Rolls-Royce Limited

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For the present day owners of the same business enterprise see Rolls-Royce Holdings plc for aero-engines etc. and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. For other uses, see Rolls-Royce (disambiguation).
Rolls-Royce Limited
Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited
  • 1906 private limited company
  • 1907 public listed company
  • 1971 government-owned corporation
Industry Aerospace and motor vehicle design and manufacturing
  • bought by the British government and nationalised in 1971 (too big to fail).
  • British taxpayer-owned until:
  • Motors sold to Vickers in 1980;
  • Aerospace sold to Rolls-Royce plc in 1987
Predecessor partnership of Rolls and Royce
Successor Rolls-Royce plc
  • Manchester, England
  • partnership 1904
  • private company March 15, 1906 (1906-03-15)
  • company 2: 1971
Defunct Public float: 1987; 30 years ago (1987)
Headquarters Derby, England, United Kingdom
Key people
  • Bristol Aeroplane Company
  • Bristol Aircraft Holdings
  • 1966 Bristol Siddeley Engines
  • 1939 H J Mulliner Park Ward
  • Rolls-Royce Inc
  • Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited (Canada)
  • Rolls-Royce Motors of Australia
  • Bentley Motors (1931) Limited
  • 1973 Rolls-Royce Motors Holdings

Rolls-Royce Limited owned a British luxury-car and aircraft engine manufacturing business founded in 1904 by Charles Stewart Rolls and Sir Frederick Henry Royce. Rolls-Royce Limited was incorporated on 15 March 1906 as a vehicle for their ownership of their Rolls-Royce business. Their business quickly developed a reputation for superior engineering quality, "best car in the world", building on F H Royce's existing standing.[1] Rolls-Royce became a leading manufacturer of piston aero-engines after it was brought into building them by the first World War .

From 1940 Rolls-Royce participated in the development of the jet engine and built for itself, and retains, a pre-eminent position in aircraft engine development and manufacture for use in defence and civil aircraft.

In the late 1960s Rolls-Royce Limited became hopelessly crippled by its mismanagement of development of its advanced RB211 jet engine and the consequent cost over-runs. In 1971 their financial collapse was dealt with by sale, at a price which took some years to negotiate, of the entire business to a new government-owned company, Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited. Insolvent Rolls-Royce Limited was liquidated.

In 1973 the whole business was divided and ownership of the profitable but now financially insignificant car division passed to a new subsidiary, Rolls-Royce Motors Holdings Limited. In 1980 the British government sold Rolls-Royce Motors to the Vickers group.

Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited continued to expand the aerospace business remaining nationalised until 1987 when the government sold it to a public listed company incorporated for the purpose, Rolls-Royce plc.


The Silver Ghost,[note 1] 40/50 chassis #60551 registration AX-201 Scottish Reliability Trial 22 June 1907
The same car in 2004
40/50 chassis #60551 with semi-Roi des Belges open tourer body by Barker
Silver Ghost open tourer by Hooper 1920
An Eagle VIII WWI era aero-engine

Motor Cars[edit]

In 1884 Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business. He made his first car, a two-cylinder Royce 10, in his Manchester factory in 1904, and was introduced to Charles Rolls at the Midland Hotel, Manchester on 4 May of that year. Rolls was proprietor of an early motor car dealership, C.S.Rolls & Co. in Fulham.[2]

In spite of his preference for three- or four-cylinder cars, Rolls was impressed with the Royce 10, and in a subsequent agreement on 23 December 1904 agreed to take all the cars Royce could make. There would be four models:

  • a 10 hp (7.5 kW), two-cylinder model selling at £395 (£40,000 in 2014),[3]
  • a 15 hp (11 kW) three-cylinder at £500 (£50,000 in 2014),[3]
  • a 20 hp (15 kW) four-cylinder at £650 (£60,000 in 2014),[3]
  • a 30 hp (22 kW) six-cylinder model priced at £890 (£90,000 in 2014),[3]

All would be badged as Rolls-Royces, and be sold exclusively by Rolls. The first Rolls-Royce car, the Rolls-Royce 10 hp, was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904.

Pages from a very early brochure
Rolls-Royce Limited was formed on 15 March 1906, by which time it was apparent that new premises were required for production of cars. After considering sites in Manchester, Coventry, Bradford and Leicester, it was an offer from Derby's council of cheap electricity that resulted in the decision to acquire a 12.7 acres (51,000 m2) site on the southern edge of that city. The new factory was largely designed by Royce, and production began in early 1908, with a formal opening on 9 July 1908 by Sir John Montagu. The investment in the new company required further capital to be raised, and on 6 December 1906 £100,000 of new shares were offered to the public. In 1907, Rolls-Royce bought out C.S. Rolls & Co.[4] (The non-motor car interests of Royce Ltd. continued to operate separately.)

