Rolls-Royce is an automotive Everest - an elite company which, for over 100 years, has encapsulated the essence of luxury, elegance, and beauty. Since the very beginnings of its existence, this British manufacturer has successfully satisfied the demanding tastes of the wealthy of this world. It creates driving works of art which constitute something more than just cars. This trend started in 1906 with the majestic Silver Ghost, a model which opened an entirely new chapter in the history of Rolls-Royce. A chapter which remains open to this day.
 

Rolls-Royce is an automotive Everest - an elite company which, for over 100 years, has encapsulated the essence of luxury, elegance, and beauty. Since the very beginnings of its existence, this British manufacturer has successfully satisfied the demanding tastes of the wealthy of this world. It creates driving works of art which constitute something more than just cars. This trend started in 1906 with the majestic Silver Ghost, a model which opened an entirely new chapter in the history of Rolls-Royce. A chapter which remains open to this day.
 
 
Decades ago, one of the fathers of Rolls-Royce's success uttered these timeless words which perfectly reflect the rich history of this British make: „Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. If it doesn't exist, create it. Accept nothing nearly right or good enough”. This motto has never grown old and has accompanied the two automotive pioneers who created the Rolls-Royce brand on every step of the journey. Moreover, this recipe for success is inherited and cultivated by the company still today. Perhaps it was the Silver Ghost model that Henry Royce had in mind when he uttered those words? Very possible.
 
 
How Rolls met Royce
 
Before we start to rhapsodise over this legendary car, it is worth going over the beginning of probably the most exclusive make in the history of the automotive industry. Its roots go back to 1904 and the meeting of two British gentlemen at the Midland hotel in Manchester. The first of them was the already-mentioned engineer Henry Royce – workaholic, perfectionist, great lover of automotive technology, and a recognised inventor. His passion for cars was born somewhat from his disappointment in the French vehicles which he owned. One of them, a Decauville, which would break down constantly. The ambitious constructor firstly modified the Decauville and then decided that he could easily create a much better car. Indeed, he proved to be a man of his word; in September 1903, he embarked on a journey in the car of his own construction, powered by a 2-cylinder engine. He called it Royce 10 HP. He built a total of three of such vehicles and, as it would turn out in the near future - it was in fact a prototype for the first Rolls-Royce in history. Back then, the 40-years-old Royce had no idea how big a role he and his invention would play in the history of motorisation.
 
The second of the aforementioned gentlemen - Charles Rolls – soon heard about the talented engineer. Entrepreneur, businessman, passionate fan of motorisation and ballooning. A man who loved adrenaline and competition. And with quite some success too; he participated in many car races, and not only in Great  Britain. In December 1903, together with his friend Claud Johnson, he opened a car showroom in London where he sold imported cars. For Rolls, it was important to conquer the market with a British product. His friend, Henry Edmunds, who also knew Royce, turned out to be a godsend. It is thanks to the co-founder of the Royal Automobile Club that the paths of these two motorisation pioneers converged. Rolls was fascinated by the car created by Royce, and thus he personally visited Manchester where he met his future business partner. From the very beginning, the gentlemen were on the same wavelength and wanted to build the best cars in the world, joining forces was just a matter of time.
 
The entrepreneur did not miss a chance to test the vehicle created by Royce. The 2-cylinder car left Rolls in awe and he decided to drive it back to London where this very excited man woke Claude Johnson up in the middle of the night and insisted he invest capital in the great talent of the constructor. Johnson agreed, and just a few months later, in December 1904 during a Paris car showcase, the first Rolls-Royce, sporting the characteristic statuesque grill with a triangular top edge, was officially presented. It was an enhanced version of Royce's car and bore the name 10 HP, which simply stands for 10 horse powers.
 
The plan was to manufacture 20 of this first model, but eventually there were 16 vehicles released within two years. It was the seed which would germinate into the great success of the Rolls-Royce company. The car was sold for the price of 395 British pounds and it is interesting that in 2007, the British auction house Bonhams auctioned the first Rolls-Royce 10 HP vehicle from 1904. In its over 100-years history, the vehicle had changed owner only thrice. The petite model was auctioned for the enormous amount of 7.25 mln dollars and thus became one of the most expensive Rolls-Royce’s in the history of the British make.
 
