Charles Rolls And Henry Royce Walk Into A Bar
They couldn’t have been more different: Henry Royce was just nine years old when his impoverished father died in an English workhouse. By contrast, Charles Rolls was the third son of the Welsh 1st Baron Llangattock and lived in Mayfair, one of London’s most affluent districts.
The chances of them even meeting were remote, let alone working together. But on May 4th 1904, the Hon Charles Rolls and Henry Royce met up at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. After a couple of bevvies (maybe), Rolls was heard to exclaim, “I have just met the greatest engineer in the world”. When Royce was a young man, an aunt paid for the fatherless and penniless Royce to be apprenticed on the railways where he discovered a love of engineering. So much so that he later set up his own electrical engineering business. Then in 1903, at the age of 40, he bought a Decauville car built in France. Dissatisfied with his purchase, he redesigned the engine and chassis so successfully that he was able to expand his business into car manufacturing.
Meanwhile, Charles Rolls had been studying Mechanisms and Applied Science at Cambridge University where he was known as “Dirty Rolls” because of his tendency to be found with sleeves rolled up tinkering with engineering projects. After graduating he set up a car repair business. For years, sales of the luxury car went well but received a significant boost in 1957 when brilliant advertising tycoon David Ogilvy won the Rolls-Royce account. Founder of the famous Ogilvy & Mather agency, he would become known as the “Father of Advertising.” And he produced a legendary slogan: "At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” “It's the best headline I ever wrote,” Ogilvy said later. It certainly seemed to pay dividends. Despite the fact that in 1957 the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II cost $15,655 (equivalent to $156,600 in 2022), sales in 1958 jumped 50 per cent on 1957. Before Ogilvy, Rolls-Royce simply stated that theirs was “the best car in the world”. He changed that by adding a couple of words and turning the statement into a question: “What makes Rolls-Royce the best car in the world?” He then listed the car’s attributes to remove any doubt. These included:
Every Rolls-Royce engine is run for four hours at full throttle before installation, and each car is extensively test-driven over varying road surfaces.
The finished car spends a week in the final test-shop, being fine-tuned. It is subjected to 98 separate ordeals. For example, the engineers use a stethoscope to listen for axle-whine. Silent operation of every part is the standard for acceptance.
The coachwork is given as many as nine coats of finishing paint – hand rubbed.
Every Rolls-Royce goes through the “monsoon test” in which the windows are closed and the car is pelted with air and water at gale force. Not a drop may come through.
The driver can adjust the shock absorbers to suit road conditions by moving a switch on the steering column.
The seats are upholstered with eight hides of English leather – enough to make 128 pairs of shoes.
A picnic table, fashioned of inlaid French walnut, slides out from under the dash. Two more swing out behind the front seats.
A Rolls-Royce became the status symbol for pop and movie stars, businessmen and millionaires generally. When in January 1961 Elvis Presley signed a five-year movie contract he celebrated by purchasing a Rolls-Royce Phantom V.
Presley is reported later to have given the car away to charity. It was sold at a Bonhams auction in 2014 for $396,000. There is no record of how much Presley originally paid but the figure would certainly have been dwarfed in 2021 when celebrity couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z bought a Rolls-Royce Model Boat Tail for $23 million – the most expensive car in the world.
The Boat Tail is 5.8 meters (19 feet) long and is a convertible whose rear part simulates a yacht. Among various luxury features it has a compartment exclusively for caviar and a refrigerator that cools to six degrees, the recommended temperature for Armand de Brignac champagne, supposedly the couple’s favourite tipple, which can sell for $75 thousand a bottle. Sadly, Charles Rolls would not live to see the global success of his joint enterprise. He had a passion for aviation and in 1909, only five years after his meeting with Royce, he resigned from the company to concentrate on flying.
A year later he made the first ever non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by aeroplane. But in July, 1910 at the age of 32 he was killed when his aircraft crashed in the south of England as he took part in a flying competition. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft. Under Royce’s guidance the company expanded its operations in the 20th century from luxury cars to the manufacture of aircraft engines – now widely used around the world. During the Second World War Rolls-Royce engines powered the famous Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane aircraft, both of which helped to win the Battle of Britain. He became Sir Henry Royce in 1930 when he was created a baronet for his services to British aviation. But for many years Royce had been troubled by an eating disorder and was looked after by a nurse for the last 20 years of his life. After falling seriously ill he died in April 1933, aged 70.