May 4th holds special meaning for Rolls-Royce

In 1904, Rolls and Royce forged agreement to make “best car in the world”

Published: May 4, 2019, 10:30 PM
Updated: October 11, 2021, 10:20 AM

2019 Rolls-Royce portfolio

It wasn’t a long time ago, relatively speaking, and certainly not in a galaxy far, far away, but we can’t help but wonder if somebody at the Midland Hotel in Manchester back in 1904 didn’t wish “May the 4th be with you” to Charles Rolls and Henry Royce as the two worked out an agreement to market “the best car in the world.”

Over a century has passed since their first 10-hp automobile took to the Paris Salon stage for the first time, and though the founding fathers would undoubtedly marvel at the present manufacturing of their company’s cars and the technology in them, they would undoubtedly make the connection to the original’s approach and values.

Royce adapted his first automobile from the 10-hp Decauville (made in France) he bought when his electrical company became successful. Rolls was so impressed by the degree of craftsmanship and engineering that he agreed to sell as many as Royce could build, believing it to be on a par with what continental Europe was producing at the time.

In the first two years, the company produced and sold 10 cars. Last year, Rolls-Royce delivered 4,107 cars (the highest annual total ever) in over 50 countries. All were built on the company’s “Architecture of Luxury,” composed of an aluminum spaceframe fitted on different-sized floor pans and cross members, depending on the model.

The original cars were clearly influenced by the horse-drawn carriages they replaced, mainly because the bodies were handcrafted by the same master coachbuilders, and the craft became a tradition of Rolls-Royce automobiles through the company’s first half-century. Rolls-Royce abandoned coachbuilding in the 1960s but returned to it a half-century later in the 2017 Sweptail, a fully-bespoke commission for a customer seeking “the ultimate grand tourer.”

Despite its Rolls-Royce signature Pantheon grille and recognizable rear overhang, the unique Sweptail’s silhouette and interior touches (including a cooler specifically made to hold a bottle of Dom Pérignon ’73) will never be repeated.

However, for those who demand a darker, edgier persona for their Rolls-Royces, the company’s bespoke designers and engineers created the Black Badge, available on Dawn, Ghost and Wraith. Though the Black Badge car can be any colour desired, details include a dark-chrome Spirit of Ecstasy and inverted RR logo (black on silver instead of the traditional silver on black) and darkened wheels and interior carbon-fibre panels.

One of the most famous users of Rolls-Royce vehicles was T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who used a fleet of armoured models during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the first World War. Though the vehicles proved Lawrence’s assertion that “a Rolls in the desert is above rubies,” undoubtedly he would be far more comfortable in the recent Cullinan sport utility that not only managed the arid wastes of the Middle East on its 20,000-km global odyssey, but also the Austrian Alps, America’s Continental Divide and the Scottish Highlands.

“We are deeply conscious of our heritage. It is a tremendous privilege to be continuing and building on work that began 115 years ago,” says Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Chief Executive of Rolls‑Royce Motor Cars. “But we also understand that our founders were visionaries, always looking to do things in new and different ways. It’s that spirit of excellence and innovation that Rolls-Royce Motor Cars embodies and celebrates today.”