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Rolls-Royce plc




Phone: (UK:) +44 (0) 20 7222 9020
Fax: (Uk:) +44 (0) 20 7227 9178
Address: Derby, United Kingdom


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Subsidiaries: Rolls-Royce Aero Engines, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited, Bentley Motors, Allen Gears, Clayton Equipment, Rolls-Royce China, Rolls-Royce Deutschland, Rolls-Royce North America, Rolls-Royce Power Ventures, Rolls-Royce Singapore, Sourcerer, Syncrolift
Affiliates: Data Systems and Solutions, Hong Kong Aero Engine Services, Industria de Turbo Propulsores, LHTEC, International Aero Engines, Rolls Wood Group, Williams-Rolls


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Rolls-Royce plc is a set of companies, all deriving from the British automobile and aero-engine manufacturing company.

Nicknames for Rolls-Royce cars are Rolls and Roller, although in Derby (where the headquarters of Rolls-Royce plc are located), the firm is universally known as Royce's. The term "The Rolls-Royce of x" is often used informally (Cadillac is the American version of the term) to describe anything that is the best of its type. The company is aggressive at protecting its trademarks whenever commercial use of the term is mentioned.

Column-mounted automatic transmission shifters are still used today on all Rolls-Royces.



  • Rolls-Royce plc or Rolls-Royce Aero Engines, by far the most significant in economic terms, is a British engineering firm specializing in turbine-based products, particularly aircraft engines, but providing a wide range of civil and military engineering products and services.
  • Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited, a new manufacturer of luxury automobiles, owned by BMW, which started deliveries of its single model, the Phantom, in January 2003 (see below). Official site:
  • Bentley Motors is the continuation of the original Rolls-Royce automobile division. Since 1998 the company has been owned by the Volkswagen. Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars have shared much mechanically since the 1931 takeover of Bentley by Rolls-Royce, often differing in little other than the radiator grille. Confusingly, from 2003 the company is no longer allowed to produce cars called Rolls-Royce, the trademarks being licensed to BMW, rather than to Volkswagen.




Rolls-Royce was founded by Henry Royce and C.S. Rolls in 1906.

In 1884 Frederick Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business. He made his first car, a "Royce", in his Manchester factory in 1904. He was introduced to Charles Stewart Rolls in a Manchester hotel on the May 4 that year, and the pair agreed a deal where Royce would manufacture cars, to be sold exclusively by Rolls. A clause was added to the contract, stipulating the cars would be called "Rolls-Royce". The company was formed on March 15, 1906. The company moved to Derby in 1908.

The Silver Ghost (1906-1925) was the model responsible for the company's early great reputation. It had a 6-cylinder engine. 6173 were built. In 1921, the company opened a second factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the United States to help meet demand there. A further 1701 "Springfield Ghosts" were built there. This factory operated for 10 years, closing in 1931.

During 1931, the company acquired rival car maker Bentley, whose finances were unable to weather the Great Depression. From then until 2002, Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars were often identical apart from the radiator grille and minor details.

The company's first aero engine was the Eagle, built from 1914. Around half the aircraft engines used by the Allies in WW1 were made by Rolls-Royce. 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 came out in 1935 although he had died in 1933. This was developed from the R engine, which had powered a record-breaking Supermarine S6B seaplane to almost 400mph in the 1931 Schneider Trophy.) The Merlin was a powerful V12 engine, and was fitted into many World War II aircraft: the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, De Havilland Mosquito (twin-engined), Avro Lancaster (4-engine), Vickers Wellington (2-engine); it also transformed the American P-51 Mustang into possibly the best fighter of its time, its Merlin engine built by Packard under license. Over 160,000 Merlin engines were produced.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley car production moved to Crewe in 1946, as the company started to build bodies for its cars for the first time—previously it had only built chassis, leaving the bodies to specialist coachbuilders. For the rest of the automotive history, see sections below.

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 journey times within several continents whilst jet airliners were introduced on longer services. The Dart engine was used in Argosy, Avro 748, Friendship, Herald and Viscount aircraft, whilst the more powerful Tyne powered the Atlantic, Transall, Vanguard and the SRN-4 hovercraft. Many of these turboprops are still in service.

Amongst the jet engines of this period was the RB163 Spey which powers the Trident, BAC 1-11, Grumman Gulfstream II and Fokker F28.

During the late 50's and 60's there was a significant rationalisation of the British aero-engine manufacturers, culminating in the merger of Rolls-Royce and Bristol Siddeley in 1966 (Bristol Siddeley had itself resulted from the merger of Armstrong-Siddeley and Bristol in 1959). Bristol, with its principal factory at Filton, near bristol, had a strong base in military engines, including the Olympus, which was chosen for Concorde.

