ROLLS-ROYCE OF CREWE
MOTOR SPORT visits the Most Successful British Motor Company and gets updated on “The Best Car in the World”.
SEVERAL YEARS having passed since I last went to the Rolls-Royce factory at Crewe, where the Silver Shadow carries on the R-R “Best Car” tradition, it so happened that my recent visit coincided with the announcement of a very satisfactory financial year by Rolls-Royce Motors, showing how splendidly this famous Company has expanded under David Plastow, its Group Managing Director, since the Receiver hived off the Motor-Car Division from the bankrupt Aero-Engine Company in 1971. Alas, this excellent financial move forward was tarnished during the afternoon when news of King Faisal’s death was telephoned through to Mr. Plastow While we were discussing general Rolls-Royce affairs.
At one time the prestige, and indeed the mystique, of Rolls-Royce was rather modestly played down for those who called at the factory, by its sombre exterior. Since then things have been done to make it less depressing to enter the production precincts of “The Best Car in the World”, although, naturally, R-R do not allow themselves anything pretentious.
Having negotiated the rather depressing and unsalubrious outskirts of the dour but friendly town of Crewe, I Came upon the compaet block of the R-R factory after I had negotiated a line of self-same dwelling houses sepatated from it by a traffic roundabout. Flags, with the Union Jack in their centre, flew above the main building, which was erected in 1938 as a shadow factory for making R-R Merlin and Gruff on acto-engines but which has since expanded to engulf a clothing factory and the one-time works of Kelvinator Refrigerators. It was gratifying that both gate-police and receptionist had been warned of my arrival, so that the Avenger was quickly parked and I was ushered into a waiting-room opening off the discreetly-carpeted entrance hall. I have an idea that this was once the Owners’ Waiting Room; it is a place of cloistered quiet, floorlength curtains shading the tall windows, leather chairs and couches abounding, and the Flying Lady discreetly framed on one wall.
I hadn’t long to wait before David Roscoe, Director of Publicity, arrived to outline the day’s programme. He will be known to many readers as the person formerly associated with a London publicity concern which looked after Castrol among other clients, and as the maker of VSCC annual films, some of which include some splendidly scurrilous shots of me. Since joining Rolls-Royce motors one of his impressive projects was to get top photographers to prepare three colour posters proclaiming that the Silver Shadow is the “Best Car in japan”, the “Best Car in Germany”, and the “Best Car in America”, an audacious piece of advertising, successfully accomplished. As I walked through the Crewe factory my immediate impression was of the expansion that has taken place since the Silver Shadow was launched. They are now working towards an output of rather more than 70 cars a week and last year produced a total of 2,900 Roll-Royces, of which more than 2;500 were Shadows, 400 to 450 the C.orniche model, and 45 or so were Phantom VIs. This expansion
is reflected in the fact that while there is very far from a Mass-production atmosphere in the factory, they now have cars moving along an assembly line, instead of the operatives working round a couple of static cars. Indeed, an impressive number of body shells, from the BLMC plant at Swindon but checked and prepared to R-R standards, proceed along the overhead pre-mount line, for the smaller parts to be fitted and, with the shells turned over on swivel-jigs, the electrical harnesses, etc. to be installed. The body shells then come to the ground-level mount-line, where they are moved by hand, for the front engine-cumsuspension sub-frame and the rear-suspension Sub-frame to be mounted, the ears again being turned over on jigs for the fitting of brake-lines, fuel-lines, etc. Nuts tightened by torque-wrench are painted yellow, to avoid any further tightening, the engine sub-frames are jig-checked to ensure that they mate correctly with the body shell, and the radiator matrix is set in place, the stainless steel shell being the last item to be fitted, however,— indeed, road-testing is done without this famous frontal adornment. A separate article would be justified to describe R-R painting processes, with which MOTOR SPORT has dealt in the past. Suffice it to say that it takes seven to ten days, with six final coats baked on and fibre glass underbody shields to aid the normal rust-prevention treatments, to finish a RollsRoyce car. Whereas the Shadows and Camargues are fully painted at Crewe, the Corniche body shells are given a guide coat and are then dispatched to Mulliner ParkWard in London for finishing. The Camargues, after painting, also finish up at M P-W, for trim and upholstery. It takes three months to build a Silver Shadow and 24 Weeks before a Corniche or Camargue is ready for despatch to a customer. To the normal, but at R-R very carefully instituted, process, of looking at the paint finish for blemishes and ringing these with chalk, R-R have a supplement, ir ,re form of a comprehensive record-book for .every body shell,
in which the blemishes found are entered on detailed body drawings, so that it can be effectively noted that they have subsequently all been eliminated.
