Rolls-Royce: The Next Step?

Paying attention only because the piece was by a well-known motoring writer of long standing, I read recently that, although Rolls-Royce sales are up (even in the ISA, where the financial crash might have been expected to have had dire effects on the buying of European luxury cars), further action might soon be required if the increase is to be maintained.

Well, you never know what Rolls-Royce has up its sleeve, or, more correctly, in its experimental workshops.

I remember criticising in MOTOR SPORT the many outdated aspects of the Silver Cloud cars, only to find these were shortly to be replaced by the more technically-advanced Silver Shadow. That new R-R was so secret that poor chief engineer S H Grylls had been obliged to parry my questions with intelligent and plausible answers even though he knew full well that they would be made quite irrelevant by his Shadow design…

The writer I was referring to admitted that cars fro Crewe now have fuel-injection and anti-lock brakes, and that it seems likely that active-ride control is being investigated for future Silver Spirits, but wondered whether another 12-cylinder-engineed Royce would be necessary within the next five years in order to maintain the impeccable image given to R-R by Sir Henry Royce. He based this assumption on the fact that, by 1993 or thereabouts, world buyers will be offered sophisticated V12 power-units in luxury cars by BMW, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota.

At present, Rolls-Royce engineers, would say that special engine mountings make their V8 as refined as any V12 (just as Citroen and Chrysler using “floating power” flexible engine-mounts to disguise vibrations in their pre-war engines). But, as our motor-noter asks, will the moneyed customers of the 1990s believe this?

As I said, you never know with R-R. It was only when I happened to see a Turbo Buick parked outside the experimental department at Crewe some years ago that I began to suspect that there would one day be a Turbo-R Bentley, so it may be that the bright young men up there are already running bench-rigs of V12 engines. I note that the aforementioned writer could not resist suggesting that they might dig through the archives and scale down the mighty Rolls-Royce Merlin aero-engine.

That reminds me of when I was with the Ministry of aircraft Production during the war. It was a job which sometimes involved the handling of top-secret material (when staying in hotels, I used to sit on documents throughout dinner rather than leave then in a locked bedroom – real cloak-and-dagger stuff!), but I was also running MOTOR SPORT and I felt that our readers should know something of the immortal R-R Merlin engine which was powering the Hurricanes, Spitfires, Lancasters and other aeroplanes to which we owed our continuing freedom. I wrote a pretty details description of it, but I had to be jolly careful that every word had appeared in some form or another in the contemporary aeronautical Press, otherwise I might have bee led off to the Tower for revealing official secrets in wartime!

Rolls-Royce made a V12 fro 1936, in the guise of the Great 7340cc Phantom III – indeed I was reminded of the above anecdote by the need to turn up this very wartime article to find out whether the PIII’s engine and Merlin engine had the same cylinder-banks included angle, information which was surprisingly omitted from two aero-engine encyclopaedias I consulted.

As a matter of fact, both were 600 V12s but there was a little similarity otherwise. The PIII had push-rod valvegear, whereas the Merlin had overhead-camshaft operation; the Merlin had four valves per cylinder, the PIII only two; the car engine had coil-ignition, wet-sump lubrication adn output which was “sufficient” without a supercharger, whereas the aero-engine had magneto ignition, dry-sump lubrication and centrifugal supercharging.

By 1941 the Mk X Merlin developed 1300 bhp for take-off, its capacity being 27 litres. Even if R-R were to revert to vee-twelves in the future, it would be impossibly costly to scale down such a design to car-size (although I can envisage Bentley enthusiasts lining up for a car so-powered – after all near-millionaires are fairly prolific these days aren’t they?)

The PIII certainly represented a fine chunk of refined luxury motor car. I remember how heavy the non-power steering felt when one had to turn in a confined space, and the car’s magnificent bulk was nicely emphasised for me when I enquired the way from a young policeman while in charge of one (EUE2). He was unable to restrain himself from adding: “And you will be pleased to know it’s a main road all the way, Sir!”

In fact, the Phantom III was not very successful, and only 710 were built before the outbreak of war gave Rolls-Royce an excuse to kill it off. So the company might prefer to forget the V12 for future cars. Today’s American monsters are using V8 power of some eight litres, whereas an existing R-R V8 increased to this size might be less attractive than a new engine.

On the other hand, the possibility of a future Rolls-Royce (and rumour says there will be a new model next year) having V16 power cannot be ruled out.

In these very big engines there must be something to be said for reducing piston-area per cylinder, even for road usage rather than for racing, and thus an extra eight cylinders of smaller size than those use at present might appeal to the engineers at Crewe. Besides, it is said that when Cadillac first introduced a V12 it was announced on the American ticker-tape news service – so think of the publicity a V16 Rolls-Royce might engender!

In racing engines, multi-cylinder designs are used to reduce piston-area per cylinder, to enable higher revs to be realised without involving heavy reciprocating components which would lead to overloading them. To this end, the 16-cylinder engine has figured on several racing cars.

Auto Union used such a layout (narrow-angled to humour the valvegear) for the pre-war Grand prix cars with which it fought Mercedes under the 1934-37 formulae; it ended up with six-litre V16s, and a top speed in the region of 190 mps, before the 3-litre formula allowed 12-cyclinders to suffice.

