History of the Rolls-Royce Automobile Part 1

About the history of the Rolls-Royce luxury automobile as well as a biography of Rolls and Royce.



A Rolls-Royce is as much a symbol of luxury, elegance, and wealth as it is a finely crafted automobile. At one time, ownership of a Rolls-Royce was the exclusive province of royalty and heads of state and industry, seduced into purchase by the car's timeless good looks, quality, quietness, and plushness and by the manufacturer's claim that it was "the best car in the world." Those who have owned the cars have been courted, too, by the Rolls-Royce company's willingness and ability to make any number of modifications and additions to their machines to suit the needs and tastes of the privileged few who can afford them.

For example, one of the 50 Rolls-Royces owned by India's Seventh Nizam of Hyderabad has a body cast out of solid silver and an interior upholstered in old-gold brocade. William Randolph Hearst's two Rolls-Royce town cars had mirrored interiors complete with bar, table, and rolltop desk. One of the heiresses to the Wool-worth fortune spent $3,000 for a vanity case and $1,200 for an electric clock to grace the interior of her Rolls-Royce. There have been bulletproof Rolls-Royces and Rolls-Royces specially fitted to accept the wheelchairs of their owners. There have even been Rolls-Royces with collapsible bathtubs and commodes.

Thanks to such eccentricities and the rare and exotic nature of the car itself, the mystique and image of Rolls-Royce cars--and owners--have continued to evolve since 1906, when Charles J. Rolls, Frederick Henry Royce, and Claude Johnson formed the company.

Rolls, born into a well-to-do family, had a passion for speed and mechanics. At age nine he began tinkering with machines, and as a teenager on his father's estate, he supervised the installation of an electrical generating plant. He bought his first automobile in 1896, took to auto and motorcycle racing, and gained a reputation as a daredevil balloonist. With his good friend Claude Johnson, Rolls opened an automobile showroom and sales facility in London.

Similarly mechanically minded was Henry Royce. In the early 1900s, Royce purchased a French-made car--a Decauville--with the proceeds from his inventin of an improved dynamo and his thriving electrical motor business. He had grown up in poverty, and years of hard work had taken their toll on Royce's health. An automobile became a necessity both for his transportation and his health. However, the car he bought proved unsatisfactory, so with characteristic attention to detail, Royce set out to build a better automobile. His first car, tested on Apr. 1,1904, was the forerunner of the legendary cars he would later build.

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