A talk with S.H. Grylls, CBE, MA

Late Chief Engineer of Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd.

One Monday morning last month, when it was more like winter than spring and snow blocked the road from Penybont to Walton and the route from Leominster to Worcester had only just been re-opened by snow-ploughs, I drove to Worcestershire to talk to Mr. S. H. GryIls, who before his retirement was Chief Engineer to the Rolls-Royce Motor-Car Division and responsible for the design breakthrough from Silver Cloud to Silver Shadow, the first monocoque-construction car Rolls-Royce had produced. I used my “poor-man’s Silver Shadow”, in other words, a Rover 3500A. Well, at least it has a light-alloy push-rod o.h.v. V8 engine, Borg-Warner automatic-transmission, even Triplex 10/20 safety glass in its windscreen, and it is quiet-running and well-mannered. . .

The last time I had interviewed Mr. GryIls was early in 1965, when I was in Crewe seeing how the Silver Cloud III was made. I remember that I asked him some pertinent question, about the Silver Cloud, which seemed to me rather out-dated mechanically. He parried my criticisms very skilfully and what I did not know, and he could not then tell me, was that most of them had been met in the new Silver Shadow Rolls-Royce, for which this quiet and modest Cornishman had been responsible but which at the time was still on the secret list. Later I attended that car’s pre-view (in a Ford) and was immediately and lastingly impressed by the very fine and advanced nature of its engineering, which Mr. Grylls, its designer, explained to the assembled Pressmen.

After he had retired I heard that Mr. Grylls had bought a Volkswagen Beetle. I was intrigued, because I had been a great Beetle fanatic in the mid-1950s and for the ex-Chief Engineer of Rolls-Royce Motors to have one seemed a splendid compliment to the VW. At the time I did not know whether this was just an opportune purchase, or Mr. Grylls’ choice. So when we met last month I was delighted to learn that he still has this 1968 VW, which is on its original Michelin tyres. Mr. Grylls explained that he had admired the Beetle’s engineering and when he and his wile went for a holiday to Ireland and tried to hire a Ford Escort (in which he was also interested) they could not get one but were issued with a Beetle. During a 2,000-mile drive round Ireland, this confirmed all he had expected of the car and on his return home he bought a new one. He finds it an excellent little vehicle, the most reliable he has had, with spares readily available when needed. He also likes it for its excellent traction, due to the rear engine close to the driven wheels, on mud or snow. Mrs. Grylls has had two Triumphs for the same reason (front engine, driving the front wheels) and her present car is an Austin Maxi, for the same reason. It lives up to requirements but transmits too much road and other noises.

Turning to Rolls-Royce matters, Mr. GryIls went straight from Cambridge to Derby in 1927. He took over from Stuart Trasilian, who had been transferred to the Aero-Engine Division of Rolls-Royce Ltd., and worked under Lord Hives and W.A. Robotham, Sir Henry Royce not then being at Derby, of course. Grylls’ first car had been the inevitable Austin 7, bought for him by his parents as soon as he was old enough to have a driving licence. This was changed in due course for an Aston Martin International. He had been brought up among motor-cars, because his parents owned a Singer Ten, an Austin 12/4, a 3-litre Bentley, a 4 1/2-litre Invicta, and one of the first 20/25 Rolls-Royces, and when they went to the South of France to live in 1933 they continued their motoring with Hotchkiss and Citroen cars.

Mr. Grylls recalled that when he first worked at Rolls-Royce in 1926, “the only way to get an engineering Degree”, the Works Manager was Arthur Wormald, of whom everyone seemed terrified! His first job was to cure vibration in the current Rolls-Royce engines, from crankshafts and other components, to enable them to run at higher r.p.m. When it was decided, without any opposition from the R-R Board of Directors, to design an entirely new Rolls-Royce model, the Silver Shadow, Mr. Grylls said that he had learned from the difficulties they had experienced with the V12 Phantom III not to change everything at once! Integral body and chassis construction was used because the Silver Cloud was deemed too high. “We wanted to get closer to the ground.” They also wanted to reduce the transmission of road noise into the car, but there were still plenty of problems to solve. The trailing-arm independent rear suspension was based on that of the current small Renault, as this was seen to take up very little body-space. The power braking and hydraulic suspension were of Citroen concept, made under licence after being materially modified, and later Citroen were glad to learn from Rolls-Royce when developing the system. This i.r.s. and the new disc brakes had been tested on Mk. VI and SI Bentleys. The Silver Shadow took about six years to perfect, before it went into production. The need for a very low noise level was something of a headache, especially as at the speeds of which the car was capable steel-braced radial-ply tyres had eventually to be used, although they had sound-transmitting factors of about twice that of cross-ply tyres and of a lower frequency.

