FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

 

Q: Are Rolls-Royce cars guaranteed for life?

A: No. Over the years the length of the warranty has varied, but it has usually been about the same as most quality cars, typically 3 years. A warranty, after all, is only against faulty components and production. After a year's use, any faulty components ought to have shown up. And of course a faulty Rolls-Royce would not (ahem!) be sold. There is a story that a Lady, being shown through the Factory by Mr Royce, and seeing the armies of inspectors and checkers, asked him what would happen if a faulty car got past them all. "Madam," he replied, "the gatekeeper would not let it leave."

Rolls-Royce Radiator Mascot
Toad of Toad Hall Mascot

Q: Why is the radiator mascot an angel?

A: It isn't. It is an ecstatic young lady in a voluminous and diaphanous gown, leaning forward into the airflow. If you look closely, you can see her pony-tail, her toes, and even her fingertips through the flimsy robe. The mascot's official name is "The Spirit of Ecstacy", (top left; click to enlarge) designed by sculptor and painter Charles Sykes, but it is also popularly known as the Flying Lady, the Silver Lady, and even "Nellie in her Nightie" (after Eleanor Thornton, the model who posed for the sculpture.)

Q: Come to think of it, why does Rolls-Royce have a mascot on the radiator at all?

A: In the days before and after World War One, when all cars had exposed radiators, it was hugely fashionable to put fancy ornaments on the radiator caps. There were biplanes with rotating propellors, fat policemen, tasteless nudes, golfers, elegant Lalique crystal; a million varieties. Many of them were exceedingly trashy and cheap, lowering the tone of the car, so Rolls-Royce commissioned Charles Sykes to produce a classy one. It was available from 1911 as an option from the Factory, and most owner chose to accept the option. In later years it became standard. Rolls-Royce is probably the last manufacturer to have a radiator cap on top of a radiator (even though both the cap and radiator are dummies now), hence somewhere to put a mascot. Today a Rolls-Royce buyer would feel swindled if the new car didn't come with the mascot.

Not all owners use the official mascot even today. The Queen has a silver mascot of St George slaying the Dragon on her official Rolls-Royces. And one WA Club Member has a delightful mascot of Toad of Toad Hall, (left bottom; click to enlarge) that fanatical motorist from Wind in the Willows, on his Silver Ghost.

Q: Is the mascot solid silver?

A: No. Silver is very hard to keep shiny; it tends to stain and blacken (ask anybody with a cupboard full of silver plated sporting trophies!). Originally, all the radiator mascots were cast in bronze in sculptor Charles Sykes's studio, and then usually nickel plated. In recent years they have been cast in a special stainless steel alloy which does not require plating. (Normal stainless steel is notoriously difficult to cast, hence the special "casting" alloy.)

Q: Why are Rolls-Royce models called "Silver this" and "Silver that"?

A: In the early days of motoring it was quite common for owners of expensive motor cars to give them names, rather as they would their motor yacht, or their country house. They would even attach nameplates to their cars. One such early name was "Silver Ghost", applied to a special 40-50 hp factory show and competition car, rego AX201. "Silver" because it was painted silver, and "Ghost" because of its ghostly silence. Other Rolls-Royce names at the same time were "Silver Rogue" (also silver, but with a hotted-up engine, hence "Rogue") and even "Silver Phantom", also applied to 40/50 hp cars. These weren't factory model names; they were individual car names.

The "Silver Ghost" (left) became so famous in its own time that the 40-50 hp model was often referred to as the "Silver Ghost type". Eventually all 40/50 hp cars became known informally as Silver Ghosts, although the factory didn't call them that (just as the Holden factory never had an FX model, it was officially the 48, but everyone knows what you mean).

The first Rolls-Royce to have a name was the 40-50 hp New Phantom, the model that replaced the Silver Ghost. This was superseded by the Phantom 2, and then the Phantom 3. The small pre-war range was known by its horsepower rating until 1938 when the "Wraith" was introduced.