Rolls-Royce 40/50[edit]

During 1906 Royce had been developing an improved six-cylinder model with more power than the Rolls-Royce 30 hp. Initially designated the 40/50 hp, this was Rolls-Royce's first all-new model.[5] In March 1908 Claude Johnson, Commercial Managing Director and sometimes described as the hyphen in Rolls-Royce,[6] succeeded in persuading Royce and the other directors that Rolls-Royce should concentrate exclusively on the new model, and all the earlier models were duly discontinued.[2]

The new 40/50 was responsible for Rolls-Royce's early reputation with over 6,000 built. Its chassis was used as a basis for the first British armoured car used in both world wars

Rolls-Royce Eagle aero-engine[edit]

Aero-engine manufacture began in 1914 because the government requested it.[2] Rools-Royce's Eagle, the first example was made in 1915, was the first engine to make a non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing by aeroplane when two Eagles powered the converted Vickers Vimy bomber on the Transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown in June 1919.[citation needed]

Springfield USA[edit]

1923 Springfield Silver Ghost Oxford Tourer

In 1921 Rolls-Royce opened a new factory in Springfield, Massachusetts in the United States (to help meet demand) where a further 1,701 "Springfield Ghosts" were built. This factory operated for 10 years, closing in 1931. It was located at the former American Wire Wheel factory on Hendee Street, with the administration offices at 54 Waltham Ave.[7] Springfield was the earlier location for the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, the location where the first American gasoline-powered vehicle was built. Their first chassis was completed in 1921. Bodies were supplied by Rolls-Royce Custom Coachwork[citation needed] and by Brewster & Co. in Long Island City, New York.

Rolls-Royce Twenty[edit]

20/25 limousine by Gurney Nutting

After the First World War, Rolls-Royce successfully avoided attempts to encourage British car manufacturers to merge. Faced with falling sales of the 40/50 (later known as Silver Ghost) Rolls-Royce introduced the smaller, cheaper Twenty in 1922, effectively ending the one-model policy followed since 1908.[2]

Rolls-Royce Phantom[edit]

After the introduction of the Phantom in 1925 the old 40/50 model was referred to as the Silver Ghost..


In 1931 Rolls-Royce acquired the much smaller rival car maker Bentley[2] after the latter's finances failed to weather the onset of the Great Depression. From soon after World War II until 2002 standard Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars were often very nearly identical apart from the radiator grille and minor details.

In 1933, the colour of the Rolls-Royce radiator monogram was changed from red to black because the red sometimes clashed with the coachwork colour selected by clients, and not as a mark of respect for the passing of Royce as is commonly stated.[citation needed]


The British government built a shadow factory in Crewe in 1938 which was used by Rolls-Royce for making their Merlin and Griffon aero engines. In 1946 car production was moved there for space to construct bodies and to leave space for aero engines at Derby. The site was purchased from the government in 1973.[2] It is now Bentley Crewe

Second World War[edit]

Production focussed on aero engines but a variant of the Merlin engine, known as the Meteor, was developed for the Cromwell tank. After 1943 work restarted on a an eight-cylinder car engine and it became the pattern for the British Army's B range of petrol engines for post war combat vehicles[2] in particular in Daimler's Ferret and Humber's Hornet and Pig

Postwar diversification[edit]

Motor bodies[edit]

1937 Bentley with an all-metal body engineered by Rolls-Royce built by Park Ward

After the war, in 1946, Rolls-Royce and Bentley car production moved to Crewe where they began to assemble complete Bentley cars with body pressings made by Pressed Steel Company. Previously they had built only the chassis, leaving the bodies to specialist coach-builders. In 1939 Rolls-Royce brought one of the specialist coachbuilders completely in-house by buying the remaining capital of Park Ward Limited which since 1936 in conjunction with Rolls-Royce had been building short production runs of all-metal saloon bodies on Bentley chassis.

In 1959 Rolls-Royce bought coachbuilder H J Mulliner[2] and the two businesses were put together as H J Mulliner Park Ward.

