Rolls-Royce Limited

For the present day companies see Rolls-Royce plc (Aero Engines etc) and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
Nationalised / split in 1973, and privatised in 1987 as Rolls-Royce plc
Rolls-Royce plc (1987)
Manchester, England
Charles Rolls and Henry Royce
Derby, England, United Kingdom
Key people
Henry Royce
Charles Rolls
Claude Johnson
Ernest Hives


In 1884, Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business. He made his first car, a two-cylinder Royce 10, in his Manchester factory in 1904, and was introduced to Charles Rolls at the Midland Hotel in Manchester on 4 May 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. There would be four models:
  • a 10 hp (7.5 kW), two-cylinder model selling at £395 (£36,030 as of 2013),
  • a 15 hp (11 kW) three-cylinder at £500 (£45,610 as of 2013),
  • a 20 hp (15 kW) four-cylinder at £650 (£59,300 as of 2013),
  • a 30 hp (22 kW) six-cylinder model priced at £890 (£81,190 as of 2013),
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, it was an offer from Derby's council of cheap electricity that resulted in the decision to acquire a 12.7 acres (51,000 m2) site on the southern edge of that city. 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. The investment in the new company required further capital to be raised, and on 6 December 1906 GBP 100,000 (£9,107,380 as of 2013), of new shares were offered to the public. In 1907, Rolls-Royce bought out C.S. Rolls & Co. (The non-motor car interests of Royce Ltd. continued to operate separately.)
The Silver Ghost, green leather, silver-plated fittings, aluminium dashboard
40/50 chassis #60551 The Silver Ghost
Silver Ghost open tourer by Hooper 1920
RollsRoyce Saloon

20/25 limousine by Gurney Nutting
20/25 limousine by Gurney Nutting

Silver Wraith saloon by Hooper 1955

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 exclusively on the new model, and all the earlier models were duly discontinued. 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.
After the First World War, Rolls-Royce successfully avoided attempts to encourage the British car manufacturers to merge. Faced with falling sales of the 40/50 (later known as Silver Ghost) the company introduced the smaller, cheaper Twenty in 1922, effectively ending the one-model policy followed since 1908.
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.


chassis-only, no R-R built body until Silver Dawn
  • 1904–06 10 hp
  • 1905–05 15 hp
  • 1905–08 20 hp
  • 1905–06 30 hp
  • 1905–06 V-8
  • 1906–25 40/50 Silver Ghost
  • 1922–29 Twenty
  • 1925–29 40/50 Phantom
  • 1929–36 20/25
  • 1929–35 Phantom II
  • 1936–38 25/30
  • 1936–39 Phantom III
  • 1938–39 Wraith
  • 1946–59 Silver Wraith
  • 1949–55 Silver Dawn with bodies by Pressed Steel Company, Cowley
  • 1950–56 Phantom IV
  • 1955–65 Silver Cloud standard saloon with bodies by Pressed Steel Co
  • 1959–68 Phantom V
  • 1968–92 Phantom VI, chassis by Rolls-Royce Motors after 1973
    the following cars use unitary construction and have no separate chassis
  • 1965–80 Silver Shadow standard saloon, totally R-R built car, built by Rolls-Royce Motors after 1973
  • 1980–98 Silver Spirit standard saloon, built in entirety by Rolls-Royce Motors
  • 1998–2002 Silver Seraph standard saloon, built in entirety by Rolls-Royce Motors
The next Rolls-Royce model, the Rolls-Royce Phantom was built by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
Bentley Models (from 1933) - chassis only
  • 1933–37 Bentley 3½ L
  • 1936–39 Bentley 4¼ L
  • 1939–41 Bentley Mark V
Standard saloons
Silver Dawn 1953
Silver Cloud 1956
Silver Shadow 1972
Silver Spirit 1982
Silver Seraph 2000
Postwar Phantoms
Phantom IV limousine by Hooper 1953
Phantom V sedanca de ville by James Young 1961
Phantom VI limousine
Phantom VI limousine


