Tag Archives: Rolls Royce

The Big Four Eras in the History of British Motoring

The coolest cars in the world have come purring out of the pages of the history of British motoring. This history consists of four principal eras:

  • The Veteran, 1896-1914
  • The Vintage & Thoroughbred, 1919-1939
  • The Classic Years, 1945-1970
  • The Modern-Day Classics, 1970-1995

Although the birth of the British motor car actually dates back as far as 1769, things didn’t really start to pop until 1894. Up until then, British laws discouraged the use of the motor car, so the British motor industry as we know it didn’t even exist until Walter Arnold brought over from Germany a 1.5 litre Benz. While he was busy building a British version of it, things were heating up in Parliament. The 1896 Act encouraging motor cars passed, and the first British car went on sale: The pioneering 1896 Arnold-Benz. You can find it today on display in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in South England.

1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

The Veteran Era

All cars were built by hand at this stage in the history of British motoring and were so expensive that only the very rich could afford to own them. However, cars built by such companies as Napier and Daimler were so reliable for their time that they actually earned royal patronage. In 1906, Rolls-Royce built the magnificent ‘Silver Ghost’ and by 1914 was producing cars that were recognized as “The Best Cars in the World.” You could stand by the side of an idling Silver Ghost, for example, and not even be aware that the engine was running.

1926 MG 14/28 two-seater

The Vintage & Thoroughbred Era

After World War I, cars became cheaper as methods of production became more efficient. Selling prices plummeted, and the car market boomed. Motoring became a middle-class leisure activity as more manufacturers targeted this fresh clientele with “sporty” new cars like the Morgan. The pioneering 1926 MG 14/28 two-seater built by Morris Garages actually set the stage for the sports-car boom that would come later in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The demand for fast small cars was huge. In only ten years, Morris Garages went from being a minor to a major player. The 1936 two-seater MG TA Midget sold faster than any previous model. It had irresistible styling, breakneck speed and was exciting to drive. The fact that it leaked when it rained and had a rock-hard ride was neither here nor there. It was every sports-car owner’s dream come true.

Who knows to what heights the British motor industry might have risen if Adolf Hitler had not declared war on England. By the end of the 1930’s, all car-manufacting plants were converted to the production of tanks, trucks, aircraft, and Merlin aero-engines. The British motor industry would never be the same again.

Jaguar E-Type

The Classic Years Era

After the war, the shortage of materials was so great and the time to production of truly new post-war cars was so long that the British motor industry elected to re-start itself by manufacturing only slightly updated versions of their pre-war models. The big growth spurt in British-made sports cars didn’t actually come until the 1950’s when Jaguar developed new models and Austin-Healey and Triumph followed suit. In the 1960’s, the American market fell in love with the MG Midget… the Jaguar E-series… the Austin-Healey Sprite… and the Triumph Spitfire… those legendary cars we call “classic” cars today.

Sadly, by the late 1960’s, due to a series of transatlantic mergers and takeovers by the later-bankrupt British Leyland Corporation, most of the mystique of creating these sports cars was drained out of the British motor industry. It’s heartbreaking how many of those wonderful old marques slipped into the grave during that period. People started looking back on the cars they remembered from the 1920’s and calling them “vintage.” In the 1970’s, many enthusiasts, missing the character of the cars of the 1950’s and 1960’s, longingly started calling them “classic.”

Jaguar XJ220

The Modern-Day Classics Era

The Modern-Day Classics Era produced some of the most high-performance cars ever made. The Jaguar XJ220 and McClaren F1, the two fastest cars of that period, are proof that British automobile engineers knew that good handling costs no more to build into a new model than bad handling, and that beautiful lines are just as easy to manufacture as ugly ones. Motoring enthusiasts bought these high-performance racers and luxury cars in spite of the gas shortages of the period. As one famous motoring personality said during the 1970’s energy crisis: “It doesn’t matter what fuel we have to use, if the cars are still fun. I don’t care if I have to feed a car Mars Bars to make it run, just as long as it makes me smile…”


The classic British motor cars were far from perfect. Why, then, are they still so desirable today? The answer is simple: They go fast, they look great, they’re thrilling to drive and lucrative to collect. Rabid fans love these sexy, responsive machines and accept the challenge of their unreliability and high-maintenance requirements. Owners and collectors spare no effort and expense to keep them in peak condition. Those who specialize in repairing and restoring them search the earth for the perfect part and, if they don’t find it, they roll up their sleeves and make it. To those who love them, the classic British motor cars produced during the big four eras of British motoring will always be thrilling to drive, lovely to look at, and revered far into the future by their loyal, adoring fans.