Diesel engines Shrewsbury[edit]

Experimental V12 sleeve-valve diesel engine designed for Rolls-Royce by Harry Ricardo 1930. In a car driven by George Eyston it held the diesel land speed record until 1950

Luxury cars did not fit with the new mood of postwar austerity. After starting design and development of what became their C series diesel engine range in 1948 Rolls-Royce began to produce diesel engines in 1951. By 1955 it provided diesel engines for automotive, railway, industrial, earth-moving and marine use.[2]

Sentinel (Shrewsbury) Limited was bought in 1956. Sentinel made machine tools and industrial locomotives. Rolls-Royce took over Sentinel's Shrewsbury factory for diesel engine production and all its diesel work was transferred there.[2]

West Riding manufacturer of diesel shunting locomotives, Thomas Hill (Rotherham) Limited, was added to the group in 1963.[2]

In 1973 when Shrewsbury activities were put under the umbrella of new owner, Rolls-Royce Motors, the range of diesel engines included:

  • C range: 4, 6 and 8 cylinder engines with power output from 100 to 450 bhp. Used in generating sets, compressors etc, construction equipment, railway and other industrial purposes and marine propulsion.
  • Eagle: a modified version of the C range 6-cylinder engine named Eagle is used in heavy vehicles, their output 200 to 300 bhp.
  • D range: V engines with outputs from 400 to 750 bhp for generating sets, marine and railway applications.[2]

Aero engines[edit]

The ubiquitous 27 litre capacity Merlin
A Dart fitted to a Fokker F.27 Friendship airliner
A Nene turbojet of the late 1940s

In 1907 Charles Rolls, whose interests had turned increasingly to flying, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Royce and the other directors to design an aero engine. When World War I broke out in August 1914 Rolls-Royce (and many others) were taken by surprise. As a manufacturer of luxury cars, Rolls-Royce was immediately vulnerable, and Claude Johnson thought the bank would withdraw its overdraft facility on which Rolls-Royce depended at that time. Nevertheless, believing that war was likely to be short-lived the directors initially decided not to seek government work making aero engines. However, this position was quickly reversed and Rolls-Royce was persuaded by the War Office to manufacture fifty air-cooled V8 engines under licence from Renault.[4] Meanwhile, the Royal Aircraft Factory asked Rolls-Royce to design a new 200 hp (150 kW) engine. Despite initial reluctance they agreed, and during 1915 developed Rolls-Royce's first aero engine, the twelve-cylinder Eagle. This was quickly followed by the smaller six-cylinder Hawk, the 190 hp (140 kW) Falcon and, just before the end of the war, the larger 675 hp (503 kW) Condor.

Throughout World War I, Rolls-Royce struggled to build aero engines in the quantities required by the War Office. However, with the exception of Brazil Straker in Bristol Rolls-Royce resisted pressure to license production to other manufacturers, fearing that the engines' much admired quality and reliability would risk being compromised. Instead the Derby factory was extended to enable Rolls-Royce to increase its own production rates.[4] By the late 1920s, aero engines made up most of Rolls-Royce's business.

Henry Royce's last design was the Merlin aero engine, which was first flown in prototype form in 1935, although he had died in 1933. This was developed from the R engine, which had powered a record-breaking Supermarine S.6B seaplane to almost 400 mph (640 km/h) in the 1931 Schneider Trophy. The Merlin was a powerful supercharged V12 engine and was fitted into many World War II aircraft: the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, de Havilland Mosquito (twin-engine), Avro Lancaster (four-engine) (a development of the Avro Manchester with its unreliable Rolls-Royce Vulture engines), Vickers Wellington (twin-engine); it also transformed the American North American P-51 Mustang into a competitor for the best fighter of its time, its engine a Merlin engine built by Packard under licence. Over 160,000 Merlin engines were produced, including over 30,000 by the Ford Motor Company at Trafford Park, Manchester. During the war most Rolls-Royce flight testing of engines was carried out from Hucknall Aerodrome. The Merlin crossed over into military land-vehicle use as the Meteor powering the Centurion tank among others. Many Meteor engines used engine blocks and parts that failed requirements for high performance engines, but were suitable for use in the derated 480 kW (640 hp) Meteor.

Rolls-Royce came into jet turbines through an exchange of assets with Rover and in the post-World War II period Rolls-Royce made significant advances in gas turbine engine design and manufacture. The Dart and Tyne turboprop engines were particularly important, enabling airlines to cut times for shorter journeys whilst jet airliners were introduced on longer services. The Dart engine was used in Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy, Avro 748, Fokker F27 Friendship, Handley Page Herald and Vickers Viscount aircraft, whilst the more powerful Tyne powered the Breguet Atlantique, Transall C-160 and Vickers Vanguard, and the SR.N4 hovercraft. Many of these turboprops are still in service.