  • Rolls-Royce Thrust Measuring Rig
  • Rolls-Royce Mustang Mk.X

Aero engines

In 1907 Charles Rolls, whose interests had turned increasingly to flying, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Royce and the other directors to design an aero engine. When World War I
 broke out in August 1914 Rolls-Royce (and many others) were taken by surprise. As a manufacturer of luxury cars, the company was immediately vulnerable, and Claude Johnson thought the bank would withdraw its overdraft facility on which Rolls-Royce depended at that time. Nevertheless, believing that war was likely to be short-lived the directors initially decided not to seek government work making aero engines. However, this position was quickly reversed and the company was persuaded by the War Office to manufacture fifty air-cooled V8 engines under licence from Renault.[2] Meanwhile, the Royal Aircraft Factory asked Rolls-Royce to design a new 200 hp (150 kW) engine. Despite initial reluctance they agreed, and during 1915 developed the company's first aero engine, the twelve-cylinder Eagle. This was quickly followed by the smaller six-cylinderHawk, the 190 hp (140 kW) Falcon and, just before the end of the war, the larger 675 hp (503 kW) Condor.
An Eagle VIII WWI era aero-engine
The ubiquitous 27 litre capacity Merlin
A Dart fitted to a Fokker F.27 Friendship airliner
A Nene turbojet of the late 1940s
A Trent 900 turbofan fitted to an Airbus A380
Throughout World War I, Rolls-Royce struggled to build aero engines in the quantities required by the War Office. However, with the exception of Brazil Straker in Bristol the company resisted pressure to licence production to other manufacturers, fearing that the engines' much admired quality and reliability would risk being compromised. Instead the Derby factory was extended to enable Rolls-Royce to increase its own production rates.
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 from the R engine, which had powered a record-breaking Supermarine S.6B seaplane to almost 400 mph (640 km/h) in the 1931 Schneider Trophy. The Merlin was a powerful supercharged V12 engine and was fitted into many World War II aircraft: the British Hawker HurricaneSupermarine Spitfirede Havilland Mosquito (twin-engine), Avro Lancaster (four-engine) (developed from the Avro Manchester (twin)), Vickers Wellington (twin-engine); it also transformed the American P-51 Mustang into a competitor for the best fighter of its time, its engine a Merlin engine built by Packard under licence. Over 160,000 Merlin engines were produced, including over 30,000 by the Ford Motor Company at Trafford Park, Manchester. The Merlin crossed over into military land-vehicle use as the Meteor powering the Centurion tank among others. Many Meteor engines used engine blocks and parts that failed requirements for high performance engines, but were suitable for use in the derated 650 hp Meteor
Rolls-Royce came into jet turbines through an exchange of assets with Rover and 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 ArgosyAvro 748FriendshipHerald andViscount aircraft, whilst the more powerful Tyne powered the AtlantiqueC-160 and Vanguard, and the SR.N4 hovercraft. Many of these turboprops are still in service.
Amongst the jet engines of this period was the RB163 Spey, which powers the Hawker Siddeley TridentBAC One-ElevenGrumman Gulfstream II andFokker F28.
During the late 1950s and 1960s there was a significant rationalisation of all aspects of British aerospace and this included aero-engine manufacturers. In 1966 Rolls-Royce acquired Bristol Siddeley (which had resulted from the merger of Armstrong Siddeley and Bristol Aero Engines in 1959) and incorporated it as the Bristol Siddeley division. Bristol Siddeley, with its principal factory at Filton, near Bristol, had a strong base in military engines, including the OlympusViperPegasus and Orpheus. They were also manufacturing the Olympus 593 Mk610 to be used in Concorde in collaboration with SNECMA. They also had a turbofan project with SNECMA
Leavesden Aerodrome Watford was originally owned by the Ministry of Defence and used during World War II for the manufacture of Mosquito and Halifax aircraft. For a number of years, Rolls-Royce used the site for the manufacture of helicopter engines until the site closed in June 1993. The former Rolls-Royce factory at Watford is now known as the Leavesden Film Studios and has produced world-famous films such as James Bond, Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Military vehicles

  • Rolls-Royce Armoured Car
  • Ferret armoured car
  • Humber Hornet
  • Humber Pig

Diesel engines

Rolls-Royce 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.

Torque converters

The 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.


Financial problems caused largely by development of the new RB211 turbofan engine led – after several cash subsidies – to the company beingnationalised by the Heath government in 1971. (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.

Rolls-Royce of America

1923 Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost Oxford Tourer
Rolls-Royce of America Inc. was formed by Rolls-Royce to meet the massive and growing U.S. car market by building a plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their first chassis was completed in 1921.
  • The Phantom I produced by the Springfield plant was superior in regards to its more elegantly proportioned and well-engineered coachwork. This was most likely because the coachbuilding was provided by Rolls-Royce Custom Coachwork, and later by Brewster & Co. at the Brewster Building inLong Island City, New York.
  • The Silver Spur Springfield Edition was made to commemorate the original Rolls-Royce of America plant's 75th anniversary.
Last updated on 26 August 2013 at 09:07.


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