Historic Car Brands

Rolls Royce

Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business in 1884, producing dynamos and cranes. In 1903 he caught the motoring bug and bought a Decauville light car that inspired him to build his own machine. Two, twin-cylinder 10hp Royce cars followed in 1904 and attracted the attention of Charles Rolls, the proprietor of an early motor car dealership. The rest is history.


1905 Rolls-Royce – Styler


Charles Rolls already had a successful car agency in London and was looking for a ‘home grown’ quality car to sell against imports, including Mors, Panhard and Minerva.

In spite of his preference for three- and four-cylinder cars, Rolls was impressed with the Royce 10 and agreed to take all the cars Royce could make. The plan was for four models: a 10hp, two-cylinder model; a 15hp, three-cylinder; a 20hp four-cylinder and a 30hp six-cylinder model.

All cars were badged as Rolls-Royces and were sold exclusively by Rolls. They were unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904 and the 10hp model gave demonstration runs outside the Salon.

All the display cars featured a squared-off grille design that became a Rolls-Royce hallmark.


1905 Rolls-Royce Legalimit


A 1905 dalliance, instigated by Rolls, was Royce’s low-height V8 engine that could be mounted underfloor, to compete with battery-electric cars. However, a production illustration shows a low height, front-mounted engine and radiator.

This first-ever V8 passenger motor car was known as the ‘Legalimit’, because the 3.5-litre engine was governed to keep it below the 20mph speed limit then in force in Britain. Only three of these were ever made and it remains the only Rolls-Royce model of which no examples survive.

Two conventional Rolls-Royce 20hp models, with nickel-steel frames and front axles, and aluminium rear axle castings, were entered in the 1905 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy and one car crossed the line in first place, but was relegated to second on elapsed time.

This success motivated Rolls to drop his other agencies and concentrate on the Royce cars.


1905 Rolls-Royce 15hp – Malcolm A


Rolls-Royce Limited was formed on 15 March 1906, by which time it was apparent that new premises were required for production of cars. The new factory was largely designed by Royce and the new company offered shares to the public. Response was muted, because of previous ‘scams’ in the fledgling car industry, but a wealthy backer made up the necessary amount.

By 1906, just three years after its foundation, Rolls-Royce was already something of a victim of its own success.

Demand for its motor cars was such that its line-up had quickly expanded from the original twin-cylinder 10HP to include three-cylinder 15HP, four-cylinder 20HP and six-cylinder 30HP models. This proliferation of models reflected a trend across the luxury automotive sector, as competing manufacturers chased an ever more finely segmented client base.

However, for Rolls-Royce, it caused major manufacturing headaches, since many parts were not interchangeable between models. The problem was compounded by Henry Royce’s entirely laudable policy of continuous improvement, but his constant adjustments and refinements went all the way down to the smallest components. This created variations between and even within production series, to the extent that often only a few individual motor cars were identical.

As with almost any manufacturing process, more complexity and variability meant increased costs. This was anathema to the highly astute, commercially driven managing director, Claude Johnson.

Having decided radical change was needed, he proposed the marque should focus all its energies on producing just one model. Charles Rolls enthusiastically agreed, but insisted it should be positioned at the top end of the market, where Rolls-Royce was already gaining a reputation as the very best motor car available.

Though a ruthless perfectionist and tireless innovator, Royce was also a pragmatist. He saw the logic of his colleagues’ single-model approach and duly produced a completely new motor car: the 40/50HP.

This car was significant enough to warrant a chapter of its own:


The ‘Silver Ghost’



Formally launched in 1906 as the 40/50HP , it was the first model to be awarded the soubriquet of ‘the best car in the world’ that Rolls-Royce retains to this day.

It was also a stupendous commercial success, with almost 8000 examples built in the UK and US over an 18-year period: an unimaginable product lifespan in the modern age.

That so many Silver Ghosts still survive in full working order and regularly perform the same feats they achieved more than a century ago is a lasting monument to Henry Royce’s engineering genius.

As with all Rolls-Royce models, until the 1950s, the 40/50HP left the factory as a rolling chassis, upon which the client commissioned bodywork from an independent coachbuilder.

At its heart was a new six-cylinder, 7036cc engine that was increased to 7428cc from 1910. Royce’s groundbreaking design effectively divided the engine into two units of three cylinders each and employed a harmonic vibration damper on the crankshaft that eliminated the vibration problems caused by resonant frequencies that had bedevilled six-cylinder engines up to that point.

