For many car enthusiasts, Rolls-Royce is the last name in extravagance, refinement and sublime craftsmanship bestowed upon a motor car – regardless of price.
The Spirit of Ecstasy emblem and its modern double-R derivative are as synonymous with the luxury car firm as the three-pointed star is to Mercedes-Benz and the prancing horse is to Ferrari. But where did it all begin?
Back in May 1904, part-time racing driver and car dealer, Charles Rolls, and a talented engineer by the name of Frederick Henry Royce met over a spot of lunch. The two men were impressed with each other’s ideas for a new motor car company and a business agreement was made there and then.
In 1906 the partnership was officially formalised - creating Rolls-Royce Limited. It had the ingredients for a dream combination; Royce appointed chief engineer and works director, providing technical expertise to Rolls’s business astuteness and financial backing.
Although the Rolls-Royce 10hp can lay claim to being the first production ‘Roller’ when it debuted at the 1904 Paris Salon show, the 1907 Rolls-Royce ‘Silver Ghost’ 40/50 was the car that really put the luxury automobile maker on the map.
Powered by a 7.0-litre straight-six engine inside a silver-painted four-passenger chassis, the 40/50 (denoting its horsepower output) completed a faultless 14,371-mile run, cementing the car’s reputation at that time as “the best in the world”.
However, tragedy struck the company early on, when co-founder Charles Rolls was killed in 1910, after his Wright Flyer aircraft’s tail broke off during a flying display in Bournemouth.
In 1921, due to increased demand following the First World War, Rolls-Royce opened its first factory in the US, amid a growing economy and the ‘Jazz era’, where Rolls-Royce cars show-boated wealth and elegance.