Book reviews, February 1965, February 1965

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“A History of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars—Volume 1, 1903-1907,”
by C. W. Morton. 424 pp. 9 in. x 5-3/8 in. (G.T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 1-5 Portpool Lane, London, E.C. 1. 63s.

Last month we reviewed the book by Bird and Hallows on Rolls-Royce cars, and the month before that the pocket-treatise by Tubbs on the R.-R. Phantoms. Both pale into insignificance beside the first volume of C. W. Morton’s long-awaited authentic and detailed Rolls-Royce history.

Mr. Morton starts with an advantage. He knows some of the craftsmen who worked on the early Royce cars. He rebuilt the only remaining 15-h.p. 3-cylinder Rolls-Royce, which he drove to Milan for the International Veteran Car Clubs’ Rally. Most important of all, he has had access to those hitherto elusive workshop notes of Sir Henry Royce, Bt., bound to form the legendary “R.-R. Bible.” So his book has the ring of true authenticity.

This first large volume brings the account up to the introduction, but not establishment, of the famous 40/50 h.p. 6-cylinder Rolls-Royce known subsequently as the Silver Ghost.

The story unfolds with the origins and early work of Royce, with the life of the Hon. C. S. Rolls, and of how these two gentlemen met, to such good purpose. The early Royce 2-, 3- and 4-cylinder cars are described in fascinating detail. This is followed by descriptions of the arrival of the Heavy 20 and Light 20 Models, and of how Rolls-Royce Ltd. was formed and C. S. Rolls won the 1906 T.T. race.

Part Five covers the vee-8 Legalimit and Invisible-Engined landaulette models, Part Six the great 30-h.p. 6-cylinder Rolls-Royce which paved the way for the introduction of the 40/50.

Mr. Morton does not flinch from telling of crankshaft vibration and other problems that F. W. Royce had to solve, and his book is certainly a refreshing change from the “R.-R. never did do, never will do, wrong” attitude of most writers to date on this golden subject. The author’s style is somewhat old-fashioned, as befits a serious tome about old motor cars, and he uses the old method of indexing each chapter with sub-headings, which I deplore only because it takes some of the excitement out of wondering what each new page is going to reveal. He changes the tense from past to present as he pleases, and includes some non-chronological details where these are deemed necessary; for instance, a long and intriguing account by Stanley Sears of how he found, painstakingly renovated, and drove to Derby a 1905 Light 20 Rolls-Royce is the subject of Part Four, Chapter 7, which also includes details of other early Rolls-Royce cars discovered and restored. The next chapter lists all the 20-hp. 4-cylinder R.-R. cars by chassis number, with a brief history of each, up to the last known episode, which should send avid old-car seekers rushing about the country trying to follow up clues which might lead them to one of these cars, one of which was still known of in September 1926! The 2-cylinder cars are dealt with in this way in an earlier chapter. All this is indescribably intriguing, although I wish the author wouldn’t call it all a “History in Steel”! He then returns to chronological history until the time comes to give another complete list of all the 30-h.p. models (one of which, at least, survived to 1924). I hope sincerely that a similar list of 40/50 chassis numbers will appear in Volume Two.

Not only does the author go into technical detail about the different Rolls-Royce models, he also explains why Royce did things the way he did, comparing his designs and approaches with those of other makers. The book is profusely illustrated with fine photographs, many diagrams and engineering drawings, and reproductions of historic documents; the illustration of the diagramatic layout of the engine gears and drives common to the 15-, 20- and 30 h.p. models, of the Royce single-jet carburetter, and of the Rolls-Royce All-Speed Throttle Governor are especially interesting. The author’s description of the last named is the clearest I have read and so interesting that his concluding remark that “Pages more could be written about this fascinating refinement but we have neither the time nor the space to devote a chapter to the full treatment and operation under all conditions” leaves the reader frustrated and, like Oliver Twist, wanting more. The story of the troubles which beset the new 30-6 just when the “Battle of the Cylinders” was at its height and of how Royce overcame them is dramatic in the extreme and proof of the honesty of Morton’s reporting. The summary of the spirited correspondence which took place in The Autocar between S. F. Edge on behalf of Napier, Captain Deasy on behalf of the 30/40 Martini, and Claude Johnson, the third member of the R.-R. team, defending the 30-6, also flavours the reading.

This, then, is the real Rolls-Royce History. It is beautifully produced, a credit to the publishing house which secured it, although I did spot one typographical error which, had he encountered it, would no doubt have caused F. W. Royce to rap the compositor’s fingers, and Mr. Morton seems to have slipped up in captioning some photographs of the 2-cylinder RollsRoyce engine components as Royce, the latter being a 2-bearing engine, whereas the pictures depict the later 3-bearing crankshaft. It is a pity that Mr. Johnson’s name is spelt wrongly in the index.

Truly a worthy, if slightly unusually composed, accomplishment—it is difficult to analyse the style, which is somewhat disjointed, even a trifle stuffy, yet admirably suited to the august subject Mr. Morton is concerned with—”A History of Rolls-Royce Cars” is an epic and the remaining volumes are awaited with impatience. It wouldn’t be surprising if the first volume sells out completely in the meantime!— W. B.