One of the most well-known manufacturers of opulent British automobiles, Rolls-Royce also produced aircraft engines from 1914 until 1973. Particularly from 1931, the brand’s history is entwined with that of Bentley. However, Charles Rolls and Sir Henry Royce had a vision that led to the brand’s early history and development.
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The beginning of Rolls-history Royce’s occurred in Manchester in 1904 when Henry Royce met Charles Rolls. Since 1884, Royce has operated an electrical and mechanical company, and Rolls was one of the country’s first vehicle dealers. However, it was the two-cylinder Royce 10 that Royce produced in 1904 that connected the two men. Although Rolls favoured three- and four-cylinder vehicles, he made Royce a guarantee to buy as many of his two-cylinder automobiles as Royce could produce. A deal between Royce and Rolls stipulates that four models will be produced, all of which will carry the Rolls-Royce name, and which will only be sold by Rolls. At the end of 1904, the first Rolls-Royce two-cylinder automobile was unveiled at the Paris Salon.
Along with the two-, three-, and four-cylinder vehicles, Royce began work on a new six-cylinder model with 40/50 horsepower. The new model, which became known as the Silver Ghost, was all that Rolls-Royce concentrated on in the years that followed. The exact same 40/50 model that made Rolls-Royce one of the most sought-after brands and necessitated the opening of a second facility in the United States so that it could meet demand was what caused the firm to do so. However, the Great Depression forced the closure of the Springfield, Massachusetts, factory in 1931.
Rolls-Royce successfully adapted to market demands after the First World War by thwarting all attempts to unite the British automobile manufacturers. Early in the 1920s, Rolls-Royce developed the Twenty model, which was less expensive, as sales of the 40/50 model were declining.
In 1931, Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley. Rolls-facilities Royce’s in Derby took over production after Bentley’s Cricklewood factory was shut down. Prior to World War II, Bentley was essentially a sportier Rolls-Royce. The base Bentley and Rolls-Royce models were nearly identical from the end of World War II until 2002.
The two businessmen established Rolls-Royce Limited in 1906 and began looking for a suitable location for a plant to build cars. They looked at a number of places, including Manchester, where Royce had a manufacturing plant, but ultimately settled on Derby because the local government offered them affordable electricity. Royce developed the Derby Rolls-Royce facility, and production there started in 1908.
Learn more about our history and the significant events that have shaped Rolls-Royce, one of the most recognisable names in engineering worldwide.
Rolls-Royce created the Eagle, the company’s first aircraft engine, in 1914. Its water-cooled Merlin engine, which was first used to power several aircraft on the eve of World War II, including the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane, was one of that conflict’s most productive piston engines. Rolls-Royce created the Welland, the first jet engine to enter military service, in the early 1940s by building on the groundbreaking jet propulsion work of English aircraft expert Frank Whittle (in the Gloster Meteor in 1944). The first turboprop to enter commercial service was the company’s Dart turboprop engine, created for the Vickers-Armstrongs Viscount. In 1966, Rolls-Royce acquired Bristol Siddeley Engines, which at the time was working on the Olympus engine (with France’s SNECMA) for the Concorde supersonic airliner as well as the Pegasus vectored-thrust engine for the Harrier vertical/short-takeoff and landing jet fighter. Bristol Siddeley Engines was founded in 1959 through the merger of Bristol Aero Engines and Armstrong Siddeley Motors. In the end, Rolls-jet-engine Royce’s division’s sales ended up making up the vast majority of the business.
Rolls-Royce began work on the RB211 jet engine’s development in the late 1960s. The company signed a fixed-price contract with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (see Lockheed Martin Corporation) to supply the RB211 turbofan for Lockheed’s L-1011 TriStar wide-body airliner in order to outbid rival General Electric. The engine’s development costs were grossly underestimated by Rolls-Royce management during the process, which caused the firm to declare bankruptcy in February 1971. As a result, Rolls-Royce was nationalised, and the British government took care of the business’ debts. Rolls-Royce Ltd., which houses its jet-engine operations, was founded in 1971 and became a government-owned corporation; Rolls-Royce Motor Holdings Limited, which houses its automobile and diesel-engine operations, was established in 1973 and returned to private stockholders. Subsequently, it was reorganised into two distinct entities. Vickers Ltd. bought Rolls-Royce Motor Holdings Limited in 1980, making it a division of the latter. The next year, Vickers, a British manufacturing and engineering firm with a lengthy history as a defence contractor, changed its legal status to public limited corporation. In 1983, Rolls-Royce Ltd. formed the International Aero Engines partnership with four other businesses from Europe, America, and Japan to develop the V2500 turbofan engine for short- to medium-range jetliners.
The shares of Rolls-Royce Ltd. were sold to private investors in 1987 by the British government, who also changed the company’s name to Rolls-Royce PLC. Three years later, the business formed a corporation to produce small- to medium-sized jet engines with the German automaker BMW AG (Bayerische Motoren Werke AG). In exchange for a 10% ownership position in the parent firm, it assumed complete management of the joint venture in 2000. Through the 1995 acquisition of Allison Engine Company, a 1915-founded American manufacturer of gas-turbine engines for use in aviation, industry, and marine applications, Rolls-Royce PLC extended its aircraft propulsion activities. With the 1999 acquisition of Vickers PLC, a manufacturer of naval propulsion and stabilisation systems, turbine parts, and defence systems, the firm rose to the position of a world leader in marine power systems.
After Vickers declared its decision to sell its Rolls-Royce automobile subsidiary, Volkswagen AG and BMW AG presented competing offers in 1997. The engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce PLC, which held the rights to the Rolls-Royce brand name and logo (under a contract signed before Vickers seized control of the luxury-car producer), supported a sale to BMW even though Vickers’ stockholders preferred a transaction with Volkswagen. In a ground-breaking transaction the following year, BMW obtained all of the rights to the name Rolls-Royce with regard to automobiles, while Volkswagen purchased the Rolls-Royce automobile operations from Vickers. Following that, BMW allowed Volkswagen to produce and market vehicles under the Rolls-Royce name until the end of 2002, after which BMW would start producing vehicles under the Rolls-Royce name at a new factory. Volkswagen formed Rolls-Royce & Bentley Motor Cars Ltd. as a subsidiary to concentrate on the development of the Bentley automobile line, which accounted for more than half of sales when it acquired the original factory in Crewe, England.