Rolls-Royce Limited

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For the present day company see Rolls-Royce plc. For other uses, see Rolls-Royce (disambiguation).
Rolls-Royce Limited
FateNationalised / split in 1973
SuccessorRolls-Royce plc (1987)
Rolls-Royce Motors (1973) demerged
Founded1906 by Charles Rolls and Henry Royce
HeadquartersEngland, United Kingdom

Rolls-Royce Limited was a United Kingdom Automobile and, from 1914, aero-engine manufacturing company founded by Henry Royce and Charles Stewart Rolls on 15 March 1906 and was the result of a partnership formed in 1904. In 1971, Rolls-Royce was crippled by the development of the advanced Rolls-Royce RB211 jet engine, resulting in the nationalisation of the company. In 1973, the car division was separated from Rolls-Royce Limited as Rolls-Royce Motors. Rolls-Royce Limited continued as a nationalised company until it was privatised in 1987 as Rolls-Royce plc.



1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Tourer
1923 Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost Oxford Tourer
File:Rolls-Royce Limousine.jpg
Rolls-Royce Limousine
File:Rolls-Royce 25 30 HP Limousine 1936.jpg
Rolls-Royce 25/30 Limousine 1936
File:Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe 1937.jpg
Rolls-Royce 25/30 Drophead Coupé 1937
File:1947 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Franay Drophead Coupe.JPG
One of the first postwar Rolls-Royce models (1947)
1947 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Inskip Cabriolet
File:Rolls-Royce Limousine 2.jpg
Rolls-Royce Limousine
File:Rolls-Royce Saloon.jpg
Rolls-Royce Saloon

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 (Manchester) 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 10hp, two-cylinder model selling at £395, a 15hp three-cylinder at £500, a 20hp four-cylinder at £650, and a 30hp six-cylinder model priced at £890. 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 Motor Show 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, England's council of cheap electricity that resulted in the decision to acquire a 12.7 acres 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 John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu. The investment in the new company required further capital to be raised, and on 6 December 1906 GBP 100,000 of new shares were Initial public offering. In 1907, Rolls-Royce bought out C.S. Rolls & Co.[1] (The non-motor car interests of Royce Ltd. continued to operate separately.)

During 1906 Royce had been developing an improved Straight-6 model with more power than the 30hp. Initially designated the 40/50hp, this was the company's first all-new model.[2] In March 1908 Claude Johnson, Commercial Managing Director and sometimes described as the hyphen in Rolls-Royce[3], 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. Later renamed the Silver Ghost, the new car 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 Rolls-Royce Armoured Car used in both World war.

After the First World War, Rolls-Royce successfully avoided attempts to encourage the British car manufacturers to merge. Faced with falling sales of the Silver Ghost caused by the deteriorating economic situation, the company introduced the smaller, cheaper Twenty in 1922, effectively ending the one-model policy followed since 1908.

In 1931, the company acquired rival car maker Bentley Motors Limited, whose finances were unable to weather the Great Depression. From then until 2002, 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, and also to Mulliner Park Ward, London, in 1959, as the company started to build bodies for its cars for the first time: previously it had built only the chassis, leaving the bodies to specialist coachbuilders.


Bentley Models (from 1933)

  • 1933–37 Bentley 3.5 Litre
  • 1936–39 Bentley 3.5 Litre
  • 1939–41 Bentley Mark V

Aero engines

See also: Rolls-Royce Aircraft Piston 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 engine under licence from Renault.[1] Meanwhile, the Royal Aircraft Establishment asked Rolls-Royce to design a new 200 hp engine. Despite initial reluctance they agreed, and during 1915 developed the company's first aero engine, the twelve-cylinder Rolls-Royce Eagle. This was quickly followed by the smaller six-cylinder Rolls-Royce Hawk, the 190 hp Rolls-Royce Falcon and, just before the end of the war, the larger 675 hp Rolls-Royce Condor.

Throughout World War I, Rolls-Royce struggled to build aero engines in the quantities required by the War Office. However, with the exception of Straker-Squire 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.[1]

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 Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engine, which came out in 1935, although he had died in 1933. This was developed after the Rolls-Royce R engine, which had powered a record-breaking Supermarine Supermarine S.6B to almost 400 mph in the 1931 Schneider Trophy. The Merlin was a powerful V12 engine and was fitted into many World War II Aircraft: the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, De Havilland Mosquito (two-engine), Avro Lancaster (four-engine), Vickers Wellington (two-engine); it also transformed the American P-51 Mustang into possibly the best fighter of its time, its Merlin engine built by Packard under licence. Over 160,000 Merlin engines were produced. The Merlin crossed over into military vehicle use as the Rolls Royce Meteor powering the Centurion tank among others.

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 Rolls-Royce Dart and Rolls-Royce Tyne Turboprop engines were particularly important, enabling Airline to cut times for shorter journeys whilst Jet aircraft Airliner were introduced on longer services. The Dart engine was used in Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy, Avro 748, Fokker F27, Handley Page Herald and Vickers Viscount aircraft, whilst the more powerful Tyne powered the Breguet Atlantique, Transall C-160 and Vickers Vanguard, and the Mountbatten class hovercraft Hovercraft. Many of these turboprops are still in service.

Amongst the Jet engine of this period was the RB163 Spey, which powers the Hawker Siddeley Trident, BAC One-Eleven, Grumman Gulfstream II and Fokker F28.

During the late 1950s and 1960s there was a significant rationalisation of all aspects of British aerospace and this included aero-engine manufacturers, culminating in the merger of Rolls-Royce and Bristol Siddeley in 1966 (Bristol Siddeley had itself resulted from the merger of Armstrong Siddeley and Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1959). Bristol Siddeley, with its principal factory at Filton, near Bristol, had a strong base in military engines, including the Rolls Royce Olympus, Armstrong Siddeley Viper, Rolls-Royce Pegasus and Bristol Orpheus. They also manufactured the Olympus 593 Mk610 for Concorde.

Diesel engines

Rolls-Royce started to produce Diesel engine in 1951. Initially, these were intended for heavy tractors and earth-movers but, later, they were installed in lorries (e.g. Scammell), Railcar, Diesel multiple unit and Sentinel Waggon Works shunting locomotives. The railcar engines were often used with Twin Disc Torque converter which were built by Rolls-Royce under licence from the Twin Disc Clutch Company of the USA. Rolls-Royce took over Sentinel's Shrewsbury factory for diesel engine production in 1956.


Financial problems caused largely by development of the new Rolls-Royce RB211 Turbofan engine led — after several cash subsidies — to the company being Nationalization by the Edward Heath government in 1971. (Delay in production of the RB211 engine has been blamed for the failure of the technically advanced Lockheed Corporation Lockheed L-1011, which was beaten to launch by its chief competitor, the Douglas Aircraft Company 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 Privatisation of the Margaret Thatcher government.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Pugh, Peter (2001). The Magic of a Name - The Rolls-Royce Story: The First 40 Years. Icon Books. ISBN 1840461519. 
  2. The earlier models having been based on a Décauville automobile owned by Royce.
  3. Oldham, Wilton (1967). The hyphen in Rolls-Royce: A biography of Claude Johnson. Foulis. ISBN 0854290176. 

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