Two years after the memorable lunch at the Midland hotel, on the 15th of March 1906 to be precise, the company was finally formalised. Rolls resigned from all franchise contracts and devoted himself completely to his brand, which was named Rolls-Royce Limited. Henry Royce was responsible for designing cars, and the task of Charles Rolls was to acquire clients and explore markets, while Claude Johnson took the position of the trade and managing director. 114 years ago, hardly anyone had anticipated that the meeting of the investor with the engineer would be so fruitful and would lead to the emergence of the most luxurious make of cars in the history of the automotive industry.
 
The company started its operations in the Cooke Street factory in Manchester, but only two years later a decision was made to move to Derby, some 60 miles away. Rolls-Royce’s objective was clear: to build solid and reliable cars. The manufacturer's offer was rapidly enriched with further models: a 3-cylinder 15 HP (production year: 1905), 4-cylinder 20 HP (1905-1908), and the luxury 30 HP (1905-1906) which had a powerful 6-cylinder engine under its hood.
 
Silver Ghost – made to measure
 
In early years of the Rolls-Royce company, an unprecedented event was the première of the legendary 40/50 HP Silver Ghost model. This is a car which essentially set the scene for the course which Rolls- Royce was to take. The already-mentioned solidity and reliability was complimented by a hitherto unknown automotive exclusiveness. The Silver Ghost opened an entirely new chapter in the annals of Rolls-Royce, a chapter which remains open until today. This is why the Silver Ghost has an entirely special place in the pages of the British company's history, giving it the prestige which profits the company still today. The début of the first serially manufactured Rolls-Royce came in November of 1906, during the International Car Showcase in London. What is interesting about this is that the Brits showed the world two unfinished versions of the new model. Nevertheless, it left experts and the elite who could afford the most expensive cars absolutely stunned.
 
The Silver Ghost model had been manufactured for a long time, the whole 20-year period up to 1926. In under two decades, the company had built and sold 7874 Sliver Ghost cars. 1701 of these vehicles were manufactured in an American factory in Springfield and many of them still run today, while the cars appearing at prestige auctions reach astronomical amounts.
From the beginning of its production, the model met with the enthusiasm of experts. In 1907, influential media channels termed the Silver Ghost the best car in the world. The British specialists could not be wrong.
 
According to the contemporary nomenclature used by Rolls-Royce, the official name of the luxury model was 40/50 HP. Where did the Silver Ghost come from then? This unique nickname was in fact given to just one of the vehicles, to be specific - the twelfth, which left the factory and became the property of Claude Johnson. It was identified with the chassis number 60551 and registration plate number AX 201. The body of the car was painted with aluminium paint which was additionally decorated with silver components. The proud name was to the liking of the press who popularised it and so it remained. Soon, all 40/50 HPs were called Silver Ghosts.
 
The unique AX 201 was sold to a private client in 1908. 40 years later, the car once again became the property of the Rolls-Royce company and, with its characteristic pompous body Roi-des-Belges, was a driving showcase of the British make. For many years, it promoted the company in different corners of the world. Today, it is a unique rarity, the most popular Silver Ghost in the model’s history and one of the most valuable automotive specimens. It is estimated that if the AX 201 were to be sold today, its price could reach the staggering amount of several dozen millions of British pounds.
The vehicle, which belonged to the managing director of the company, in addition to its unique name, gave Rolls- Royce something else - in 1907 it gained a reputation for reliability and received the efficiency certificate issued by the RAC organisation. It was the AX 201 which, during Scottish efficiency tests, had covered 15 thousand miles by driving between London and Glasgow 27 times. At the same time, it had beaten the world record for continuous driving, which before that was just over 7 thousand miles. After completing the month-long test, Rolls-Royce offered to disassemble the Silver Ghost, replace worn out parts and bring the vehicle back to the delivery state. The cost of all replacements and service works after driving for 15 thousand miles amounted to just 28 British pounds.  
Silver Ghost is perfectly described by the phrase „made to measure”. The model was released in numerous personalisations of the body - from classic convertibles to ostentatiously expensively decorated saloons. Jointly, there have been several dozen different body versions, including the most popular: Barker Tourer, Hooper Landaulet or London to Edinburgh. Usually, in most cases, Rolls-Royce delivered chassis and engines, whereas the body was „tailored" by external companies which specialised in this trade. More than a hundred bodywork designers competed to impress clients and Rolls-Royce themselves.
Silver Ghost was built from scratch - with surgical attention to the smallest details - by hand, and custom- made for demanding clients. Hence the diversity. The wealthy of the times wanted to own their own dream vehicles which would make them proudly stand out in the crowd. After all, it was a car for classes, not for masses. The Luxury Silver Ghost was owned by the greatest rulers, politicians, and actors in the world. Famous personae were Rolls-Royce's best advertisement.
 
