Rolls-Royce reflects upon its unique 116-year heritage while recalling how a fortuitous meeting changed automotive history.
The 4th of May is a special date for many reasons. In Thailand it is celebrated as Coronation Day, marking the day when King Rama X was crowned. For science fiction fans it is Star Wars Day, as in: “May the 4th be with you”. But for the iconic luxury brand Rolls-Royce Motor Cars it commemorates the anniversary of the first meeting, in Manchester, England, between the company’s founders: The Hon. Charles Rolls and Henry Royce.
Looking back on the brand’s 116-year history, it feels as though a new and significant chapter is now being rewritten into the firm’s long and illustrious narrative. The first chapter of the Rolls Royce tale began when the aristocrat Charles Rolls first met engineer Henry Royce, and looking back it’s easy to say that after this monumental encounter the world of luxury automobiles would never be the same again. However, the fledgling firm still faced extraordinary challenges and difficulties in the years ahead, including weathering the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the Great Depression a decade later. Through it all, Rolls Royce withstood the shocks of economic and political crises at home and overseas, embodying calm and constancy in a tumultuous, uncertain world.
More recently, the company successfully weathered the financial crash of 2008, but like all businesses these days the Covid-19 catastrophe is possibly the biggest test the carmaker has ever faced. For the current generation of the Rolls-Royce family working from home is a new and unfamiliar experience, but in Sir Henry Royce’s time it was entirely normal. In fact, some of his most influential designs were produced in the private studio he maintained at his home in West Wittering (not far from Rolls-Royce’s present-day manufacturing plant and global head office at Goodwood). While walking on the nearby beach one day he used his walking stick to sketch in the sand the initial design for the R-series aero engine; an engine design that went on to power the legendary Supermarine Spitfire.
This home studio of Royce’s was also the birthplace of the Eagle VIII engine, which in 1919 powered the first-ever transatlantic flight, allowing British adventurers Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown to fly from St. John’s, Newfoundland to County Galway in Ireland. Last year, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars commemorated the centenary of their astonishing feat, and the incredible engine that made it possible, in the spectacular Wraith Eagle VIII Collection, limited to just 50 examples.
As for the challenging year ahead, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, remains optimistic. “Our primary focus is, of course, on safely resuming production,” he admits, “but in marking this amazing anniversary, we are taking a moment to reflect on what 116 years have taught us. As a company, we can draw strength from the knowledge that although Rolls-Royce has faced uncertainty many times over the years, it has emerged more resilient and confident, with its fundamental principles unaltered. Our present challenges may be unprecedented, but as we look to the future, I am confident there is no company in the world better prepared to overcome them.”
To find out more about Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, visit rolls-roycemotorcars.com.