How the Rolls met Royce - history of Rolls-Royce

Renowned as the ‘best car in the world’, the British manufacturer was founded 115 years ago by Charles Rolls and Henry Royce – two men from very different worlds – who came together through a shared passion for motor cars.

Rolls and Royce first met on 4 May 1904 in Manchester. Within minutes of seeing Royce’s twin-cylinder 10hp, Rolls knew he had found what he was looking for. After taking the motor car for a drive, Rolls agreed on the spot to sell as many motor cars as Royce could build, under the name Rolls-Royce.

Born in 1877 in London’s affluent Berkeley Square, Charles Stewart Rolls was the third son of Lord and Lady Llangattock. After school at Eton, Rolls studied mechanical engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was the first undergraduate to own a motor car. Having gained a reputation for tinkering with engines, Rolls earned himself the nicknames ‘Dirty Rolls’ and ‘Petrolls’.

By the time he left university, Rolls was already an accomplished motorist. In 1903, he broke the world land speed record in Dublin driving a 30hp Mors at nearly 83mph. But because the timing equipment was not approved, the governing body refused to acknowledge his accomplishment.

Frederick Henry Royce

To fund his sporting activities, Rolls set up one of the first car dealerships in Britain with his friend Claude Johnson: CS Rolls & Co. Together they imported and sold Peugeot motor cars from France and Minerva motor cars from Belgium.

In contrast to Rolls, who had had a privileged upbringing, Henry Royce was working by the age of nine. Born in 1863 in Peterborough, England, Royce sold newspapers and worked as a telegram boy before his fortunes changed.

At 14 years old, one of Royce’s aunts paid for him to begin an apprenticeship with Great Northern Railway Works. Working under one of the outstanding engineers of the day, Royce took every opportunity to educate himself, spending his evenings studying algebra, French and electrical engineering. With a natural talent for engineering, Royce landed a job with the Electric Light and Power Company.

Royce’s true ambition was to make engineering his full-time job. He started a business with his fellow engineer friend, Ernest Claremont – working around the clock to make electrical components such as doorbells and dynamos. It was during this time that Royce patented improvements to the bayonet light bulb that are still in use today.

Charles Stewart Rolls 

It wasn’t until he bought a second-hand two-cylinder French Decauville that Royce became interested in building motor cars. He had an instinctive desire for perfection and an innate work ethic that later became a pillar of Rolls-Royce philosophy: “Take the best that exists and make it better.”

Having found construction faults in the French Decauville, Royce vowed to do better. By the end of 1903, he had designed and built his first petrol engine – and in April 1904, he drove his first Royce 10hp motor car into town.