It is now almost a century since the
first auspicious meeting took place between two men who, despite quite
different backgrounds and temperaments, would combine their talents to
create a motor car... and a legend.
Henry Royce, born in 1863, the son of a miller, was a well-established
engineer (his Manchester-based firm, F. H. Royce & Co.,
manufactured cranes and dynamos) when in the spring of 1904 he was
introduced to the Hon. Charles Rolls in Manchester. They had agreed to
discuss an innovation for F. H.
Royce & Co. - making motor cars that would be ahead of their
The aristocratic Hon. Charles S.
Rolls, born in 1877, the son of a landowner, was noted at the time as
an entrepreneur, as well as an adventurer (in Dublin in 1903 he set a
world land speed record of 93mph) and a hot-air balloonist (tragically,
he was destined to be one of the earliest casualties of aviation when
he died in a flying accident in 1910).
Engineer Royce had focused his
unquenchable enthusiasm to improve mechanical things on automobiles. He
had firm views on the need for quality and a Victorian fancy for
expressing his aims in
stirring phrases: "Small things make perfection, but perfection is no
thing," declared Mr. Royce. "Whatever is rightly done, however humble,
noble," he added. And one of his cannier observations in this vein was
note that "The quality remains long after the price is forgotten."
Hon. Charles Rolls was hugely impressed by the precision he found in
Mr. Royce's first, two-cylinder prototype. It started on the button and
progressed with remarkably silent smoothness. What was more, it did not
seem to break down with the regularity which was customary at the time.
Charles Rolls appreciated such qualities. He was not himself a
professional engineer, but he had acquired a degree in mechanical
engineering at Cambridge University and was an accomplished driver. He
arranged to borrow the Royce and as soon as he was back in London,
rushed round to his business partner, Claude Johnson, and took him on
an extended drive to show off its abilities. They were agreed that in
the single-minded Mr. Royce they had found an engineering talent to
take on the world.
Their first stop was France,
where a pioneering Royce went on show at the Paris Salon in early
December, 1904. It was a sensation and, two days before Christmas, an
was signed for Messrs C. S. Rolls and Co. to have exclusive rights to
Royce cars in Britain, on the understanding that they should henceforth
known by a new name - Rolls-Royce.