It is a ritual that visitors to the R-R factory are shown how the famous radiator is made by hand. Trained operatives, under Mr. Spencer, still form the classic shape from stainless steel strips, bending these by hand in simple jigs and soldering them together with irons heated in ancient gas-ovens. But whereas there used to be only a few of these skilled workers—what fine model-makers they would be!—confined in a cave-‘like hideout, now an open shop has ten men on assembly and seven more polishing these immortal radiators. Oh, and of the 2,900 cars made in 1973/74, 112 were Bentleys, although since then a T-series Bentley radiator hasn’t been required. Incidentally, Farina is said to have decided quite categorically, after reading R-R history books, that he must retain the R-R radiator when the Pininfarina body was done for the Camargue, although it is Qin. wider than that of a Shadow and leans forward 4 deg. As I had studied R-R techniques and care in manufacture in some detail previously, this recent visit was not a full factory inspection. But let me say that every R-R V8 engine is run on the test bench, on natural gas, for 21 hours and that although R-R fit Dunlop,
Avon and Firestone tyres, these are to their special requirements and are balanced in individual sets; the Camargue has wheel arches for Dunlop Denovo wheels to be fitted, in the future. And, as ever, every RollsRoyce made is accompanied from the arrival at Crewe of its body shell to completion by its own record-book, which lists future owner, and the specification he or she requires—one Camargue being built was wanted without tinted glass, for instance. Rolls-Royce cars are still in the one-off category in this and other respects, even if supplied, since Dawn days, as complete entities.
As the radiator shop has been enlarged, so has the wood-working shop, vvhich is another “must” for factory visitors. The matching veneers, now glued onto alloy panels in the Camargue, come from Walnut trees—there was an attempt to pull Roscoe’s leg about this, as he seems to have given some journalists the impression that R-R have their own Walnuts, even their own herd of cows from the hides of which their cars are upholstered! The facias and door cappings, even seat frames, are hand-made in this wood-working section, fine holes being made with Wankir electric drills. Out in the main assembly bays long-wheelbase Silver Shadows (the extra 4 in. is added at Mu!liner Park Ward together with their wider rear doors and smaller rear windows) join the line for final build. Incidentally, about 150 or 200 of these were supplied last year, the majority without a division to isolate the chauffeur. The Crewe factory makes those Continental acro-engines that instil reliability to RollsRoyce standards into these light aeroplanes that use them, and certain castings for the bigger Derby-built aero-engines. Rolls-Royce Motors employs 5,300 people, or a total of 8,500 if the 2,300 employees at the R-R diesel-engine factory at Shrewsbury and the 900 at Mulliner Park-Ward (R-R owned) are included. Having completed my quick look at the specialities of R-R manufacture I was taken to the Director’s Dining Room for lunch. It was here, many years hack, that I met Harry Grylls, the then-Chief Engineer, and
afterwards had a memorable discussion with him as to why the Silver Cloud had so many Old-fashioned features. He countered my queries with the skill and wit for which he is well-known but had it been possible then to hint at the proximity of the completely-new Silver Shadow, our question-and-answer session would have been quite unnecessary. Which reminds me that in our March editorial I was made to say that the modern RollsRoyce has a “sophisticated-engine”, whereas what I wrote was that its “sophisticated engineering” is paying off—for while the 6,750-c.c. V8 aluminium-alloy engine is a fine power unit, I do not regard it as quite as sophisticated as the rest of the car. That is by the way, and what I am leading up to is that after the brilliant Mr. Grylls retired—and promptly took unto himself a VW Beetle— Mr. John S. Hollings took over as Director and Chief Engineer of Rolls-Royce Motors. He was away at the time of my visit but after we had lunched at the famous roundtable, with conversation touching mainly on new emission restrictions and car safety regulations, Mr. J. H. MacCraith Fisher, the Assistant Chief Engineer, generously gave me a great slice of his time.
