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Roles Royce releases new model for centenary celebrations

May 12, 2003

A couple rides in an antique Rolls Royce during celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the company, in Manchester, England, 04 May, 2004.

The new, ultra-exclusive Rolls Royce Centenary Phantom, made for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the company - with a limited run of only 35
Photo: AFP/Steve Parkin
LONDON — One hundred years ago Tuesday in a hotel in northwest England, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce shook hands on an agreement to manufacture motor cars, launchng a partnership that would immortalise their two names, now a synonym for luxury and class.

A few months after that meeting at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, the first of the 90,000 Rolls-Royces to be built over the next century emerged from their workshop, making their public debut at the Paris motor show in December 1904.

Charles Stewart Rolls was the well-born son of a wealthy British peer, with a Cambridge University degree in engineering and a passion for cars and flying. He became Britain's first aircraft fatality in 1910 when his biplane broke up and crashed.

Frederick Henry Royce was of humbler birth, the son of a miller, a onetime railways apprentice who had built up his own business as a manufacturer of cranes and dynamos.

The car business ceased to be British in July 1998 when it was bought by the German manufacturer BMW, but the aircraft engine division, into which Royce diversified in World War I, remains British and employs some 35,000 people, 60 percent of them in Britain.

Royce had a simple ambition: "to turn out the best car in the world, regardless of cost, and to sell it to those people who could appreciate a good article and were able and willing to pay for it." There has never been a shortage of people ready to take out their chequebooks to buy a Rolls, even exotic models such as the Silver Seraph manufactured from 1998 to 2001, the only model not to be powered by an RR engine but by a BMW V12, or the Italian-designed two-door Camargue.

Owners have included show business or sporting stars, among them boxing icon Muhammad Ali, Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, singer Frank Sinatra, writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Rudyard Kipling, actors including Richard Burton, Cary Grant and Brigitte Bardot, and even politicians as unlikely as Russia's Leonid Brezhnev and Lenin.

But the core market for the cars has always been among the planet's ruling families, from the British royal family to Princess Grace of Monaco, from the Shah of Iran to the Sultan of Brunei. The Phantom IV, of which only 18 models were produced, was sold exclusively to a select clientele.

Rolls Royce engines powered the fighter aircraft -- Spitfires and Hurricanes -- which won the Battle of Britain in 1940, and World War II bombers such as the Lancaster.

After merging in 1966 with Bristol Siddeley, the firm produced the Olympus, which powered the supersonic Concorde and the Pegasus for the vertical take off and landing Harrier military aircraft.

Rolls Royce engines equip many Airbus and Boeing planes, and its Trent motors will be used on the super-jumbo Airbus A380 jet and Boeing's planned 7E7 Dreamliner.

And it is engines bearing the famous RR logo that power the world's costliest, largest and heaviest cruise liner, the French-built Queen Mary 2. –Sapa-AFP

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