Training to be a Rolls-Royce chauffeur

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The School of Instruction at Hythe Road. I was under the impression, along perhaps with others, that the Rolls-Royce Chauffeurs’ School had been a war casualty. This is not the case and, hearing that this unique establishment is still functioning, I arranged to go along and discover what it does. I call it unique because, so far as memory goes, no other manufacturer, other than Daimler for a short time between the wars, has run a drivers’ instructional course of this kind. Maintenance training for Service Engineers on given makes of cars is quite normal and Rolls-Royce naturally have their own schools of this kind, but we are concerned here with instruction for chauffeurs and private owners of Rolls-Royce cars.

Setting off from home, appropriately enough for a “second chauffeur” in a 13-year-old Volkswagen, I presented myself at the Hythe Road depot of Rolls-Royce in Willesden, just above the notorious Wormwood Scrubs, at 10.30 a.m., by which time the class, consisting on this December morning of three would-be chauffeurs, had been going for an hour and a half.

The R-R School of Instruction was established at the Derby factory just after the end of the first World War. In 1924 it was moved to Ewell in Surrey. This didn’t last long, as it was desirable to have the School adjacent to the R-R Service Station which was then at the Hyde, Hendon, in what had been the Handley-Page aeroplane works. So a move was made to Hyde Cottage. As the war clouds formed again Handley-Page needed their floor space, so after borrowing part of the old Daimler sheds for a while, the R-R Service Station moved into new premises, specially built for the purpose, at Hythe Road, where they have been ever since, and the School of Instruction also moved there.

How many Rolls-Royce drivers have been trained in this way is lost in the mists of antiquity but since 1947, up to last August, the total was an impressive 8,257. Of this number, 3,512 were chauffeurs, 602 were private owners of Rolls-Royce cars, and 625 were the Company’s own personnel. Apart from instruction on the cars, R-R military and industrial B-range engine maintenance is taught and on this side the pupils included 233 from the R.A.F., three of whom came from Ceylon. German military personnel have also made good use of the School.

This driver’s course embraces roughly 70% maintenance instruction and 30% driving tuition. It is carried out by three instructors under the principal, Mr. F. A. Hutton. A course normally occupies five days, with one day devoted to driving, or a full ten days. There are variations to suit those who want maintenance instruction only, training in later model R-R cars than they have been accustomed to driving, or the five-day automatic gearbox course. Fees range from £20 for the full course, to £3 3s. for a day’s instruction in maintenance only. This includes mid-day meals, morning tea and coffee, and lecture notes and diagrams. Students become honorary members of the Company’s Welfare Amenity Society at Kingsbury for the duration of the course. The whole thing is entirely serious and examinations are held at the termination of the course, the results of which are sent to the student’s sponsor on request.

The School can accommodate up to 42 students at one time and currently six different courses are available. Driving instruction is given on a Silver Cloud II and a l.w.b. Wraith and maintenance training on a Silver Shadow and Silver Cloud III chassis. The School has a B81 V8 and B60 six-cylinder engine for the latter type of instruction and a six-cylinder Bentley engine for tappet-setting exercises. Students do practical work where necessary, the School supplying overalls, but emphasis is placed on the desirability of not dismantling major components, which should only be serviced by R-R experts. However, it is reassuring for a driver, whether chauffeur or owner, to know where the major components are situated, how they function, and how simple repairs and maintenance should be carried out.

In this respect, the story that all major Rolls-Royce components are sealed to avoid non-factory dismantling, is a myth. The only sealing of this nature which was done applied to the castle nuts securing the hubs, and on post-war cars only to those on the front wheels.

When I entered the class-room a lucid and racy explanation was being given of the cooling system of the Rolls-Royce V8 car engine— it would have to be the cooling system on the day I had arrived in an air-cooled car! In the half-hour I spent there I learnt that 21 pints of coolant suffice for the big R-R engine thanks to a pressurised system and that the Company approves three makes of anti-freeze as non-corrosive in this light-alloy power unit. An additive that copperises the aluminium surfaces is the answer and, as virgin surfaces absorb this constituent rather quickly, each new Rolls-Royce car is supplied with an extra dose of the green N.A.M.B.T. additive, which must be added to the radiator after the first 1,500 miles.

A welcome break from lectures was provided by an instructional drive in a Silver Shadow. The lecturer conducted this, first installing me in the front passenger seat and then walking anti-clockwise round the car to attain the driving seat. He explained to the three trainee chauffeurs in the back that this isn’t done in case the governor may dislike his chauffeur’s face but in order to see that all doors and the luggage boot are properly closed and the rear of the car unobstructed before moving off. After this it was a question of smooth traffic negotiation, dive-free braking and dignified progression, sitting fully upright behind the wheel, hands low on the wheel rims, feeding the wheel round so that gloves did not give the impression that the uniformed driver was indulging in Brands Hatch driving. Very impressive, but I am afraid I found it boring.

It was interesting that chauffeurs are still expected to clean their Rolls-Royces after every dirty journey and that the present London rate of pay is approximately £19 a week. The R-R School of Instruction can sometimes place chauffeurs it has trained in good jobs or recommend such drivers to owners, although there is no obligation to do so. Apparently there are more chauffeurs in London than ever, due to parking problems that beset even a Rolls-Royce owner when he is alone in his car. Much prized is the Certificate of Merit issued by Rolls-Royce Limited to driver-mechanics of privately-owned R-R cars. Application has to come from the chauffeur’s employee and it is a stipulation that the chauffeur has driven for three years or 30,000 miles in such employment and has taken the R-R instructional course to the Company’s satisfaction. Further, the driver must present the car he looks after to Hythe Road, where it is carefully examined for correct servicing and cleanliness—even mud under the wings can fail the applicant. If successful, the Silver Cap Badge is awarded, and a registered number is allocated to the chauffeur concerned. This is the car badge in silver with the letters in red. It is not awarded to owner-drivers

Whether or not you think all this instruction and schooling is necessary, you have to admit that Rolls-Royce do not neglect any means there are of ensuring that after a new car has left the Crewe factory it has every chance of being driven and maintained in a manner that should ensure for its owner the maximum service and pleasure for the money he has spent.—W.B.