Rolls-Royce claims

Some full-page advertisements have been placed in The Times newspaper by Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd. and anything Rolls-Royce does is news, naturally. So far, however, the only comment on these rather unusual advertisements has been in The Times. The first of these layouts seems to have broken out on January 18th last, against the heading “You know all those stories about Rolls-Royce?”, after which came 64 items relating to R-R history and construction. For instance, “Rolls-Royce use two imitation wooden heels to test the durability of their Wilton carpets. The heels rub backwards and forwards 100,000 times over 4″ of carpet”. Not unexpected from a manufacturer that uses gas rings and soldering-irons for making the celebrated R-R radiator, of which the advertisement tells as “The Rolls-Royce radiator is made entirely by hand and eye without measuring instruments”. Fancy! But all very nice for those who like it that way. Incidentally, I do not recall ever seeing those carpets being brushed, so perhaps I am due for another visit to Crewe. . . . 

Some of the legends included in these expensive advertisements will be well known to R-R followers. But what of “In tests to ensure safety in collisions, the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot on the Silver Spirit was knocked down from her perch on the radiator 100,000 times”. Whether this was to ensure the safety of the mascot or of the car’s occupants (no mere pedestrian would deign to get in the path of a moving Rolls-Royce) isn’t clear, but we hope the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu didn’t treat his secretary, on whom the mascot is said to have been based, in that rude fashion. This famous mascot, by the way, is claimed to be the ideal shape to deflect snow from a Royce’s windscreen — so what do Bentley owners do? 

Other gems from the ads. are: “The end of the dipstick on the Silver Spirit is often honed to prevent abrasion of the dipstick tube”, a bit involved from an engineering standpoint and why on only some Spirits, I ask?, “During the First World War, Baron Rothschild hammered his R-R to scrap to prevent it falling into the enemy’s hands” (something for the R-R EC to enlarge on, please), “It is possible that Rolls-Royce Motors is the best-known British company in the world. Letters have been received from remote corners of the globe addressed to the Royal Family, care of Rolls-Royce, England” (Wot, never beard of Buckingham Palace?), “So tranquil is the interior of the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo that an eminent motoring journalist fell asleep on the rear seat while being driven down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans at 135 m.p.h.” (Well, we know those Press luncheons!), “The prototype of the engine in the Silver Spirit was test run non-stop for the equivalent of 40,000 miles. When it was stripped down and its components measured for wear they were all found to be well within accepted tolerances,” (So what? — we have long maintained that the better cars do not begin to have faults until this mileage), “Of the twelve craftsmen who make radiators for Rolls-Royce cars, no two make them exactly the same. Each man can recognise his own work on the road” (Ah!), “Over six out of ten of all Rolls-Royces ever built are still on the road” (Which means some 40,000, which should please the R-R Clubs.), and, bearing on this, the rather futile statement that “General Motors produce approximately 100,000 cars every three days. In the whole of their 79-year history, Rolls-Royce have produced approximately 85,000”.

The advertisements include names of such famous R-R users as Nubar Gulbenkian (who dispensed with the traditional radiator), Comdr. Locker-Lampson, the Nizar of Hyderabad (his had a throne in the back), Alfred Vanderbilt II, Henry Ford, King Farouk, Miss Letitia Overend (who is said to have driven her 1926 Royce every day for over 50 years — words fail us!), the Duke of Westminster, the Maharajah of Mysore, and Lenin — after which it is less of a surprise to learn that “The largest purchaser of Rolls-Royce motor cars in the world was the Scottish Co-operative Society — 240 in all”.

Some people presumably buy Rolls-Royces for these very reasons, others for the sheer quality and good engineering — “The horn-button contacts on a Silver Spirit are made of silver and gold”, “Engineers use a stethoscope to check the smooth-running of the engine on a Silver Spirit,” “The final polishing of the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot is done with powdered cherry stones”, “The final polishing of some gearbox components was done, not with jeweller’s rouge (which is too coarse) but with fine ground oat husks”, and so on. You may regard all these claims as very impressive, or you may think this is what happens when you put yourself in the hands of publicity experts. We can only hope that these Times‘ advertisements will sell Rolls-Royces, for after record sales but a brief time ago, apparently the famous Company is now doing far less successfully, to put it kindly. But what of sales to staunch conservationists and animal-lovers, after they have read that “Fifty-six yards of Connolly leather piping is used on the carpets and seats in the Silver Spirit. This is cut from the same hide as the upholstery,” and that “It takes twelve hides to make the upholstery on a Silver Spirit — enough to make 300 pairs of expensive shoes . . .”)