Due to the recent release of the Camargue, driving impressions and a technical description of which appeared in MOTOR SPORT last month, there was however less to discuss than might otherwise have been the case. Mr. MacCraith Fisher emphasised that RollsRoyce have never been addicted to change for the sake of change. They prefer to institute steady improvement, with perhaps some new innovation about every ten years. “A new cam one year, new running gear another”, was the way he expressed it. Criticisms of over-light power-assisted steering on the first Shadows was countered, he told me, not by altering the steering basically but by raising its ratio by using a smaller steering wheel on the Camargue and by introducing compliance in the suspension sub-frame of all the cars. He admitted that there is still a deadness in steering feel around the straightahead position, which will have to be dealt with. While Rolls-Royce appreciate the great advance in handling qualities which radialply tyres have brought about, they were one of the last manufacturers to adopt them. I was told that this stemmed less from a noise problem than from fear of a harsh ride. Also, R-R had experienced ‘a lack of manufacturing uniformity in cross-ply tyres, which is why they insist on tyres that meet their own requirement, and it was felt that this might
be -lore aevere problem with radial-ply coy, -a However, having achieved improved handline v.ith their more compliant suspenaien mairitmga, hard work is now being done SC ensure the required degree of uniformity from the radial-ply tyres now being fitted, and soon ateel-ply radials may be acceptable to Rolls-Royce. Front the road-roar noise level. radial-ply tyres have proved superior to eross-ply covets.
was told emphatically that Rolls-Royce do not contemplate introducing smaller engines. Exhaust emission requirements are more easily met with large engines. Nor do they see any reason to alter their policy of describing the output of their engines as “aufficient”, which they do to avoid confusion between SAE, DIN and other horse-power assessments. But, of course, they put their engines on the dynamometer like anyone else and have b.h.p. readings for them. To meet lead-free fuel requirements, cars imported to America now have a 7.3 to 1 compression ratio and front July that of all European Silver Shadows will be reduced to 8.0 to I.
With Mr. MacCraith Fisher and a colleague I went to look at the way in which R-R are coping with the World’s exhaust emission stipulations. They installed a single rolling-road dynamometer and set of exhaust analysis equipment in 1967 and this was extended in 1971 to cope with six cars at a rime. Today they have very costly installations enabling them to pass five cars per day, each one occupying the emission rig for hours. American regulations require a car to be soaked for 12 hours to a standard temperature before test figures are recorded and the manner in which rules change round the Globe is a constant worry to those who have to ensure that a Rolls-Royce meets satisfactorily all Government emission and safety requirements. As more than 50% of all overseas sales (or 25% of all sales) are to the USA, it has been thought worthwhile to build a. vast new brick laboratory—the “Emitsionary”, as Public Relations Manager Dennis Miller-Williams has it—in which even more advanced dynamometers and recording apparatus will be installed. But the great expense of such test facilities cannot but increase the price to the consumer of cars of all kinds. The same applies to the compulsory crash test. It was cruel to see the Camargue that had been submitted to the frontal-impact crunch. But good to learn that so well did the body structure stand up to the roof deflection test, concaving but one inch under a load of 5,000 lb., that it was possible to use the same shell for the barrier test and again for the seat belt and general embrasure checks. Incidentally, the Germans insisted on seeing the British test methods before accepting them, in spite of EEC implications. One remarkable piece of test equipment which R-R have designed and constructed for the Road Research Laboratory at Crowthorne is that for finding out what happens to pedestrians who are so unlucky as to be struck by a moving car. R-R use a trolley which can .be fitted at the front with car bumpers of various kinds and which runs on a railway track down a steep ramp, to collide with dummies representing pedestrians of various sizes
and weights. These dummies, unlike those developed for car-occupant crash tests, will be thrown far from the point of impact and consequently have been made ingeniously with the recording gear able not only to cope with this but to track far more detailed internal injuries than was previously possible.