Financial problems caused largely by development of the new RB211 turbofan engine led—after several cash subsidies—to the company being nationalized by the Heath government in 1971. (This delay has been blamed for the failure of the technically advanced Lockheed TriStar to succeed in the airliner marketplace, when it was beaten to launch by its competitor, the Douglas DC-10.) In 1973 the automobile business was spun off as a separate entity, Rolls-Royce Motors. The main business of aircraft and marine engines remained in public ownership until 1987, when it was privatized as Rolls-Royce plc, one of many privatizations of the Thatcher government.

In 1980 Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was acquired by Vickers. In 1998 Vickers sold the company on to Volkswagen (see below). A year later Rolls-Royce plc acquired Vickers plc for £576m.

Today Rolls-Royce engines continue to power many of the world's civil and military aircraft and the company has been particularly effective in reducing noise and adverse emissions from its aviation products, anticipating international regulations arising from community campaigns and improved environmental understanding.

Unfortunately, the managing director of BMW announced on 8 May, 2005 that the sales of Rolls-Royce cars had fallen by 26% in only 6 months. BMW will seek to sell the company if the problems continue.


Rolls-Royce cars 1945-1998

The major events in the company's history were:

  • 1965: launch of the modern Silver Shadow.
  • 1971: nationalization of the combined aero-engine and car company.
  • 1973: privatization of the car division as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
  • 1980: company acquired by Vickers.

Main cars in this period:

Bentley models were produced mostly in parallel with the above cars. The Bentley Continental coupés (produced in various forms from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s) did not have Rolls-Royce equivalents. Very expensive Rolls-Royce Phantom limousines were also produced. In this period other luxury car makers, such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and (much later) Lexus, made many technical advances combining sporting abilities with high levels of comfort; this left Rolls-Royces looking old-fashioned in many ways.


The VW and BMW deal

In 1998 Vickers decided to sell the Rolls-Royce automobile business. Although Volkswagen Group also made offers for the company, the leading contender seemed to be BMW, who already supplied engines and other components for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. However their final offer of £340m was outbid by VW, who offered £430m.

This was far from the end of the story though. Rolls-Royce plc, the aero-engine maker, decided it would license certain essential trademarks (the Rolls-Royce name and logo) not to VW but to BMW, with whom it had recently had joint business ventures. VW had bought rights to the "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot and the shape of the radiator grille, but it lacked rights to the Rolls-Royce name in order to build the cars. Likewise, BMW lacked rights to the grille and mascot. BMW took out the option on the trademarks, licensing the name and "RR" logo for £40m, a deal that many commentators thought was a bargain for possibly the most valuable property in the deal. VW claimed that it had only really wanted Bentley anyway.

BMW and VW arrived at a solution. For the period from 1998 to 2002, BMW would continue to supply engines for the cars, and would allow use of the names, but this would cease on January 1, 2003. On that date, only BMW would be able to name cars "Rolls-Royce", and VW's former Rolls-Royce/Bentley division would only build cars called "Bentley". Rolls Royce's convertible, the Corniche, ceased production in 2002.

The British press, particularly the tabloids, expressed consternation that this symbol of British excellence was being sold to the Germans, and in such an undignified manner.


Rolls-Royce cars from 1998

  • 1998-2002 Silver Seraph - This shared its design with the Bentley Arnage, which sold in much greater numbers.
  • 1992-2003 Bentley Continental R - This 6.75 L 400bhp car ended production and has now been superseded by the Continental GT.
  • 1995-2003 Bentley Azure - This 2-dr convertible was Bentley's most expensive model, with about half of the models being customized by Mulliner.
  • 2000-2002 Corniche - This 2-dr convertible shared its design with the Bentley Azure, and was the most expensive Rolls-Royce until the introduction of the 2003 Phantom.
  • 2003 Phantom - Launched in January 2003 at Detroit's North American International Auto Show, this is the first model of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited, a BMW subsidiary having no technical or corporate connection with the original Rolls-Royce company, apart from the trademarks mentioned above. The car has a 6.75 L V12 engine from BMW, but most other components are unique to the car. Most parts are made in Germany, but the assembly and finishing is in a new factory in Goodwood, Sussex. The price starts at around £250,000.





External links

  • Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
  • Bentley Motors
  • Bentley Boys Rolls-Royce History
  • Unofficial site from the Archives of K.-J. Roßfeldt
  • Photos of Rolls-Royce Centenary in Manchester - 4th May 2004


News RSS feed
  • Rolls-Royce Unveils Experimental Four-seat Coupe at Geneva Show - BusinessWeek
  • Anger at go-ahead for Rolls-Royce plant - The Herald
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  • Tax Abatement Pact Seals Rolls-Royce Energy Expansion In Fort Bend ... - FortBendNow
  • Rolls-Royce COO Cheffins exercises share options worth 3 mln stg - Forbes
  • BMW Reduces Stake in Rolls Royce - Autochannel
  • Rolls-Royce Unveils New Experimental Car at Geneva Motor Show ... - Autochannel
  • BMW undoes its Rolls-Royce ties - Australian
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