The Honourable Charles Rolls was an astute businessman who was able to ensure that the motor cars designed by Royce were sold to an appreciative audience.
Together Rolls and Royce built and sold some of the finest motor cars ever made: indeed, there are present day owners of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost from the early 1900s who are adamant that it has yet to be surpassed!
These two gentlemen created their extraordinary business around a number of guiding principles. Sir Henry Royce famously said: "Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. If it doesn’t exist, design it."
What an uncompromising and yet practical approach – you can hear the engineer’s sense of logic shining through. Nothing less than perfection is good enough, it says, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take the latest high-tech solutions as a start point and then build on them, but equally, don’t be afraid to begin from the beginning if nobody has trodden this path before.
A second very simple notion of Sir Henry’s that struck a chord was this:
"Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble."
Take pride, it says, in the smallest of tasks – as long as you do them right. Be obsessed with the detail. It’s simple, but yet so powerful.
We found enormous strength in both these sentiments, which seemed to reverberate down the years and truly have helped to guide us right through this project.
Back in the heyday of Rolls-Royce, in the first half of the 20th century, these guiding principles and beliefs helped create a level of design and engineering excellence that was previously unheard of. Rolls-Royce engines were unquestionably the best and their use extended beyond motor cars of course. At various times during the 1920s and 1930s, for example, Rolls-Royce-powered craft held world speed records on land, water and in the air.
Talking of the land speed records, Rolls-Royce is still on top. On 15 October 1997, Thrust SSC became the first car to go supersonic on land, breaking the world record at an average of more than 763 mph.
It was powered by two Rolls-Royce jet engines, developing 55,000 lb of thrust. A separate organisation is responsible for the aerospace side of the business now of course, but nevertheless it still carries the proud name.
But it is for its motor cars that the company is best know, particularly those built in the first half of the 20th century. Names like Silver Ghost, Phantom, Silver Cloud are etched in automotive history and extraordinarily the majority of these models are still running today.
The Rolls-Royce legacy is enormously rich. And from mid 1998 it has been our job, as the custodians of the marque, to try to live up to this remarkable heritage.
Custodians? Yes, I think that’s the right word. We are not arrogant enough to consider that we own Rolls-Royce. But as keepers of the name, we do know we have a tremendous responsibility to create an organisation, a manufacturing facility and a motor car which lives up to the highest expectations of this great marque.
The association of the Rolls-Royce name as a synonym for excellence has now passed into the vernacular. How many times have we heard that ‘such and such’ is the Rolls-Royce of… well, you name it: every field has its own ‘Rolls-Royce’.
But, we are all aware that there has been a question hanging in the air over recent years: "What is the Rolls-Royce of Motor Cars?"
We have approached this question with a level of passion and commitment of which, I’d like to think, Sir Henry Royce would have been proud.
When this great adventure started back in 1998, there were two fundamentals that were clear from the outset.
Although the acquisition of the rights to the name was agreed between Rolls-Royce plc, and our parent company, the BMW Group, it was clear that ‘Project Rolls-Royce’ – as we were originally called – should be an independent company. And throughout its development, project Rolls-Royce remained fiercely independent with its own dedicated teams, its own premises and now with the launch of the new company, its own stand-alone global structure. At the same time though it has had the superb engineering resources and technological know-how of the BMW Group at its disposal.
It was equally clear that the company should be based here in Great Britain. Rolls-Royce is a company which has always had its roots planted firmly in Britain and at no time was it ever contemplated taking Rolls-Royce Motor Cars anywhere else.
As one half of the fledgling company went about looking for a suitable greenfield site for a new headquarters and manufacturing plant, the other half set about designing our new car.
I’ll come on to what led us to Goodwood later, but first I’d like to concentrate on the new Rolls-Royce itself.