A custom made chassis cost from 100 to 145 British pounds, whereas bodywork for a Silver Ghost cost 985 pounds. At the beginning of the 20th century, not many people could afford such an expense.
 
Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost – similarly to most cars of the era - was built on a steel ladder-shaped frame. All body elements were mounted onto this chassis and it is interesting to note that a solidly constructed chassis played quite a role during the First World War; it is on basis of the Sliver Ghost's chassis that the military’s armoured cars were built and which were also used on the front line 25 years later during the Second World War.
 
Doubtlessly, the key to 40/50 HP's success was its engine. The heart of the first Silver Ghost vehicles was a 6-cylinder engine with a 7 litre capacity and in 1910, the capacity was increased to 7.4 litre. The straight, flathead engine with a cast iron bloc developed the power from 48 to 50 HP. Only in the last years of the model’s production was the power increased to 80 HP. The engine of the Silver Ghost, thanks to a clever solution, was famous for its smooth and quiet operation. Pistons which would move in opposite directions mutually lowered the vibration, while the crankshaft, equipped with special weights, additionally decreased the vibration. This revolutionary formula is successfully used in the construction of today's power units. Engines with coil ignition, pressure oil supply systems, or using two plugs in each cylinder - are further innovative technical solutions which, back in the day, pushed Silver Ghost way ahead of its competitors.
Initially, the power unit worked with a triple-gear gearbox which, in 1913, was replaced by a gear train with four gears.
 
The car weighed over one and a half tons and could develop a maximum speed in the range of 80 km/h. It had never been a speed demon, but then, it had never aspired to be a sports car. Just like today, comfort was always the main priority and this was ensured by unconventionally soft suspension on leaf springs. Silver Ghost managed perfectly well on any surface, even those littered with holes like a Swiss cheese. The first vehicles were equipped with manually-activated breaks on the back axis and an additional foot break on the main shaft. In 1913, the lever of the main break was replaced with a classic pedal, and 10 years later an all-wheel break was introduced. It is worth noting that the model originally had acetylene or oil lighting and it was only in 1919 that electric lighting became standard.
 
In 1913, the Rolls-Royce partnership sold 742 Silver Ghost vehicles. Unfortunately, interest in the 40/50 HP would drop with each year. In 1922, the company recorded the sale of 430 vehicles of this beautiful model. Such a situation forced the management of Rolls-Royce to introduce changes so, in 1926, Silver Ghost was replaced by a new model - Phantom I. Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is undoubtedly a totally unique car. A car which entered the pages of not only Rolls-Royce's history, but also the history of the whole automotive industry. After all, it is a car which consolidated a firm foundation for further Spirit of Ecstasy generations. It is thanks to this car that we can admire luxury-drenched Phantoms and Ghosts on our roads today.
 
Gentlemen Royce and Rolls... Hats off.

Michał Jelionek
A journalist with Trojmiasto.pl, moto enthusiast,
sports fan, amateur photographer. Has unleaded
petrol running through his veins and the sound of a V8
causes his heart to beat faster. TV presenter, lecturer,
entertainer.

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