In some cases, for example the Bugatti Type 45 of 1930, the reason for using 16 cylinders was to increase power while utilising existing components – two T39 blocks being used on a common crankcase with the crankshafts geared together.

Alfa Romeo used a V16 3-litre in its Tipo 16C-316 which took second place in the 1938 Italian Grand Prix, while the 4-litre Maserati Type V4 was too fast for its chassis but recorded 154 mph at Cremona in 1929 and won the Tripoli Grand Prix the following year. To these racing engines must be added the fabulous post-war BRM V16, with pistons approximately 6.5mm smaller in diameter than those of an Austin Seven, and there are others.

In the field of production cars there have been few effective 16-cyinder engines. The Bucciali Double-Huit (which made a brief appearance at the Paris Salon in 1931 with two straight-eight units side-by-side, driving the front wheels and cooled by twin radiators) and the Peerless were stillborn, adn the 1930 Bugatti Type 47 (of the geared-cranks, vertical-blocks syndrome) was really a former aero-engine design developed for racing; “Mr Guinness” tells us that it was never made in series.

This leaves only two effective V16s you could buy; the Cadillac arrived in 1930 as an impressive embellishment of the well-established V12, and Marmon followed with its example a year later. But whereas the former remained in production until 1940, the latter lasted only until 1933.

The Cadillac’s long production-run embraced first the push-rod overhead-valve 7.4 litre, and later the side-valve Series-90; with a wider angled vee, the latter’s 7.1 litre “oversquare” engine was said to be 244 lb lighter than the ohv design it replaced, and even 115 lb lighter than the V12. It has to be admitted that its 185 bhp was bettered by the 202 bhp of the 7.7-litre side-valve 95 mph Packard V12, but I will not be drawn into discussing here which, of the “Gold-Plated” Cadillac (claiming to set the “standard of the world”), the Packard and the Lincoln, was America’s best car…

The Marmon V16 was an 8-litre light-=alloy wet-liner monster with overhead valves and fork-blade con-rods, giving 200 bhp at 3400 rpm and a quoted top=speed of 105 mph – its performance being on a par with that of the renowned 6.9-litre Model-J Duesenberg. I never drove this car, but in 1962 I did come upon a v16 Cadillac (a 1935 Fleetwood two-door four-seater sedan) in Sussex.

This had been left in London, when its American owner returned home in haste before the outbreak of war, had found its way into the trade but proved difficult o restore properly before American-car enthusiast Mr Rolfe tackled the job. The ohv engine had not been run-in since its rebuild, so we trundled along rural lanes at only 40 mph, but the power-unit, three-speed gearbox and back-axle were all but inaudible once into top. Such was its flexibility that middle gear sufficed even for 1:6 hairpins.

There were some interesting things about this big car too. For instance, it had cast iron pistons, giving a modest compression ratio of 4.9:1. Each bank of cylinders had its own carburettor and ignition system, and the inlet and exhaust manifolding were on the outside rather than within the vee. The radiator was reminiscent of Hispano Suiza, as introduced by General Motors for the La Salle.

There were locks on gear-lever, running-board-mounted tool-boxes and spare wheels – a reminder that crime was rife in the USA before it took hold here! A tiny compressor supplied a vacuum for the brake servo, which I believe originally ad four settings, so that pressure could be backed off on slippery roads or increased if a frail girl was driving!

I was interested to find European-style round-dial instruments for the fuel, oil and heat gauges and the ammeter on the stainless steel dash, and a 120 mph AC speedometer. Each Cadillac carburettor had its own Autovac feed, and the twin Delco ignition soils were placed within the radiator header tank to maintain them at an optimum steady temperature! The sealed cooling system embraced a pump driven by a long shaft from the dynamo and thermostatically-controlled radiator shutters.

This mighty left-hand drive machine (EUC 510) ran on retreaded 7.50 x 19 Goodyears. The headlamps were huge Tiltray Guides, there was courtesy lighting of the running boards, and the size of the brake drums and hypoid-bevel back-axle were impressive.

When the Cadillac came to the London Motor Show, it was probably its heavy fuel-consumption and the £58-per-year tax rate which turned British buyers away father than its £2450 price-tag.

The V16 itself was the ultimate in luxury-car engines of its time, but was it adopted as a “tycoon symbol” or for its engineering advantages?

I believe both V12 and V16 engines are perfectly balanced from the aspect of inertia forces, but the extra four cylinders provides even better torque and, for a given cylinder-size, the lighter weight of reciprocating parts may result in smoother running as a bonus. Still, Packard was content to combat Cadillac’s V16 with a V12, while the Marmon V16 went under after only two years. Rumour has it that Howard Marmon spent $350,000 on developing a V12 to replace it, before giving up and retiring into the brewery business…

Journalists should not try to dictate to a manufacturer the kind of car it should build, because so many factors apparent only within the factory and the boardroom are involved. If we ignore such distressing possibilities as another energy crisis, it could be that Rolls-Royce will think in terms of another 12-or 16-cylinder, especially if it has to move into the 7½-8 litre category. But I wouldn’t bet on it. WB