While accepting that this rig will make a fine subject for a Meccano model, I am depressed to think how far along the path of welfareism we have come that we are invetigating not only what may happen to those whose motor-cars fail to avoid impacts with solid objects but now feel it necessary to have the same data available to the pedestrian population. It can only mean lower rather than raised town speed-limits, surely, and more elaborate bumpers, padding and maybe man-catchers on our cars? As it La, there has been a weight increase of 80 to 90 lb. with present-day more absorbent bumpers, and those “5 m.p.h.” bumpers compulsory in the USA are some 200 lb. heavier apart from being very ugly. And after all has been fitted, tested, said and done, the person who strays into the road without troubling to look left and right may well be thrown away from a car, to fall on his head and suffer injuries which no bumper or man-catcher can prevent. Oh, for the vintage years. . . . Let us hastily revert to my R-R visit! Putting away my notebook, I was taken through the extensive Experimental Department. No successor to the Camargue was to he seen but they were working on better air flow through a Shadow’s radiator with subnormal temperatures in mind, air-conditioning plant having brought fresh cooling prob
terns in its train. There were door locks and window lifts being tried to destruction on those simple but efficient rigs for which R-R are noted and in this context the famous bump-rig for testing suspension systems and body deflections etc., is still employed, one of the roller rigs having been imported from Derby, where it went into service in 1922. Each wheel of the car rests on a roller which carries two cyclic cams, of 2 in. or 3 in. depth to choice. Driving the rollers at 70 to 120 r.p.m. shakes a car unmercifully, the standard suspension test being to run each “axle” for 150 hours on 2 in. cams, followed by ten hours with 3 in. cams. The Silver Shadow on the test rig at this time was for discovering whether a lead-free body filler, which may soon be enforced, would remain in place under these severe conditions. Adjacent to this rig is a hot room, where temperatures of up to 120°, with various degrees of humidity, can be simulated; it was here that the Camargue’s very comprehensive heating and air-conditioning plant was developed. Tyre tests and other investigations were also going on, in this surprisingly spacious department.
That concluded an interesting day, amid the mystique that surrounds “The Best Car in the World”, but which the R-R engineers would probably describe as common-sense. As I said, the old entrance to the famous factory has been tidied up and that Latin inscription in the foyer has gone, which I fear may upset historians like Hallows and Oldham. But engineering and testing standards are as high and as individualistic as ever and it was typical of the Company that before I left I was allowed to drive the Managing Director’s own Camargue, finding the steering, with the smaller, thicker-rimmed wheel, more to my liking than that of the original Silver Shadow, and the ride-quality, quietness, complex comfort, and dignity unrivalled.
Indeed, David A. S. Plastow, one-time Vauxhall apprentice and now the young and vigorous Group Managing Director of this so gratifyingly successful private-enterprise concern, also gave generously of his time, chatting to me informally in his pleasant office on the first floor. He sees no need for a smaller Rolls-Royce, thinks there are enough discerning customers in the World for the £30,000 Camargue and £15,000 Silver Shadow to continue the upward sales trend of RollsRoyce Motors, especially as there is now a glut of oil here and petrol should soon be flowing freely. By the way, the ancient R-R tradition of distinguishing executives by their initials persists, and I would say that “DP” controls a fine team.
David Roscoe works as late as office cornmitments require, in the European fashion,— incidentally, his Company internal-designation is ‘Roe’, which ties in with Laurenceof-Arabia, who was an avid R-R enthusiast. That night he very kindly put me up at his house in Bucklow Hill, to which he drove in a Rover 3500S, a car favoured by R-R executives. Here I was able to admire his larger-than-life radio-controlled model aeroplanes and admire in the garage his 7.3 h.p. Citri5en Cloverleaf and 1923 touring-bodied Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which seemed the right way to end a day at Rolls-Royce.—W.B.