This technical achievement alone would have been sufficient to make the 40/50HP an historically significant motor car, but it was the marketing genius of Claude Johnson that assured its immortality.

When the 40/50HP was launched, new motor cars were taxed based on their horsepower. In general, this meant higher-value motor cars attracted heavier duties than lower-priced models. Since many of the more powerful motor cars on the market were imported, the tax also helped protect domestic British producers.

To provide a universal basis for these tax calculations, the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) developed the ‘tax horsepower rating’. This was derived not from actual engine output, but by a mathematical formula based on three engine measurements, all the more arcane when expressed in the prevailing imperial units.

It assumed a mechanical efficiency of 75 percent; a mean cylinder pressure of 90 pounds per square inch and a mean piston speed of 1000 feet per minute.

Since these differed from engine to engine, the resulting figure was almost entirely arbitrary, but was used by manufacturers and bureaucrats. Using this formula, the new Rolls-Royce was tax-rated by the RAC at 40 horsepower, although it developed 50. Hence it was given the prosaic ‘40/50HP’ designation on launch, so clients would know both the level of duty they would have to pay and how much power they could expect.

To Claude Johnson’s mind, this model nomenclature lacked distinction, resonance, romance and glamour. It also failed to suggest the desirable, best-in-class motor car envisioned by Charles Rolls.

Accordingly, some 50 of the early motor cars were given suitably imposing names, either by Johnson or by their proud owners.

In an inspired moment, Johnson dubbed the 12th chassis, number 60551, the ‘Silver Ghost’, in homage to its almost supernatural quietness and smooth ride. Painted silver and adorned with silver-plated fittings, it was exhibited by Rolls-Royce at motor shows, and ‘Silver Ghost’ became the name by which the 40/50HP was generally known, as it is today.


But chassis 60551 was more than just a showpiece. It dominated the gruelling, high-profile reliability trials that represented the pinnacle of motoring endeavour that were central to Johnson’s promotional activities.

Its extraordinary run of success began with the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trial, in which it covered some 2000 miles without a breakdown: the only delay being for a minute, to re-open a closed fuel tap.

Immediately afterwards, it covered 15000 miles non-stop, driving day and night except for Sundays, setting a new world record for continuous travel.

In 1911, impelled by his own pursuit of perfection and Johnson’s insatiable appetite for publicity, Royce unveiled a new version of the Silver Ghost. Known as the ‘London to Edinburgh’ type, it was designed for the RAC’s flagship reliability trial: a return run of almost 800 miles between the two capitals, on poorly-surfaced A- and B-roads.

Adding to the challenge was the fact that the cars were locked in top gear from start to finish.

Chassis number 1701 won the event at an average speed of 19.59mph, returning a then-unheard-of fuel efficiency of over 24mpg. To prove it had not been modified in any way, it achieved 78.2mph on a half-mile speed test, conducted soon after the Trial.

Later in 1911, fitted with a lightweight streamlined body, it attained 101.8mph at the fabled Brooklands circuit in Surrey, becoming the first Rolls-Royce in history to exceed 100mph.


However, the 40/50HP’s greatest sporting triumphs came in 1913. A ‘works team’ of three Silver Ghosts, plus one car privately entered by one James Radley, were specially prepared to the same specification, for the rigours of high-speed endurance motoring in the Alpine Trial.

The team gained first and third places in that year’s event, which started and finished in Austria.



Customers immediately demanded Silver Ghosts offering similar performance, so Rolls-Royce released a production model of the competition cars that was formally named the Continental, but was generally known as the ‘Alpine Eagle’.

The Continental then scored a landmark win in the inaugural Spanish Grand Prix, driven by the newly appointed Rolls-Royce agent for Spain, Don Carlos de Salamanca and that victory helped Rolls-Royce break into the Spanish market that had long been dominated by French marques.

These performances, together with the quietness and smoothness of its operation, secured the Silver Ghost’s reputation as ‘the best car in the world’.

It was an enormous commercial success for Rolls-Royce, between 1907 and 1925, with 6173 examples built in Britain and 1703 at the marque’s American factory in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Thanks to these large volumes over a long production run, the Silver Ghost has one of the largest surviving populations of early Rolls-Royce models and some are still capable of the performances they achieved when new.



In 2013, 47 Silver Ghosts, including James Radley’s car, retraced the 1800-mile route of the 1913 Alpenfahrt. In 2021, chassis 1701 repeated its record-breaking London-Edinburgh run, while locked in top gear, just as it had been 110 years earlier.


