The Best Car in the World



“She ain’t what she used to be,” suggests Charles Gretton

In an outspoken article in The People for February 9th, Charles Gretton criticises the modern Rolls-Royce car. Reminding his readers that it costs from £5,693 to £8,708. Gretton maintains that “…motor-car engineers are beginning to say that. the R.-R. today would make Sir Henry Royce turn in his grave.” He suggests that Rolls-Royce Ltd. should call their car not “The Best in the World” but “the dearest car in the world.”

Because this discussion, to which Rolls-Royce. Ltd. have replied, of such enormous interest to engineers, financiers and users, we summarise it herewith.

Gretton criticises belt-driven in place of the former gear-driven dynamo, use of a 57-amp./hour battery no bigger than that in a Ford in place of the former large Exide battery made specially for Rolls-Royce cars: he backs his views by recalling how The Motor was stranded when a Silver Cloud they were testing wouldn’t start in the morning and by reminding us that a starting handle is no longer supplied with a Rolls-Royce.

He regrets the replacement of the legendary ”Flying Lady” mascot, designed by Charles Sykes, R.A., by a dummy imitation and a pressed metal filler cap under the bonnet. Another of Gretton’s regrets is that Sir Henry Royce’s self-locking hub-cap has become, with the passing of the years, a dummy, which reveals five ordinary wheel nuts when the disc is removed. He points out that the old Rolls-Royce worm-and-not steering, hand-assembled and ground-in on a special machine, has given way to “the Ordinary Marles cam-and-roller steering, as on dozens of other makes,” and that the automatically-governed hydraulic ride-control is now merely an electric switch “which is supposed to put a little extra pressure on the rear dampers only.” Charles Gretton recalls that The Autocar reported, of this electric control, ” Disappointing… virtually no difference in the ride could he felt when this was operated.”

Other barbs in the Gretton attack are that the Rolls-Royce automatic gearbox is made under licence from General Motors, with some alterations (“there are mixed views as to whether these are improvements”), that the 19-in. wheels fitted by Sir Henry Royce, often shod with special “Rolls-Royce quality” tyres, have been changed for “button-size 15-in. wheels, the same size as on many Morris and Austin cars,” and that the old Rolls-Royce was made to last and “they never used any material like rubber, which could perish” [Presumably apart from water hoses.—Ed.], whereas today rubber is found “holding such a vital component as the carburetter jet block, throughout the front suspension and between the four top leaves of the rear springs.” He concludes with an obituary for the inbuilt automatic hydraulic jacks of the pre-war Wraith, now replaced by “an ordinary mechanical jack.”

How do Rolls-Royce deal with this broadside? They comment that, with “the improvement in the belt system and materials, and better engine suspension, belt drive for the dynamo is considered the best.” They say that the electrical system is designed for the 57-amp./hour battery, leaving a margin of safety considered adequate by Rolls-Royce engineers (they pass off The Motor’s trouble as a faulty dynamo). They excuse the absence on the modern Rolls-Royce of the famous silver “Flying Lady” by saying she was so often stolen. They remark that today’s i.f.s sets up ” tremendous shearing forces” that make the employment of the old hub nut impractical, and maintain that “the modern bolting system would have been used in Royce’s day had it been known.” But they “retain the hub nut for appearance’s sake.” As to steering gear, Rolls-Royce have this to say: “The Rolls-Royce [Marles?—Ed.] cam-and-roller is by far the best. It makes possible the more flexible lock required for modern parking. It may be heavier at parking speeds, but is the best possible over the whole range.” The electrical ride-control they claim to be instant, whereas the hydraulic system needed time to build up, but of the American automatic gearbox they admit that “we looked round for a box technically up to our standards. We found the General Motors box and adapted it for our own use, and our own standards.” Rolls-Royce consider that tyre improvements permit them to use smaller wheels, which lower the centre of gravity and give better weight distribution. Improved maintenance facilities throughout the world are quoted as making rubber permissible in the Rolls-Royce car, together with the fact that “rubber is so vastly improved as compared with pre-war.” Rather weakly Rolls-Royce Ltd. state that their hydraulic jack “was discontinued because there were too many complaints of it failing.” They add that the hydra-jack would add great unsprung weight. They conclude their reply to Charles Gretton with the statement that “It is not true we are failing to keep the lead in the motor-car world. We now have a higher proportion of development staff than at any other time in our history.”

Because the Rolls-Royce has been so long on a pedestal any criticism of it is good “copy.” On the other hand, a manufacturer who self-styles its products “The Best in the World ” must be expected to face a critical public. It would be interesting to have the views of those who have known the Rolls-Royce pre- and post-war, engineers and owners and, perhaps, members of the Twenty Ghost Club, on this discussion.