It is fair, I think, to say that most people would not regard the Rolls-Royce as a sports car, although the initiated can quote the Alpine Eagles and the post-war Phantom II Continental. That being so, it can nevertheless be said that Rolls-Royce motor cars have had their sporting moments. There was, you remember, the Hon CS Rolls’ victory in the 1906 loM Tourist Trophy race. Rolls’ gearbox had broken up in the 1905 contest but Percy Northy had finished second that year.
Nor should one overlook the splendid showing of a team of Rolls-Royces in the Austrian Alpine Trials of 1913, which a team of four cars of an earlier Continental type dominated, only losing the team prize on account of a collision incurred by one of the cars. James Radley’s lone London-Edinburgh 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce had disgraced itself by coming to rest and requiring a push, on the Katschberg Pass in the 1912 trials. Radley ran again, once more a lone private entrant, in 1914 and his was the only car in its class to lose not a single mark.
These 1913 Continental Royces were said to have a top speed of 82 mph and cruised at 72. Less well remembered, perhaps, is that Rolls-Royce won a pre-war Grand Prix. This was the Spanish Touring Car GP of 1913, in which the newly-appointed Spanish agent, Don Carlos de Salamanca, came in first, averaging 54 mph for the 191 miles of the Guardarrama circuit, beating a De Dietrich, with Eric Platford’s Rolls-Royce third.
On the whole, however, I do not think many people thought of ‘The Best Car in the World’ as much of a sporting proposition, much less as an intended road-burner. Yet, and disregarding the aforesaid performances which were accomplished by mainly works entries, if one has recourse to old records, it is rather encouraging to discover that quite a number of private owners enjoyed sporting events in their dignified and ghostly motor carriages.
For a start, there were the two owners of 1920 40/50 hp Rolls-Royces who dared to race them at Brooklands, namely AD Sanderson and G Summers. The former enlivened the 1921 mid-summer meeting by winning the 75 mph short handicap, lapping at 83.42 mph in his mahogany-bodied tourer and cocking a snoot at Malcolm Campbell, who was second in his Mors. This was followed by a third place in the equivalent long handicap, the lap speed up to an impressive 86.17 mph. Running again on August Bank Holiday Monday, in four events, Sanderson slid into the railings bordering the finishing straight in one of them, pulling off the offside rear tyre. He ran it again in 1923, with an odd racing body and crudely “cowled radiator, and contrived to lap at 87.38 mph. After that it disappeared from Brooklands, which it had shared with Sanderson’s 5.7-litre Austro-Daimler.
Summers, who also entered a Morris Cowley, had no success with his grey R-R tourer at Brooklands in 1922 nor had TD Morrison, the only other person who, I think, ventured to race a Rolls-Royce at a BARC meeting, his grey six-cylinder car consistently non-starting at Whitsun 1914. However, the speed of Sanderson’s 1920 Ghost was very impressive. It must have been capable of some 95 mph or more, flat out along the straight.
I have been trying to compare this with what might have been expected from a standard 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce. To do this I consulted the last Rolls-Royce book I reviewed, the much-acclaimed one by Klaus-Josef Robfeldt (Haynes, 1991). Robfeldt quotes 84 mph for a late model Silver Ghost with lightweight body, which seems a bit optimistic to me. I decided to ignore this figure when I saw that he also gives a top speed of 101.5 for a “streamlined bodied sports version”. Clearly, he had confused this non-model with the car which recorded 101.816 mph over the Brooklands flying start 1/2-mile, in November 1911. But this was no sports model. It was a very fully-streamlined, slim, single-seater London-Edinburgh, specially prepared by Rolls-Royce and driven by EW (later Lord) Hives. Personally, I would put a fair estimate of a post-war Silver Ghost’s maximum at 70-75 mph. So Sanderson had certainly made his car go some.
Incidentally, if they were seldom actually raced there, Rolls-Royces were no strangers to Brooklands.
At the opening meeting in 1907, the Hon Charles Rolls had borrowed for the occasion the 1906 TT winning 20 hp four-cylinder Rolls-Royce and Claude Johnson, the well-known R-R Director and commercial manager, took part in what was described as “a near relative of the original (and only, if history is not ignored) Silver Ghost”. The Derby company also used the track for extensive testing. Nor must one forget two special 70 hp editions of the Ghost, named ‘White Knave’ and ‘Silver Rogue’. After the former had broken a piston the latter, conducted (if you can apply the term to such inaudible cars) by the redoubtable Percy Northy, made the fastest climbs of Kirkstone Pass and Shap Fell and won its class in the 1908 International Touring Car Trials, which concluded at Brooklands. They were then brought again to the Track and timed for 20 laps, at 65.9 and 65.84 mph.
And don’t forget how, after improving on the Napier RAC-observed London-Edinburgh top-gear-only-run in 1909, which concluded with a 76.42 mph dash at Brooklands, with a 65 hp car, a London-Edinburgh R-R bettered the Napier’s performance, ending with a timed 78.26 mph.
However, I am departing from my theme of ghostly sport in the hands of ordinary owners and others not directly associated with the factory. Capt AG Miller, later Sir Alastair Miller, whom I christened ‘Mr Brooklands’ on account of the long and versatile racing carer he had there (see MOTOR SPORT, January 1989), had raced his Alpine Eagle (R 2355) which was said to have served during the war as an armoured car and afterwards been rebuilt by Miller’s company and rebodied by them. He contrived to race the car at an Essex MC meeting with its full compliment of passengers, which I do not think the BARC would have countenanced.
Another Ghost which was seen in a Brooklands race was Le Champion’s all-weather, which joined in an impromptu one-lap handicap for any cars that had been driven there on the day of an Ealing & DCC meeting, this driver more usually seen in aero-engined monsters.
After his effective showing at Brooklands with his Rolls-Royce in 1922/23, Sanderson drove his car, assuming it was the same one, all the way to Nice in 1923 for the Festival of Speed, in which he won the over four-litre touring car class with a climb in 7m 10s and a presumably more locally-owned 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce was second (7m 21.2s, driven by a Mr Broskshand), both of them beating a Buick, which took 8m 35s.
Much nearer home, WM Broomhall in a two-seater 40/50 (KK 1331) won his class, with what was described as a fine climb (39.4s) at the 1923 Laindon speed hill climb, and was also first in his class in the acceleration test, in spite of overshooting the line and having to roll back before completing the stop/restart. What is even more interesting, I think, is that Rolls-Royce featured in the testing MCC reliability trials of those days, for JD Bainbridge not only took his closed 40/50 through the London-Edinburghs, with his chauffeur there to drive him home afterwards, but achieved the highest award, the gold medal, in, for example, 1923 and 1924. And he was still doing it in 1930, entering a Rolls-Royce in the Monte Carlo Rally. But to prove that a Ghost could be quite a useful speed hillclimb job, C Grant Dalton took his to Spread Eagle and won the members’ Hampshire AC unlimited touring car class, coming up so smoothly, it was said, as to appear slow, but clocking the good time of 60.4s. (The record was Malcolm Campbell’s in 41.0s, driving the 4.9-litre racing Sunbeam).
So you see, although the Rolls-Royce was then regarded by the majority as a very fine touring car or town carriage, it could produce a surprise or two when an owner decided to use it as a special sporting sort of motor car. W B