A chapter on Rolls-Royce

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So many books have been published, so much has been written about the Rolls-Royce car that there would not seem to be much more to contribute. A discourse which some advocates of this make may not have seen is to be found in ” The Sunday Gentleman ” by Irving Wallace (Cassell, 1966), which was brought to our notice by a reader. A whole long chapter in this book about strange and improbable people and famous or notorious institutions is devoted to the Rolls-Royce, under the title of “Millionaire’s Chariot.”

The author, writing originally in America in 1946, deals with most aspects of the famous British Company of Rolls-Royce Ltd. He opens by recalling how Churchill countered Roosevelt’s gift to King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia of a fully-equipped C-47 aircraft by having a special Rolls-Royce possessing all manner of extra fittings built for the Moslem King, at a time when Crewe was concentrating on aero-engines and had put aside car production. Said to have cost the equivalent of 18,787 dollars, this green Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royce apparently continued to head the King’s caravan long after the Summit Conference, although I find it impossible to visualise the 500 personal automobiles which the author tells us accompany the King on his annual journey to Mecca.

Having opened with this famous example Wallace proceeds to list other special Rolls-Royce cars and their owners. These should be of some interest to collectors of R.-R. lore, ranging as they do from the two silk-upholstered seven-seaters ordered from the Paris showrooms in May, 1914 by Czar Nicholas II of Russia to the thirty-five new Rolls-Royces purchased just after the war by the Maharaja of Patiala, ” who owns a kennel of 400 dogs, a private race-track, and, by budgeting, keeps his household expenses down to 500,000 dollars a year.” If the author is correct, Patiala’s Rolls-Royces had gold-plated dashboards …

Irving Wallace makes the irrefutable point that very few persons have ever owned new Rolls-Royces who were not famous or wealthy or both. He says that “next to the royal family, next the liner Queen Elizabeth, it is the fabulous Rolls-Royce and the list of international celebrities (ranging from maharajas and presidents to captains of industry and spiritual prophets) who own the car, that gives most Englishmen their greatest feeling of national pride.” Most of the remaining material is old hat, and as it was written in 1946/7 it has naturally dated. Output at Crewe at that time is quoted as 20 Rolls-Royces a week; when I was at the factory in 1965 production was quoted in terms of annual output, which gave a very rough approximation of 40 a week. The total output of Rolls-Royces between 1904 and 1939 is given as ” only 22,800,” which is within 430 of the more conservative figure quoted by Ian Hallows in the best book on the subject so far available, namely “The Rolls-Royce Motor Car” published by B. T. Batsford. The current model when the author was writing ” The Sunday Gentleman ” is quoted as a six-cylinder car with an aluminium body with an 18-gallon petrol tank, which presumably refers to the pre-war Wraith. It seems unnecessary to mention that it had a reverse gear, or a low gas-level warning light !

The R.-R. legends are discussed and mostly disposed of, although the public-school service representative who calls on owners, examining the car only after “extracting an immaculate set of overalls from his attache case” is surely exaggeration and although the R.-R. London School of Instruction is mentioned, which Motor Sport investigated last January, the incorrect impression is created that everyone who completes this course receives a sterling-silver badge, whereas only chauffeurs who have passed successfully get a rather special cap badge. In dispelling legend the author has created some fresh ones all his own !

Irving Wallace does drop one very big clanger in this discourse-on the “best car in the world.” He informs his readers that “Sir Malcolm Campbell purchased a complete Rolls-Royce merely so that he could remove its engine, install this in a racing car, and, flashing over the Bonneville salt beds in Utah, become the first person to drive more than five-miles-a-minute.” The thought of a production Rolls-Royce with a supercharged 2,350 b.h.p. R-type racing aeroplane engine (boosted to 2,500 r.p.m., with a full-throttle life of about three minutes, vide “The World’s Land Speed Record”—Phoenix House, 1964) is certainly very droll indeed. In a sequel to the first edition of his book Wallace adds up-to-date information, including references to the ” Yellow Rolls-Royce ” film, the Vanden Plas Princess-R, and post-war production methods, quoting output as 35 cars a week, of which, he says, there may be 1,200 a year sold in Britain, 600 in the U.S.A., and comparing this with Cadillac’s output of 150,000 cars a year. Writing before the advent of the Silver Shadow, Wallace touches on the old-fashioned aspects of the Rolls-Royce, and the fact that the Mercedes-Benz 600 was more comfortable, safer, faster, better handling than a Silver Cloud III, a view aired some years ago in Motor Sport. He gives the number of R.-R. employees as 7,000 on cars, 42,000 on the aero engine side.

This author is very interesting on the subject of Rolls-Royce’s cautious approach to publicity, just after the last war and how David Ogilvy (who created “the man in a Hathaway shirt” and promoted Schweppes and Beefeater) handled the R.-R. advertising account in America.

If you are interested in the Rolls-Royce cars owned by Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Kent, King Ibn Saud, Czar Nicholas of Russia, Emperor Yoshihito of Japan, Woodrow Wilson, the Aga Khan, King Rama VI of Siam (who translated Shakespeare into English), Hirohito, President Aleman, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, Lord Louis Mountbatten (this one has recently changed hands and His Lordship has given its special mascot to the new owner), Sir Alexander Korda, Lord Derby, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt (still using a 1913 model in 1946), Mrs. Otto Khan (who went one better, by retaining in service a 1911 model), J. P. Morgan of Wall Street, William Randolph Hearst, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Gaekwar of Baroda, Anastas Mikoyan, Nubar Gulbenkian, Gregory Peck, the English painter Cecil Michaelis, many pre-war Hollywood film-stars, Father Devine (who paid 150-dollars for his 1933 model) and a good share of India’s remaining 661 princes—”not many of whom,” as one R.-R. agent puts it, “wash their own cars “—they are mentioned in chapter eleven of “The Sunday Gentleman.” Why isn’t the author’s name in the list ? Because he owns a Cadillac.—W. B.