Sunday, 4 May 2014
Rolls and Royce
Only a little of the credit belonged to The Hon Charles Stewart Rolls, (below) an Edwardian gentleman to his elegant fingertips, complete with uniformed chauffeur and mechanic, but famously stingy. The late Sir Thomas Sopwith described him as, “curiously unlovable.” Rolls felt he had little to learn from Royce, a northern engineer, a crane manufacturer with an infinite capacity for taking pains. But as an ardent balloonist and aerial adventurer Rolls’s lifestyle was expensive, and the sales company set up with £6,500 from his father, Lord Llangattock, needed a new line to augment his imported French cars. Flying exploits were his undoing. Rolls achieved the melancholy distinction of being the first pilot killed in a British air crash at Bournemouth on 2 June 1910.
The great engineer and the parsimonious aristocrat signed their agreement on December 23, 1904. Claude Johnson thought double-barrelled names had a ring to them, and made his contribution to the motoring lexicon, inserting a clause stipulating that the cars would henceforward be known as Rolls-Royces.
In 1914 the Admiralty instructed Lieut Walter Owen Bentley of the Royal Naval Air Service to find out why its new French aero engines were overheating. By 1916 he had designed one himself the Bentley rotary (below), which saw service in Sopwith Camels, and was used by the RAF until 1926.
Napier had not made a car since 1925, it was now predominantly an aero engine manufacturer, but was so impressed with the new 8 Litre opened negotiations to buy Bentley Motors. In September The Autocar confidently announced that an agreement only awaited formal approval. The receiver called for sealed bids, but the mysterious British Central Equitable Trust dashed Napier’s hopes. Weeks later the subterfuge was revealed. Rolls-Royce, learning of Napier's interest, had pre-empted its rival.
Bentley never forgave what he regarded as Rolls-Royce's deceit, and although he joined Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd soon left, forbidden from ever applying his name to a car again. The Complete Bentley, Dove Publishing Ltd. (right, WO Bentley bust at Bentley Motors, Crewe)