Bentley: A brief history

Bentley banner

The history of Bentley Motors begins with the history of its founder, Walter Owens or WO Bentley. WO was born in 1888, the youngest of nine children. His childhood was a comfortable one. His family lived in a large house with several servants near Queen Mary’s Gardens in the north of London. The Bentleys were able to afford modest luxury owing to the fact that WO’s grandfather made a fortune from copper mining in Australia.

In 1905, at the age 16, WO became a locomotive works apprentice for the Great Northern Railway where he learned mechanical engineering. It was during this time period when WO bought his first motorcycle and started racing. He remembered this as the time when he first felt the ‘lure of speed’.

When WO’s apprenticeship was up with the Great Northern Railway, he took a job at the National Motor Cab Company. It was his responsibility to help keep the fleet of 500 taxis up and running.

In 1912, one of WO’s brothers, Horace, who shared a love for all things fast, saw an advertisement looking for partners in the French car company Doriot, Flandrin & Parant or DFP. Horace and WO bought stock of the company, and ‘Bentley and Bentley’ was born. The automobiles continued to be built in France and still had the DFP name badge but were heavily influenced by the Bentley brothers.

By 1913, WO had come up with the notion of aluminum alloy pistons. His improvements led to a near 90 mph flying mile in his 2-litre car. DFP was in the process of ramping up production of Bentley’s car in 1914, however, the launch never got off the ground due to World War One.

The aluminum alloy piston was a technology breakthrough that would come in handy years later while WO was serving as a Lieutenant in the war. WO explained his piston to his superiors, who quickly sent him to Rolls-Royce and Sunbeam works to demonstrate the technology, and how it may be implemented in airplane engines. He later went on to design his own engines, the Bentley Rotary Engine, for the Royal Air Force.

After the war, WO formed a new company, Bentley Motors Ltd. The first Bentley prototype was produced in 1919. It was based on a TT Humber. There were design changes to the chassis, body, and the engine, but due to multiple challenges, in combination with WO’s obsessive personality, the first models were not produced until 1921. The engine’s size of 2996 cc, or 3-litres, provided the models name: the Bentley 3 Litre.

The next ten years was a golden era for Bentley. That first year, 1921, 21 Bentleys were delivered, by 1923 there were 204 units sold, and between 1924 and 1928, an average of 400 motorcars were produced and sold each year.

In 1928, Bentley offered the Six Speed, a very popular model both on and off the track. Two years later, the 8-Litre model was introduced; it was the beginning of the end for the company. Bentley offered their newest and largest model just after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and just before the Great Depression. The 8-Litre dealt a deathblow to the company. In 1930, Bentley only produced 67 chassis before falling into bankruptcy and being bought out by Rolls-Royce.

Rolls-Royce closed the Bentley factory and moved production over to their own premises. WO continued as an employee for Rolls-Royce but left the company for Lagonda when his contract was up in 1935. Rolls-Royce quickly mainstreamed Bentley production and started using Rolls-Royce engines beginning in 1933. Fortunately though, except for the engine, Bentley and Rolls-Royce continued to be two very different motorcars.

This all changed in 1946 with the introduction of the Bentley Mark VI, essentially, a Rolls-Royce clone. By 1952, there were no longer any independent Bentley models; only Bentley badged Rolls-Royces. In was during this era, in 1971, that WO Bentley died at the age of 83.