The future of Rolls-Royce Motors is vital to the good name of Great Britain, for its prestige value is rightly of the highest. But we wonder if these advertisements alone are going to induce customers to buy these £55,240-to-£83,122 motor cars, or whether the R-R publicists are living too much in the past? And in stating their claims, surely absolute accuracy should be a vital factor, particularly in The Times? Which makes us uncomfortable about their statement that “General Montgomery had the windscreen of his Rolls-Royce sloping away from the driver so that the desert sun would not catch it and reveal his whereabouts to the Luftwaffe”. Is it not more likely that the windscreen in question was the one designed by Alan Butler, the De Havilland Chairman, circa 1937, possibly influenced by broadly similar windscreens in one or two contemporary American aeroplanes, for his own PIII Rolls-Royce which was lent to Montgomery during the War, and that he did not have the Luftwaffe in mind at the time?

Or so we have it on good authority and indeed referred to in Motor Sport seven years ago. Perhaps the best comment on this R-R advertising is that of motorcycle-racer Barry Sheene, who said of a Royce “It’s about the only half decent thing Britain still makes”!

Well, we cannot pass judgement, because Motor Sport was not given a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit for a road-test, although the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo is scheduled for the full colour treatment in our May issue. Meanwhile this Times‘ advertising has at least gained R-R some more column-inches here!

Of course Rolls-Royce cars still have immense prestige value in many circles and we have always said so in these pages. So we are very glad to hear, in The Times, that “Rolls-Royce will always be British. Should the company ever fall into overseas ownership, the name will die”. One cannot help wondering, however, whether the time has arrived, or soon will, when smaller, less-costly, more economical Royces are needed, alongside the magnificent olde-worlde Spirits, Spurs, Corniches and Camargues? During WW2 Rolls-Royce’s Mr. Robotham suggested that completely new markets could be opened up after the war for the Company by introducing an additional range of cars much cheaper to buy and, to a lesser extent, to run, than the pre-war PIII, 25 / 30 h.p. and Wraith models. He suggested, as a first step, a 2.8-litre four-cylinder Rolls-Royce, if this could he made to give a reasonable performance with the necessary refinement. Perhaps this is something of the kind of line R-R will need to adopt in the near future, with makes like Mercedes-Benz (how did they react to those Times‘ claims we wonder?), BMW and Rover, etc. now using smaller engines for some of their cars.

We said that the only comment we have seen on the aforesaid R-R ads. was in The Times itself. Alan Hamilton, after some politely-worded fun based on some of the R-R statements in the newspaper, passed on to a garbled story about a long-wheelbase Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud bought in 1970 as the (second hand) official car of that very important personage, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. In 1981, the story goes, this R-R limped into the main R-R dealers in Edinburgh, badly rusted, was taken back to Crewe on a trailer, and found to require repairs that would cost £60,000. Mr. Hamilton has been very careful to emphasise that this was entirely due to neglect and not in any way to R-R engineering or quality, although Mr. Hamilton does suggest that he may be the first journalist to write of Rolls-Royce and rust in the same sentence! And that two years in a repair-shop may well be some sort of record, where a Royce is concerned.

Anyway, the issue of whether Edinburgh Council forked out for the repairs or bought their Provost a new car became a political one, apparently. In the meantime, the Provost used a secondhand Daimler and his wife’s Toyota. Now it has been decided to forgo the Rolls-Royce and get him a new Daimler, costing £28,000, which sounds like a Double-Six Vanden Plas automatic. This is in lieu of a new Rolls-Royce, which it is said would have cost the Scottish rate-payers £160,000 — and what kind of Royce is that, pray, remembering that the sum would buy nearly two Camargues? And why couldn’t the gentleman, if he can stand an oldish Daimler and a Toyota, have been content with just a simple Silver Spirit?

The Times suggests that the standing of the leading citizen of Britain’s second city has been diminished by this transference of his person when mobile from a Royce to a V12 Daimler, but that the day after the saving had been made Edinburgh Council announced that it was spending £200,000 on — new public conveniences. Last word to The Times, we think!

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to bid for a rusting Silver Cloud with an SO registration. . . . W.B.