The total number of Rolls-Royce vehicles built over more than 100 years barely equals a month’s worth of production at General Motors today.
But what the company founded by Charles Stewart Rolls and Henry Royce lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in opulence and pedigree. As a direct result, the Rolls-Royce brand enjoys a loyal following among society’s elite.
With sufficient funds, affluent customers can commission their Rolls-Royce however they see fit, including the use of custom bodywork, purpose-built interior appointments and unique paintwork. Hand over the check and your whim is the command of the business.
Over the years, Rolls-Royce motor cars were used not only as luxury cars, but also as armored vehicles and ambulances during the First World War. Rolls-Royce-powered planes also helped Britain push back the Luftwaffe, as Nazi Germany tried to control the skies over England during World War II.
Rolls-Royce automobiles such as the Silver Ghost, Phantom, Silver Dawn and Silver Wraith helped establish the company’s tradition of excellence. But it was the Silver Cloud series that became the backbone of the company. Over a 10-year period, from 1955 to 1965, nearly 7,500 Silver Clouds were produced, the closest thing to mass production of a Rolls-Royce automobile.
The Silver Cloud I, launched in 1955, was a large rolling sculpture 5.4 meters long and weighing 2,000 kilograms. Power came from a 4.9-liter six-cylinder engine originally designed in the 1930s. To reinforce the mystique of the car, Rolls-Royce refused to supply rated horsepower for its engines (about 175 is a fair estimate), simply describing the power as “adequate”.
Early Silver Clouds (mainly sedans, but also a limited number of purpose-built coupes and convertibles) were fitted with either a four-speed manual transmission or a four-speed Hydramatic automatic which Rolls-Royce built under license from General Motors. However, after a year and a half, the much less popular manual gearbox was dropped from the list.
Inside, every Silver Cloud had the finest Connolly leather hides covering upholstered chair-like seats, Wilton wool carpeting and burl walnut interior trim. Inside the trunk, or “trunk”, was a tool kit that allowed the owner, or possibly the driver, to perform rudimentary maintenance or repairs.
The body of the Silver Cloud, attached separately to a beam-style frame, was beautifully crafted by the Pressed Steel Company of Oxford, England. The rear roof support pillar on sedans has been designed extra-wide to allow privacy for those occupying the rear seats. To reduce weight, the car’s doors, trunk and hood were hand-formed from aluminum. The latter was hinged in the middle, allowing access to the engine from either side of the car.
After applying 12 coats of hand-polished paint, the famous Rolls-Royce Flying Lady mascot (real name was Spirit of Ecstasy) was attached to the top of the Silver Cloud’s distinctive silver radiator shroud.
Despite the relatively large number of cars produced, each Silver Cloud lasted three months. Once on the road, however, the lucky owner was treated to a smooth, quiet ride and the quiet purr of the well-damped power plant. Stopping power was provided by drum brakes, deliberately selected instead of discs as they tended not to squeal.
The Silver Cloud II replaced the initial version in 1959. The car featured a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine (roughly 200 horsepower) similar to a design Cadillac had adopted 10 years ago. earlier. About 300 of the more than 2,700 Silver Cloud IIs made were special models of longer wheelbase limousines, with custom bodies by coach builders such as HJ Mulliner and James Young.
The Silver Cloud II gave way to the Silver Cloud III in 1962. Besides a slightly lower bonnet and radiator, this model featured quad headlights, which was roundly criticized by Rolls-Royce purists. The aluminum V-8 also received a slight horsepower boost (estimated at 220) that produced zero to 60 miles per hour in 11 seconds and a top speed of nearly 120 miles per hour. Not bad for a car weighing well over two metric tons.
In the end, all good things must come to an end, and so it was with the Silver Cloud when the last of the Series IIIs rolled off the factory in Crewe, England in 1965. The sultry, long-hooded fenders and the car’s slightly sloping rear axle were replaced. by the much bland Silver Shadow.
Today, the automotive division of Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW. To own a “base model” Phantom, you’ll have to shell out several times the price of a last-year Silver Cloud.
Then, like today, the price of trumpeting your success and good fortune is not cheap.
LATERAL BAR : Rolls Royce today
After the founding of Rolls-Royce in 1906, the company became involved in both the production of transport motor cars as well as the design and construction of piston and eventually jet aircraft engines.
Unfortunately, although the automotive side of the business remained profitable, it was the failure of the aircraft division in 1980 that forced Rolls-Royce into bankruptcy. The automotive group, made up of both Rolls-Royce and Bentley, was eventually purchased by Vickers.
The new owner entered into a joint venture relationship with BMW in 1995, which eventually led to the German automaker buying the Rolls-Royce name. Around the same time, the Bentley brand was acquired by Volkswagen. The two reconstituted Anglo-German automakers started producing all-new (and very unique) models from 2004.
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