In 1981, Bentley for the first time in thirty years, began offering stand-alone models and by 1990, Bentleys were outselling Rolls-Royce. In 1998, Volkswagen bought out Rolls-Royce. Soon after, Bentley Motors was reborn when VW separated Rolls-Royce and Bentley into two companies, with Rolls-Royce eventually being sold to BMW. In 2012, Bentley Motors sold over 9000 automobiles compared to Rolls-Royce’s 3500.

Rolls Royce: A brief history

Rolls Royce banner


In The Beginning

Rolls-Royce Limited has had a long and eminent history in the world of automobiles. Indeed, the very name of Rolls-Royce has become synonymous with luxury, privilege, and the highest standards of automotive excellence.

The brand has become possibly the most recognized in all of automotive history, and is an excellent unofficial ambassador for its country of origin, the United Kingdom, and all that this country represents.

The origins of Rolls-Royce date back to a very significant lunch meeting in May of 1904. During this fateful meeting, Sir Henry Royce and Charles Rolls came together to create the world’s most advanced and luxurious automobile. And, soon enough, the partnership bore fruit.

Creating The Legend

Rolls-Royce went on to create an immortal series of two, three, four and six cylinder vehicles which introduced to the world a whole new level of automotive engineering, craftsmanship, and luxury. The company’s flagship vehicle, known as The Silver Ghost, was introduced in 1907.

This car went on to complete a 14,371 mile run with almost no stops in between. This unprecedented run quickly became the stuff of legend, cementing the reputation of Rolls-Royce as the best in the business.

Charles Rolls

Charles Rolls was a student of mechanical engineering at Britain’s legendary Cambridge University. He was the University’s first undergraduate ever to actually own a car. As time went on, his interest in cars deepened, and then he took up racing.

In order to fund his racing activities, he set up an automotive dealership of his own. The cars he sold were mostly foreign. His ideal of creating a British car that could compete with these foreign companies led to his introduction to Sir Henry Royce.

Sir Henry Royce

Sir Henry Royce first drew the attention of the British engineering world when he patented his first item, the bayonet lamp socket, in 1887. The company founded by Royce was active in producing such items as dynamos, cranes, and electrical motors.

Finding himself discontented with the Decauville that he owned, Royce soon sought to found his own automobile company in order to enable Great Britain to compete with the great manufacturers of the time. In 1903, Royce designed and built his first engine, the prototypes of which first entered the market in the following year.

The Silver Ghost Era

First introduced in 1907, the Silver Ghost, technically the 40/50 HP, remains the signature Rolls-Royce model among historians and collectors. The legendary Silver Ghost line of models were so popular that they remained best sellers, constantly in demand and in production until 1925. The 40/50 HP originally contained a 7,036cc six-cylinder engine. By 1909, the capacity of this engine was increased to 7,428cc.

Rolls-Royce During Wartime

The coming of World War II understandably changed Rolls-Royce’s production priorities. The need to defeat Adolf Hitler and stop the aerial bombardment of London shifted the focus of the company to a single minded concentration on producing aeroplane engines. A brand new factory was commissioned for the company in Crewe, which ultimately became the permanent headquarters of the company after the war.

Rolls-Royce And The Royals

Rolls-Royce scored a major prestige victory in the 1950’s, when the company was able to replace Daimler as the official supplier of motor vehicles to the British Royal family. This association was initiated in 1950, when the then Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, became owners of the very first Rolls-Royce Phantom IV.

This car was designed for the exclusive use of the Royal family and heads of the British state. Indeed, the Phantom IV remains one of the rarest automobiles in the world, as only 18 of them were ever produced.

Rolls-Royce In Modern Times

Since the end of World War II, Rolls-Royce has experienced several twists and turns of fortune. The decade of the 1970’s proved to be particularly full of challenges for the company. During the course of the decade, the company went into receivership, and was ultimately compelled to relaunch as two completely separate corporate entities, one of which specialized in the aeroplane industry.

The other, Rolls-Royce Motors Limited, continues to introduce new models, creating many trends in the modern automotive industry. The name of Rolls-Royce continues to be virtually synonymous with luxury, stability, and excellence. No matter how glorious and inimitable its past, the future is a bright and promising one for the company.

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