1914 Rolls-Royce Tourer – Tomislav Medak


The team of Rolls and Royce was short-lived: Rolls died when his Wright Flyer biplane crashed in 1910 and Royce was in semi-retirement from 1911, due to ill-health caused by overwork. Although he didn’t attend the factory, Royce directed designs from his French and UK homes.


1916 Rolls-Royce Armoured Car – Haynes Museum – 53Zodiac


The Silver Ghost’s chassis was used as a basis for the World War I British armoured car and was good enough to serve in Word War II as well.

Aero-engine manufacturing began in 1914, at the government’s request. The first model, the Rolls-Royce Eagle, entered production in 1915. Two Eagles powered Alcock and Brown’s first non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing by aeroplane mounted on their converted Vickers Vimy bomber.


1922 Rolls-Royce 20HP Landaulette – Lars-Goran Lindgren


After World War I, Rolls-Royce was faced with falling sales of the 40/50 Silver Ghost and introduced the smaller, more affordable Twenty in 1922, effectively ending the one-model policy followed since 1908. The Twenty was powered by a 3.2-litre six with a detachable cylinder head. Launched with a three-speed box, it was upgraded with a four-speed in 1925.


1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Labourdette – Edvvc


In 1921, Rolls-Royce opened a new factory in Springfield, Massachusetts in the USA, to help meet a three-year order backlog. The plant operated for 10 years and built 1703 ‘Springfield Ghosts’ and 1241 Phantoms. Bodies were supplied by Brewster & Co in Long Island City, New York.

The 40/50 hp Phantom replaced the Silver Ghost in 1925. This transitional design was powered by a new, 7.7-litre overhead-valve engine, but the chassis and running gear was largely carried-over.


1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Hooper Towncar – Rex Gray


In 1929, came the Phantom II, powered by the Phantom I’s engine, but with a new crossflow cylinder head. The engine was bolted directly to the four-speed manual transmission and synchromesh was added on third and fourth gears in 1932, and on second in 1935. 

Power was transmitted to the rear wheels using an open driveshaft and a hypoid bevel final drive, replacing the torque tube from the remotely mounted gearbox used on earlier 40/50 hp models.

The chassis of the Phantom II was completely new and the rear axle was mounted on semi-elliptic springs instead of cantilever springs, lowering the frame in the process.


1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental – Jagvar


Four-wheel ,servo-assisted brakes from the Phantom I were continued and the Bijur centralised lubrication system from the Springfield-built Phantom I was included on all Phantom II chassis.

Standard and short wheelbases were available and a total of 1281 Phantom II chassis of all types were built.


1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25 HJ Mulliner Limousine – Lordruss


In 1931, Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley, after it failed to handle the Great Depression and then Rolls-Royce stopped production of the Bentley 8 Litre that was threatening sales of the Phantom.

After two years of development, Rolls-Royce introduced a new, ultra-civilised, medium-size Bentley, the Bentley 3½ Litre that was advertised as ‘The Silent Sports Car’.

A Bentley 3½ Litre was privately entered by Eddie Hall  – with support from Rolls-Royce – in the 1934, 1935 and 1936 RAC Tourist Trophy sports car races on the Ards Circuit. The car recorded the fastest average speed in each year; ahead of Lagondas and Bugattis. 

These racing successes reassured Bentley customers that the new ‘Crewe Bentley’ could out-perform its famous predecessors.


In 1933, the colour of the Rolls-Royce radiator monogram was changed from red to black, because the red lettering sometimes clashed with the body colour selected by clients. The colour change was not made as a mark of respect for the death of Royce, as is commonly stated. 

The Phantom III, introduced in 1936, was the last large, pre-World War II model and  727 chassis were constructed from 1936 to 1939. The Phantom III was the last car that Henry Royce influenced, because he died, aged 70, a year into the Phantom III’s development.

The III was powered by an aluminium-alloy, overhead-valve, 7.3-litre, V12 engine, with the valves operated by a single camshaft in the valley between the cylinder banks. Early cars had hydraulically-operated tappets, but that design was changed to solid adjustable tappets in 1938. The Phantom III had twin ignition systems, with two distributors, two coils and 24 spark plugs. 


1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom iii V12 engine – Classic Driver Market


Wire wheels were fitted as standard, but many cars had Ace wheel discs that some customers preferred. The III also featured on-board jacking and a one-shot chassis lubrication system, operated by a lever inside the driver’s compartment. 

Independent, coil-spring front suspension combined with carry-over semi-elliptic rear springs.

