplane (based on the Wright brothers' flyer) crashed and killed him almost instantly.

War and Peace and War Again:

The Silver Ghost chassis, built in Derby, U.K., was toughened with armor so it could serve as a combat car in Flanders, Africa, Egypt, and with Lawrence of Arabia during WWI. In the Jazz Age that came after the war, people had money to spend on these reliable Rollers. There were Silver Ghosts built in Springfield, Mass., from 1920-1924, and a smaller 20-hp "Baby Roller" was introduced. Big cars were still popular, though, with the Phantoms I, II, and II all appearing in the 1920s. During WWII, the company built Rolls-Royce Merlin airplane engines in a facility in Crewe, U.K., rather than cars.

Post-War Rollers:

After the war in Europe had ended and Rolls could go back to building automobiles, they brought out the 1946 Silver Wraith. Sweeping coachwork for the car came from famed designers like Mulliner, Park Ward, and others. The 1950s saw the very long-wheelbase of the Phantom IV and the rounded shape of the Silver Cloud on the roads. The Silver Cloud II had the company's first V8 engine, and the updated Silver Cloud III appeared in the '60s. The Phantoms V (for the American market) and VI (for Europe) were also sold in the '60s. The all-new, slab-sided, V8 Silver Shadow debuted in 1965.

Those Slippery Seventies:

It seems most exotic car makers hit a rough patch in the 1970s, Rolls-Royce included. Due to expensive aircraft engines, the company sought assistance from the British government, who took over the airplane engine division. Rolls-Royce Motors at Crewe divorced from Rolls-Royce Limited at Derby. (Anyone who's Googled "Rolls-Royce" has likely found the wrong web site at least once.) The revived company rallied with the Corniche, the Camargue, the Silver Shadow II, and the Silver Wraith II, all of which hit the market by 1979.

Big Hair and Big Cars:

Rolls-Royce entered the Me Decade with the Silver Spirit and Silver Spur, both of which were massive, squared-off, ultra-luxury automobiles that dripped wealth in the '80s. As I'm sure you've guessed by now, Silver Spirits II and III and Silver Spurs II and III appeared in the '80s and '90s. In 1998, the all-new Silver Seraph was launched, with a V12 engine under its long nose.

Happy 100th Birthday! (And Many More):

Rolls-Royce celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004, and the centenary of its most famous car, the Silver Ghost, in 2007. In 2003, after ending its partnership with Bentley, the company produced an all-new Phantom, available as a sedan, coupe, or convertible. A limited-edition Phantom Silver was issued in 2004 to mark the company's uninterrupted 100-year run. Cars to come include the new, smaller RR4, a "Baby Roller" in the tradition of the 20HP of the 1920s. And to set the record straight: the red enamel radiator badge was changed to black during the Phantom II period, before the death of Henry Royce.

What About Bentley?:

Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley in 1931, when W.O. Bentley's company was facing an uncertain financial future. Rolls-Royce and Bentley parted ways in 2002. Volkswagen at this point owned Rolls-Royce, who owned Bentley. BMW came in and bought the Rolls-Royce name, freeing VW to develop Bentleys independent of Rolls, which it was happy to do. Bentley aficionados refer to these six decades as "the blackest of all."
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