Mr. Grylls was conscious that American cars were still exceedingly quiet, largely because, at the time of the Shadow’s development, many of them were still using a separate chassis frame. He remembers the Nash Ambassador as one of the quietest of them all, because it fed road noise away from the interior by having splayed-out springs with the top anchorage up into the mudguards, an arrangement for which there was no spare space on the Silver Shadow.

I asked Mr. Grylls whether he thought some of the legendary test-equipment as Crewe rather primitive. He confessed that, except for long-duration engine testing when noise must be suppressed, he disliked enclosed test-benches, with the observer outside a glass panel, preferring to be close to the power-unit on test and able to listen to it. But he said the now very ancient “Bump-Machine”, on which Rolls-Royce have tested their back-axles from Silver Ghost days, is the only one of its kind and as they know just how fast to run it and how big the bump-cams should be, it is still very useful. He also made the point that he believes Rolls-Royce to be well ahead of the electronics field. The prototype Silver Shadows were tested exhaustively on the Continent, like previous Rolls-Royce new models. I enquired if any precautions had been taken to disguise the Shadow at that time. “Not to any great extent”, replied Mr. GryIls, “we just wrote `Park Ward’ prominently on it and hoped everyone would think it was just a big coachbuilt saloon.”

Going back to earlier days at Rolls-Royce at Derby, Mr. Grylls has recently written about the advent of the 3 1/2-litre Bentley “Silent Sports Car” for the R-REC Magazine and it is not iny intention to poach on its preserves. However, I like to think that what others do today Motor Sport has done previously, sometimes years before.

And if you refer to the issue for November, 1963, page 900, you will find a summary of a Paper which Mr. GryIls delivered to the Automobile Division of the IME, on experimental R-R engines, which contains much about the way Rolls-Royce developed their new sports-car.

Before the push-rod 20/25 h.p. R-R engine was adapted for the sports model a twin-cam “Goshawk” engine had been tried, around 1922. “Only two such engines had been built”, Mr. Grylls told rne, and they used the one that had been lying derelict in the test-house. “It took a day to adjust its tappets”, and was never a very serious contender. I asked why Royce had used a twin-cam configuration for this one engine but it was well before Mr. Grylls time at Derby.

He did remark, however, that the first Rolls-Royce Twenty was a crib of the Essex, “which had copied the RR radiator!” Its secret code name was “India” or “China” for the first i.o.e. engine, “Japan” disguising an experimental engine on which a scaled-down Phantom II cylinder head was tried. Thosse were in the days when as Mr Grylls recalled from memory, each radiator for the big Royces had 9,600 separate tubes brazed in by hand, and when much time was spent trying to scrape-in bearings that weren’t round to mate with crankshafts that were.

I remarked on how generally reliable a complex automatic transmission is, the sort of gearbox which Rolls-Royce have used exclusively for a long time Mr Grylls agreed, saying that whereas they could destroy a PII bottom gear in four hours under severe test conditions. He never had any bother with an automatic box in this respect, as every part was built around the big-diameter input-shaft.

As to the future, Mr. Grylls agreed with me that it would be nice to see a return to a more compact Rolls-Royce, as companion for the Silver Spirit, but he felt that the famous radiator shape must never be discarded, even if it may one day get very small, be inclined, or whatever. I asked him about future developments. He thinks that if leaded petrol is forbidden inlet valves will suffer, “as they like a little lead to lubricate them.” After Rolls-Royce had made Continental light aero-engines exactly to that Company ‘s drawings, trouble was experienced with the inlet valves breaking until it was realised that these engines were intended to burn leaded fuel. “In fact”, said Mr. Grylls, “I use 3-star petrol in my VW Beetle instead of the 2-star it will run on, in order to ensure that its inlet valves receive some lead. ” – W.B.