Amongst the jet engines of this period was the RB163 Spey, which powers the Hawker Siddeley Trident, BAC One-Eleven, Grumman Gulfstream II and Fokker F28 Fellowship.

During the late 1950s and 1960s there was a significant rationalisation of all aspects of British aerospace and this included aero-engine manufacturers. In 1966 Rolls-Royce acquired Bristol Siddeley (which had resulted from the merger of Armstrong Siddeley and Bristol Aero Engines in 1959) and incorporated it as the Bristol Siddeley division. Bristol Siddeley, with its principal factory at Filton, near Bristol, had a strong base in military engines, including the Olympus, Viper, Pegasus (vectored thrust) and Orpheus. They were also manufacturing the Olympus 593 Mk610 to be used in Concorde in collaboration with SNECMA. They also had a turbofan project with SNECMA.

Leavesden Aerodrome, Watford was originally owned by the Ministry of Defence and used during World War II for the manufacture of Mosquito and Halifax aircraft. For a number of years, Rolls-Royce used the site for the manufacture of helicopter engines until the site closed in June 1993. The former Rolls-Royce factory at Watford is now known as the Leavesden Film Studios and has produced world-famous films such as James Bond, Star Wars and Harry Potter.

1971 receivership and nationalisation[edit]

RB211 Derby museum display.
Forty years after nationalisation its versions still powered around half of the long-haul airlines in service

Financial problems caused largely by development of the new RB211 turbofan engine designed and developed for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's new TriStar led, after several cash subsidies, to the recognition Rolls-Royce had no resources left and it entered receivership 4 February 1971.[8]

to the government buying its assets leaving the massive liabilities to be dealt with by Rolls-Royce Limited

At this time Britain's 14th largest company in terms of manpower employing 80,000 people. It was understood that this was the outcome of intense competition with Pratt & Whitney and General Electric.[9]

The government would take on the activities of the aero-engine, marine and industrial gas turbine and small engine divisions that were important to national defence, the collective programmes with other countries and to many air forces and civil airlines.[10]

Asking their own government for support Lockheed warned that a switch to either Pratt & Whitney or General Electric engines would delay production by an extra six months and might force Lockheed into bankruptcy.[11]

The new aircraft with its three RB211 engines left USA for the first time and arrived in Paris on 1 June 1971.[12]

In their calculations they were guided by the success of their estimates in the launching of their Spey engine.[13]

A new company (1971) was incorporated that May to purchase substantially the whole of the undertakings and assets of the four divisions of Rolls-Royce connected with gas turbine engines Rolls-Royce was placed in liquidation on 4 October 1971. A new subsidiary was incorporated nd as aagent for the receiver for the manufacture and sale of cars, dieszsel engines and other products produced by the motor car and diesel divisions[2]

business being nationalised by the Heath government in 1971. The new owner, Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited, had among its board members Lord Cole (a former chairman of Unilever), Sir Arnold Weinstock (managing director of GEC), Hugh Conway (managing director RR Gas Turbines), Dr Stanley Hooker (RR Bristol), Sir William Cook (an adviser to the Minister of Defence), Sir St. John Elstub (managing director of Imperial Metal Industries), and Sir Charles Elworthy (former Chief of Defence Staff).[14]

Delay in production of the RB211 engine has been blamed for the failure of the technically advanced Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, which was beaten to launch by its chief competitor, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.

In 1973 the motor car business was spun off as a separate entity, Rolls-Royce Motors, and sold in 1980 to Vickers. The main business of aircraft and marine engines remained in public ownership until 1987, when it was privatised by its sale to Rolls-Royce plc, one of many privatisation of the Thatcher government.

Rolls-Royce Motors[edit]

Rolls-Royce Motors Limited was incorporated on 25 April 1971, two and a half months after Rolls-Royce fell into receivership. Under the ownership of the receiver it began to trade in April 1971 manufacturing motor cars, diesel and petrol engines, coachwork and other items previously made by Rolls-Royce's motor car and diesel divisions and Mulliner Park Ward. It continued to take precision engineering work on sub-contracts. In June 1971 it acquired all the business and assets used by the motor car and diesel divisions of Rolls-Royce and Mulliner Park Ward. Rolls-Royce Motors permitted uses of the various Rolls-Royce trade marks was very precisely defined[2]

At the end of 1972 employees in the United Kingdom were 5,855 in the car division and 2,311 in the Diesel division, a total of 8,166 people.[2]

In May 1973 it was sold to Rolls-Royce Motors Holdings Limited in preparation for its public flotation.[2]

Car Division[edit]

At that time the Car Division as well as making cars and special coachwork, carried out investment foundry work, the machining of aero-engine components, produced piston engines for light aircraft and other petrol and multi-fuel engines. Both divisions carried out development work for H M Government.

