Rolls-Royce's rivals

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Rolls-Royce’s rivals

There is great interest in the history of Rolls-Royce, especially when Sir Henry Royce was responsible for its perfection and it was an all-British car. Through the assistance of Peter Baines, Secretary of the R-R EC, I am able to divulge some more details of how Henry Royce compared his productions with other, possibly mildly rival, makes.

He did not ignore the notable successes of the Austro-Daimlers in the 1910 Prince Henry Trials, when they finished 1-2-3. Royce remembered the old Pipe, which Claude Johnson had once owned, with “a similar form of cylinder and arrangement of valves” (the A-Ds had ohc engines) but thought this “would be exceedingly impractical for a commercial engine — as I think all forms of overhead valve motion to be”. However, by 1922 the R-R 20 was fitted with conventional push-rod overhead valvegear.

By October 1912, Royce had requested particulars of the 120hp six-cylinder A-D engine used by Cody in his aeroplane for the Military Trials. It was apparent that this engine used the push-pull means of actuating the overhead valves, as on four-cylinder eight-push-rod Salmson cars. He dismissed this aero-engine as “very good indeed but nothing wonderful”, adding “…generally speaking a first-class job on orthodox lines seems preferable to freaks”.

However, by 1925 Royce was aware that the Austro-Daimler “had some novel features which promised to compete with the R-R Goshawk (which became the push-rod ohv 20) and that its performance appears better than ours”. He was also aware that “Bentley are evidently out to capture some of our trade”, but told Johnson he did not think they would learn very much from buying a Bentley to test, as it was a high-performance car with four valves per cylinder and he considered that it would be difficult for it to turn out well for silence, rigidity of frame and many other features. Presumably he was thinking of the Bentley Big Six, against an Rolls-Royce Phantom I.

Royce was, however, anxious to hear what Hives thought of the 40hp Fiat and the 19/70hp Austro-Daimler. Through the courtesy of Mr Baines, and the R-R EC Archives, I can expand on what Rolls-Royce thought of these 1925 cars. As he was going to West Wittering, Sir Henry left Robotham Cone of my assistants)to try the cars, lent by Barker’s.

Of the 2650cc A-D tourer, “its oh-camshaft and auxiliary drives were quiet, slight valve clatter was noticed, but exhaust boom drowned most of the not-excessive valve gear noises”. There were two Zenith carbs. “The four-speed gearbox had an easy, rapid change, the gears reasonably good, but not sounding like ground gears.The clutch was heavy, shuddered, and was not good. Bad howl on overrun from back axle but suspension ‘quite good’, with little roll. Very lively car and flexible on top in London traffic! Engine very vigorous, but rougher than 20hp R-R under full torque.” Top speed was only 58mph.

It was concluded that the only useful information was from the engine, which was more efficient than the 20hp R-R at the expense of sweet running. With twin carbs and higher compression ratio it would “not be very much inferior. A-D in class of Chrysler for performance and much above for general finish, with better steering but inferior brakes”.

R-R queried the poor top speed, thinking it the low-geared non-sports model. Afterwards Barker’s wrote to say George Newman & Co would guarantee 70mph from the car R-R had tried. “Either an inaccurate speedometer or bad driving had prevented this,” George Newman, the racing driver, had reported!

By 1928 Royce was more concerned with suspension design. Lord Hives was going to the Salon and hoped to try Austro-Daimler’s latest springing system and to sample the FWD Tracta. A Lancia had already been appraised, as had the Cottin-des-Gouttes, the latter “not liked enough to buy one.” Next time we will see what Rolls-Royce thought of the Fiat Forty.

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