A strictly limited production of Phantoms for heads of state recommenced in 1950 and continued until the Phantom VI ended production in the late 1980s.

After World War II, fully-tooled, pressed-steel car bodies were produced in the factory, rather than chassis being sent to coach-builders for custom-built bodies. Until 2002, standard Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars were usually nearly identical, with only the radiator grilles and minor details differing.

In 1939, Rolls-Royce brought a specialist coach-builder in-house, by buying Park Ward Limited. Since 1936, Park Ward had been building short production runs of all-metal saloon bodies on Bentley chassis.

Later, in 1959, Rolls-Royce bought coach-builder H J Mulliner and the two businesses were put together as H J Mulliner Park Ward.


Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engine – JAW


During World War II, Rolls Royce’s best-known product was the Merlin V12 aero engine that powered many fighters and bombers. In 1940, a contract was signed with the  Packard Motor Car Company, for the production of Merlin aero-engines for World War II in the USA.

A variant of the Merlin engine, known as the Meteor, was developed for the Cromwell tank. The engineering team also developed an in-line, eight-cylinder engine that became the base for the British Army’s B range of petrol engines for post-War combat vehicles.

Luxury cars did not fit with the new mood of post-War austerity, so Rolls Royce focussed on aero engines and diversified into diesel engines for automotive, railway, industrial, earth-moving and marine use, with outputs from 100hp to 750hp.

An exception from the austerity process was the introduction of the limited edition Phantom IV that was built on a stronger version of a new post-War chassis that was developed for the Silver Wraith and Bentley Mark VI. It also had 10-stud road wheels, to handle the weight of exclusive coachwork.

The IV was intended for Royalty and selected customers and only 18 were made. All examples of this exclusive series were bodied by independent coach-builders, with most of their bonnets surmounted by a kneeling version of the Spirit of Ecstasy.

The engine was a derivative of the eight-cylinder, rationalised B range of petrol engines and that made the IV the only Roller to be fitted with a straight-eight engine, which was powerful but could also run long distances at a very low speed – an important feature for ceremonial and parade cars.


1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith Sedan – Jeremy


The Wraith was a short-lived model that was introduced pre-World War II, with a welded chassis, cross-flow six-cylinder engine and independent front suspension. It featured dynamic shock absorber damping that varied rate with speed of the car.

The 1946 Silver Wraith was a chassis-only Roller that continued until 1958. The straight-six-cylinder post-War engine, which had been briefly made for the aborted-by-War Bentley Mark V, replaced conventional overhead valve gear with an F-head configuration of overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves in reshaped combustion chambers. 


1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Touring Limousine H.J. Mulliner – El.Guy-08


Initially, this engine retained the Mark V’s capacity of 4.3 litres; increasing to 4.6 litres from 1951 and to 4.9 litres from 1955.

The same engine powered the post-1949 Silver Dawn that was the first Roller to feature a factory-built all-steel body. The body was shared with Bentley models.


1953 Rolls-RoyceSilver Dawn – Charles 01


The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud was produced from April 1955 until March 1966 and was the core model of the Rolls-Royce range during that period. The Silver Cloud replaced the Silver Dawn and was, in turn, replaced by the Silver Shadow.

Construction was body-on-frame, which permitted special bodied versions, although the majority were built with the standard Pressed Steel Company body shell. Lightweight aluminium-alloy was used for doors, bonnet and boot lid. The chassis was a rigid, welded steel box section.


1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I – Charles 01


Output of 155hp came from the 4.9-litre, F-head engine, to which twin SU carburettors were added in September 1957. The standard transmission was a General Motors designed, Hydramatic four-speed automatic.

The Silver Cloud II arrived in 1959, with little exterior change, but with a brand new V8 under the bonnet. This Rolls-Royce/Bentley V8 was rumoured to be an American engine design licence-built, but it was really developed in-house by Rolls-Royce and Bentley engineers. 

Some of its design characteristics, including aluminium-alloy cylinder block with wet liners, gear-driven camshaft, outboard spark plugs, porting inspired by the Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine and bore spacing of 120.7mm were unlike any American V8 engine and the firing order was a different 1-5-4-8-6-3-7-2. Rolls-Royce did use General Motors transmissions in their vehicles, notably the Hydramatic in Silver Cloud and the Turbo-Hydramatic in the Silver Shadow.

The Phantom V was a large limousine chassis, based on the Silver Cloud II. Queen Elizabeth II and John Lennon were prominent Phantom V owners.


