The Magic of a Name: The Rolls-Royce Story - The First 40 Years

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




(2000), "The Magic of a Name: The Rolls-Royce Story - The First 40 Years", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 72 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

The Magic of a Name: The Rolls-Royce Story - The First 40 Years

The Magic of a Name: The Rolls-Royce Story - The First 40 Years

Peter PughIcon Books2000320 pp. (hardback)ISBN 1840461519

Keywords: Publication, Rolls-Royce

On 4 May 1904, Henry Royce met the Hon. C.S. Rolls at the Midland Hotel in Manchester and history was made. The most expensive, exclusive and sought after car in terms of quality, luxury and reliability was designed by Royce and sold to the cream of society by Rolls, an aristocrat with a passion for speed. Soon Royce had designed the legendary Silver Ghost, described with justification as"The Best Car in the World".

But the story does not stop with the car. The outbreak of the First World War brought about a radical change in the way wars were fought. Rolls-Royce spent the duration of the war building aero engines for the RFC/RAF and this continued with the run-up to and the outbreak of the Second World War. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was a vital turning point in the development of the Spitfire and the Hurricane, the aircraft which helped so much to win the war. Without the Spitfire, the Hurricane and the Merlin engine, the Battle of Britain would have been lost.

The Magic of a Name is not a technical book. It does contain details about the engines, their history and their development, but the book places these in the context of the history that is Rolls-Royce. From the first chassis in 1904, to the development of the jet engine, Peter Pugh takes us through the story of the company and the people who made and continued the name of Rolls-Royce.

The two Rs

Chapter one includes potted biographies of Rolls and Royce which illustrates the very different background of these two remarkable men.

Charles Rolls and Henry Royce could not have been more different. The Hon C.S. Rolls (page 15) was an aristocrat who was passionate about the new motor cars and aeroplanes. His fervour for speed enabled him to race Rolls-Royce cars successfully, breaking the Monte Carlo to London record and winning the second Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man, both in 1906. He embraced flying with equal zest - Rolls was the first person to fly from England to France and the first to complete the two-way flight, becoming a national hero in the process. This enthusiasm, however, led to his death. Charles Rolls was killed in July 1910 taking part in an airshow in Bournemouth.

Henry Royce (page 6) was also a driven man, fanatically thorough and attentive to detail, a perfectionist who demanded nothing less from his employees. Coming from a much poorer family than Rolls, Royce worked immeasurably hard all his life and expected his employees to do the same. "I not only admired him, I was one of the few people who were genuinely fond of him", said one employee. "Henry Royce ruled the lives of the people around him, claimed their body and soul, even when they were asleep."

This same drive and dedication nearly killed Royce and, dogged by ill-health, he spent the latter part of his life in the south of England and the south of France, cared for by his faithful nurse, Ethel Aubin. In 1930, Henry Royce was created a baronet for his contribution to the 1929 British victory in the Schneider Trophy (page 163).

Short biographies of leading Rolls-Royce personnel are to be found at the end of the book.

Land, sea and air records

Rolls-Royce engines were the power behind many record breaking attempts and successes of the last century.

In 1919, the race was on for the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. All four British aircraft involved in the contest to cross the Atlantic, eventually won by Alcock and Brown, were powered by Rolls-Royce engines (pages 146-52). Also in 1919, the first flight from England to Australia was accomplished by Ross and Keith Smith in a Rolls-Royce Eagle-powered Vimy.

The much heralded Schneider Trophy (pages 161-66) was a triumph for Britain and for the Rolls-Royce company. The new seaplane created for the 1929 contest was based around the specially designed Rolls-Royce "R" engine. It was this victory that influenced the government's decision to commission Rolls-Royce to manufacture aero engines for the RAF - with the resulting Merlin engine and its contribution to the Battle of Britain. Rolls-Royce engines were used to break the water speed record in 1930 by Sir Henry Segrave on Lake Windermere. On land, Sir Malcolm Campbell used an "R" engine in his Bluebird car to break the land speed record in 1933 and to become the first man to pass 300mph on land in 1935.

The world at war

Rolls-Royce made significant contributions to both world wars, with both their cars and their aero engines.

The Silver Ghost served brilliantly through two world wars as staff cars, ambulances and armoured cars - and one of its most fervent admirers was Lawrence of Arabia (page 91) who exploited its versatility and reliability to the full.

The famous Merlin engine came close to serving in all four elements during the war, in the air, on land, at sea and under the sea and. as the power behind the Spitfire, its name is legendary.

The Magic of a Name is packed with fascinating archival photographs which will appeal to engineers and history buffs alike, including one of the few available of Spitfires in action during the Battle of Britain. Some of these photographs have never been published before. From the founding members of the company to photographs of individual engines, from the first cars out on the road to shots of Frank Whittle's jet engine and the first British jet aircraft, these photographs enhance the story of Rolls-Royce.

This book is the first of a two-volume history of the company. The second part will be published in Spring 2001. Both volumes are a must for readers interested in the history of engineering.

Details available from Icon Books Ltd: e-mail:

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