Rolls-Royce history

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87

Sir,

I am most interested (and not a little amused) at the comments made by Mr. Bird. Could I be allowed to make a few observations on some of the points he raises ?

(1) The World’s first 6-cylinder car. For the record, contemporary authorities were reasonably unanimous in accepting the Spyker brothers of Amsterdam as being the first in this field. It was a most remarkable effort for 1902, with its massive engine (six separate cylinders)„ four-wheel drive and wind-cutting radiator. The vehicle is still preserved in the Dutch Pioneer Motor Museum at Utrecht. At some time in its career a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost carburetter has been fitted. No comments!

(2) Rolls-Royce 4-wheel servo brake system. The Editor quite correctly points out to Mr. Bird that the original Rolls-Royce braking system, servo-assisted, introduced in 1924, owed something to the Renault system, particularly regarding its disc-type servo, but the Renault servo system gave no assistance when moving backward and moreover had to be disconnected when in reverse. [But surely Renault later modified their system so that it functioned in reverse? Although I am not going to state that it was possible to retard the French car as smoothly when it was marching backwards, as it was the Derby product.—Ed.] A. J. Rowledge and F. H. Royce carried out a considerable amount of re-design and development work which eliminated this major (and many other minor) shortcomings. The system which finally emerged was covered by British Patent Specification No. 235,387, applied for on 13.6.1924; and completely accepted on 18.6.1925. The patent is in the joint names of Rowledge and Royce and is entitled “Improvements in Brakes for Road Vehicles.” For serious students of motor car braking systems and their history (and that of R.-R. brakes in particular) a study of this patent will be more rewarding than arguing about who “borrowed” what, and from whom! It clearly illustrates the difference between a sound but undeveloped idea and the same idea developed to a practical point, suitable to embody in a production motor car. It was, over the years, refined still further.

(3) Crankshaft vibration dampers, slipper flywheel type. Re Mr. Bird’s confident statement “I hope Morton will be ‘fairminded'(!) enough not to resent the fact'(!) that I make it clear that the ‘myth'(!) which he ‘tries'(!) to perpetuate, viz., that Royce invented the crankshaft vibration damper, is no more than a myth(!),” I am indeed puzzled, for I have diligently searched his book and failed to find solid-grounds for dubbing this a ‘myth’. Part 6, chapter 3 of my book tells the detailed story of how Royce came to discover the principle of the slipping flywheel vibration damper. Let us examine further facts as supplied by individuals of integrity who were personally involved in this sphere of activity.

Mr. Norman H. Walker (now retired frchn his position of Patents Engineer to Rolls-Royce Ltd.) was a contemporary of and assistant to John Southern, Henry Royce’s first full-time Patents Engineer. Mr. Walker carried out a thorough investigation and gave me a categoric assurance that (a) Royce’s slipper flywheel antedated that of Lanchester, (b) that Royce failed to protect it by patent (as indeed he failed to protect many other ideas during his early motor-car years), (c) that no licence to manufacture under Lanchester patents was ever taken out by R.-R. Ltd. because (d) John Southern was able to produce properly dated and documented photographs (Rolls-Royce Ltd., and Royce Ltd., before them, had an efficient, busy, full-time industrial photographer, a young lady named Miss Irwin), of Royce’s slipper flywheel damper, and these satisfied Fred Lanchester as to Royce’s bona fides in refusing to pay a licence fee for his own idea, arrived at, ’tis true, by empirical (experimental) methods, rather than the scientific approach, which was Fred Lanchester’s genius. This does not, I agree, offer full documentary proof but once more, in the early 1920s, Rolls-Royce Inc. of Springfield, Mass., were called to account by the American holders of Lanchester’s licence to manufacture his slipper flywheel. Maurice Olley, that brilliant motor engineer (now retired from the position of Chief Engineer of General Motors Corporation), was then technical engineer to R.-R. Inc., and he dealt with the claim that Rolls-Royce Inc. were infringing Lanchester patents. Maurice Olley is categoric in stating that John Southern’s dated and documented photographs were produced once more, in the States, and Rolls-Royce Inc., were allowed to continue producing their own version of the slipper flywheel, unmolested by threatened litigation!

Finally, it would be discourteous not to express to you my appreciation of the generous praise for my maiden literary effort. [Book Reviews, last month.—Ed.] The criticisms were well founded. The incorrect caption was the unfortunate outcome of a condensation. It is patently wrong when one looks at Fig. 5, page 106 (the simplified diagram of the 2-cylinder Royce and Rolls-Royce crankshaft). The misspelt Claude Johnson was a typesetting error, spotted in proof reading but missed in correction of type. If your cheerful prediction [that the first edition will soon be sold out.—Ed.] is realised, the opportunity will be taken to correct this (and one or two other minor errors), and an amendment sheet will be made available to purchasers of the 1st edition.

Might I, in turn, point out (gently), W. B., that Mr. Royce’s christian names were Frederick Henry and not Frederick William, Wilfred or Wilberforce! No, I don’t think he would be perturbed, he was (maybe still is?) far too happy solving problems to be troubled about trifles (even the mixing of his initials with [F. W.) Lanchester’s).

C.W. Morton – Chellaston.