1967 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow – Janos Tamas


The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was a full-sized model produced in various forms from 1965 to 1980. It was the first RR to use unitary body and chassis construction and although it was 89mm narrower and 180mm shorter than the Silver Cloud, it offered increased passenger and luggage space, thanks to unitary construction.

Other features included disc brakes and independent rear suspension instead of the outdated live axle design of previous Rollers.


1980 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II – Mr Choppers


The Silver Shadow had the 172hp, 6.2-litre V8 from 1965 to 1969 and a 189hp, 6.75-litre V8 from 1970 to 1980. Those same engine variants powered the separate-chassis Phantom VI.

To date, the Silver Shadow’s combined model run has the largest production volume of any Rolls-Royce.


1989 Rolls-Royce Corniche II – Mr Choppers


The Rolls-Royce Corniche was a development of the Mulliner Park Ward two-door versions of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, produced as a hardtop coupé and as a convertible.

Rolls-Royce Limited suffered financial collapse in 1971; caused in part by ruinous costs involved in the development of the RB211 jet engine. 

Rolls-Royce Motors Limited was incorporated in 1971, after Rolls-Royce went into receivership. The new entity manufactured cars, diesel and petrol engines, coachwork and other items previously made by Rolls-Royce and Mulliner Park Ward. 


Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow 1 interior


In May 1973 it was sold to Rolls-Royce Motors Holdings Limited in preparation for its public flotation, but that met with a disappointing public response and more than 80 percent of the issue was left in the hands of the underwriters. In 1980, Rolls-Royce Motors Holdings and Vickers Limited merged, and the Rolls-Royce diesel business was acquired from Vickers in 1984 by Perkins.


1986 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit – Les Field 


The Silver Spirit was introduced in 1980 as the first of a new generation of company models and formed the base for the Flying Spur, Silver Dawn, Touring Limousine, Park Ward, and Bentley Mulsanne/Eight series.

The Spirit/Spur carried over the basic design of the Silver Shadow, including its 6.75-litre V8 engine and GM-sourced THM400 three-speed automatic gearbox, and similarly styled unitary bodywork manufactured at Pressed Steel. 

The Spur/Spirit continued the Silver Shadow’s emphasis on ride quality by utilising its hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension, modified with Girling automatic hydraulic ride height control system and gas-charged shock absorbers.

The Silver Spirit II and Silver Spur II were introduced at the 1989 Frankfurt Motor Show. Suspension design saw the most change, with ‘Automatic Ride Control’ introducing automatically-adjustable dampers at all four corners. Other updates included the adoption of ABS and fuel injection.

Originally retaining the three-speed Turbo Hydramatic GM400 transmission, the Spirits/Spurs scored a four-speed GM 4L80E transmission in 1991.

The Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph was a large luxury automobile produced by Rolls-Royce Motors from 1998 to 2002. First unveiled on 3 March 1998 at the Geneva Motor Show, it replaced the Silver Spirit, which ended production in 1997

In 1998, Vickers plc decided to sell Rolls-Royce Motors but the Rolls-Royce brand name and logo were controlled by aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce Plc – not Rolls-Royce Motors. 

After bids from BMW and Volkswagen the aero-engine maker decided to license the Rolls-Royce name and logo to BMW and not to Volkswagen, so Volkswagen Group had the rights to the mascot and grille, but lacked rights to the Rolls-Royce name in order to build the cars; likewise, BMW had the name, but lacked rights to the grille and mascot.

After negotiations, BMW and Volkswagen Group arrived at a solution: From 1998 to 2002, BMW would continue to supply engines for the cars and would allow Volkswagen use of the Rolls-Royce name and logo. On 1 January 2003, only BMW would be able to name cars ‘Rolls-Royce’ and Volkswagen Group’s former Rolls-Royce/Bentley division would build only cars called ‘Bentley’.

What would Henry Royce and Charles Rolls think of that carve up?


1999 Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph – Jagvar


The Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph was produced from 1998 until 2002 and replaced the Silver Spirit. The Seraph was externally identical to the contemporary Bentley Arnage, sharing both its platform and body shell. It was powered by a BMW M73 5.4 L aluminium-alloy V12 engine, coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission, making it the first twelve-cylinder Rolls-Royce since the 1939 Phantom III.

The last Rolls-Royce from the Crewe factory, the Corniche, ceased production in 2002, at which time the Crewe factory became Bentley Motors Limited and Rolls-Royce production was relocated to a new entity in Goodwood, known as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.


Rolls Royce Phantom – Alexandre Prevot


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