The car divisions 's headquarters were in Pym's Lane and Minshull New Road, Crewe, coachbuilding in Hythe Road and High Road Willesden London. The Crewe former shadow factory premises were bought from the Government at this time.[2]

Diesel Division[edit]

The Diesel Division made several types of diesel engine at its premises in Whitchurch Road, Shrewsbury as well as combustion equipment for aero turbine engines.[2]

Rolls-Royce Motors Products
  • Motor Cars
  • Diesel engines
  • Aero turbine engine components and aircraft piston engines mainly for Rolls-Royce 1971
  • Other engines and products:
B range of 6 and 8-cylinder petrol engines
K range of multi-fuel engines
various transmissions for fighting and other vehicles
diesel shunting locomotives (Thomas Hill (Rotherham)[2]


In the event the flotation met with a disappointing public response and more than 80 percent of the issue was left in the hands of the underwriters.[15]


On 6 August 1980 the shareholders agreement to the merger of Rolls-Royce Motors Holdings and Vickers Limited became unconditional.[16]

The Rolls-Royce diesel business was acquired from Vickers in 1984 by Perkins. Perkins further developed the Eagle Diesels into the Perkins TX series of engines.

1987 privatisation[edit]



chassis-only, no Rolls-Royce built Rolls-Royce body until Silver Dawn

Bentley Models (from 1933) – chassis only

Standard saloons
Silver Dawn 1953 
Silver Cloud 1956 
Silver Shadow 1972 
Postwar Phantoms
Phantom IV limousine by Hooper 1953 
Phantom V sedanca de ville by James Young 1961 
Phantom VI limousine 
Phantom VI limousine 



  1. ^ The Silver Ghost This car was ordered with its Barker body painted silver specifically to publicize their new 40/50 hp model which ran "with extraordinary stealthiness". Its name "The Silver Ghost" was carried on a special repoussé plaque on its dashboard. It was finished with green leather, silver-plated fittings, aluminium dashboard


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Rolls-Royce Motors Holdings Limited. The Times, Monday, May 07, 1973; pg. 23; Issue 58775
  3. ^ a b c d UK Consumer Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)",
  4. ^ a b c Pugh, Peter (2001). The Magic of a Name – The Rolls-Royce Story: The First 40 Years. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-151-9. 
  5. ^ The earlier models having been based on a Decauville owned by Royce.
  6. ^ Oldham, Wilton (1967). The hyphen in Rolls-Royce: A biography of Claude Johnson. Foulis. ISBN 0-85429-017-6. 
  7. ^ Location of Springfield Rolls-Royce factory
  8. ^ Rolls-Royce collapse: state takeover move. The Times, Friday, Feb 05, 1971; pg. 1; Issue 58091
  9. ^ Broken Rules That Led To The Downfall of Rolls-Royce. The Times Friday, Feb 05, 1971; pg. 15; Issue 58091
  10. ^ Independent inquiry for any dispute on R-R assets. The Times, Saturday, Mar 20, 1971; pg. 7; Issue 58126
  11. ^ Lockheed warning on bankruptcy. The Times, Wednesday, May 19, 1971; pg. 21; Issue 58176
  12. ^ TriStar engines surprisingly quiet. The Times, Wednesday, Jun 02, 1971; pg. 15; Issue 58188
  13. ^ Rolls-Royce former chief defends signing of RB 211 contract with Lockheed. The Times, Thursday, Dec 02, 1971; pg. 21; Issue 58340
  14. ^ "RB.211 negotiations", Flight International, 4 March 1971 
  15. ^ No signs of R-R Motors sell-out by institutions. The Times, Thursday, Aug 02, 1973; pg. 17; Issue 58850
  16. ^ Vickers.The Times, Friday, Sep 26, 1980; pg. 26; Issue 60734
  17. ^ Rolls Royce. The Times, Wednesday, Oct 06, 1965; pg. 8; Issue 56445

External links[edit]