Automotive history

120 Years Ago, Rolls Met Royce

by Nik Berg
25 April 2024 2 min read
120 Years Ago, Rolls Met Royce

It’s perhaps the most auspicious date in British motoring history. May 4th, 1904 was the day that The Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls and Henry Royce first met and the hyphenation was almost immediate.

Actually, the Rolls-Royce origin story truly begins in 1902 as that’s when, 200-miles apart, both Rolls and Royce were making their first moves in the fledgling automobile business.

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In London, Rolls, an aviation enthusiast and early racing pioneer, set up one of the capital’s first car dealerships, selling Peugeots and Minervas imported from France and Belgium. These cars were perfect for his well-heeled clients in posh Fulham, but Rolls would much rather that they bought British.

In Manchester, electrical engineer Henry Royce had similar ideas. Cheaper imports were undercutting his business and he needed to diversify. Inspired by reading The Automobile: Its Construction and Management by Lavergne Gerard, Royce purchased a 10 H.P. Decauville from France and set about dismantling it, and working out how to improve it. He redesigned the bearings, radiator, carburation, transmission, reduced the weight, and built his own twin-cylinder engine.

Royce 10 HP 2

The Royce 10 H.P. had its first road test on April 1 1904 and its inventor began loaning it out to potential customers. Among them was Henry Edmunds, a friend of Rolls who waxed lyrical to his chum about the new motor car. Rolls travelled to Manchester to see it for himself.

When Rolls met Royce the chemistry was instant. The aristocratic Cambridge graduate and the northern engineer couldn’t have been much further apart in background, or indeed, in manner, yet they bonded over their passion for the car. That very day Rolls declared that he would sell every car Royce could build and to mark their partnership a new company would be formed: Rolls-Royce.

Before the year was out the first Rolls-Royce 10 H.P. was on sale, featuring a raft of improvements over Royce’s first iteration. “Take the best and make it better,” was Royce’s dogma that the company still lives by 120 years later.

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