After the War the first new Rolls-Royce was the Silver Wraith, and this was the also the first official "Silver" model. It was soon joined by the "Silver Dawn". The "Silver" of course harked back to the original Silver Ghost, and all the second words have suggested something ethereal and silent. Rolls-Royce nearly slipped up when the Silver Cloud was replaced by the Silver Shadow. The Silver Shadow was originally going to be called the Silver Mist, a natural progression from Silver Cloud. Then someone pointed out that, in German, "mist" means, literally and inelegantly, crap. It's doubtful if many Germans would have wanted to drive a Silver Crap, so Shadow was chosen instead. The Shadow was replaced by the Silver Spirit, back to the ghostly theme, and that was followed by the Silver Seraph, which was discontinued in 2002.

When the all-new Rolls-Royce emerged from the all-new Sussex factory in 2003, it was called simply the Rolls-Royce "Phantom". When the long awaied smaller Rolls-Royce finally appeared in 2010, it was named the Ghost. No "Silver" in the name.

Q: The Rolls-Royce engine is a copy of an American V8, right? A Chev 327, I heard.

A. Wrong. At the end of WW2 Rolls-Royce was a designer and manufacturer of every type of engine imaginable. They made huge marine diesels and small to medium diesels. They made petrol engines for trucks, tanks, jeeps, fire engines, and aeroplanes; and they made jet aircraft engines. The company was awash with expert engine designers. The company had designed every one of its own car engines since the very beginning, and they ran the gamut from cast-iron twins to aluminium V12s. The new 90 degree V8 car engine was laid down in the very early 1950s to a very tight set of parameters, and designed by veteran R-R engine designer Jack Phillips. Among other things, it had to be substantially larger in capacity without being any longer or any heavier than the 4.9 litre six, and it had to cost no more to make.

Back in the 1920s, when Henry Ford decided to introduce a V8, his engineers went out and purchased an example of every V8 on the US market - some 19 different engines, several of them European. The Ford V8 when it came out wasn't a copy of any of them. When R-R made a similar decision, they bought just two: the Cadillac ohv V8, and a Chrysler Hemi, both then 5.3 litres. When the R-R engine came out it wasn't copy of either of them, and the R-R alloy V8 was already running in protoype when the cast-iron Chev small-block was introduced in 1955.

A quick comparison of key features of the designs:

Feature
Rolls-Royce
Cadillac
Chrysler
Chev Small block
.
Material
Aluminium Alloy
Cast iron
Cast iron
Cast iron
Crankcase depth
Deep skirt
No skirt
No skirt
No skirt
Distributor drive
Rear of Camshaft
Rear of Camshaft
Rear of Camshaft
Rear of Camshaft
Oil Pump drive
Front of Crankshaft
Rear of Camshaft
Rear of Camshaft
Rear of Camshaft
Rocker Pivots
Shaft
Shaft
Shaft
Ball Pivot
Wet Liners
Yes
No
No
No

At that time, no US car manufacturer was producing very large, aluminium, wet-sleeve, deep-skirt V8 engines, which is what the 6.75 litre Rolls-Royce engine is. Rolls-Royce used Merlin aviation engine technology to seal the removable liners, and the engine layout was carefully designed to fit into the long, narrow Silver Cloud engine bay, which is why the timing chest is so deep. Accessories such as alternators and power steering pumps had to be carried in front of the heads, because there was no room beside them. This narrowness was very handy when the smaller Silver Shadow came along in 1965. The big V8, despite its narrowness, is a very tight squeeze in the engine bay. It is still in production after more than 45 years.

The first version, introduced in 1959, produced a lazy 200 bhp at 4000 rpm, but massive amounts of effortless torque, which is what the designers were looking for. The latest edition is twin turbocharged and produces an astounding 550 bhp, moving the latest Bentley Brooklands coupe, a two-tonne mobile stately home, at over 150 mph in eerie silence.

Q: What have Bentley got to do with Rolls-Royce?

A: Bentley was founded by W O Bentley after WW1, produced a famous line of fast sports-touring cars, won several Le Mans races, and went bust in the Depression. The company was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1931. Conspiracy theorists have it that Rolls-Royce bought Bentley to suppress the new, impressive 8-litre Bentley, which threatened to take sales from the similar-sized Rolls-Royce Phantom 1. Far more likely is that Rolls-Royce wanted to broaden their market by appealing to wealthy young sports, who thought that Rolls-Royces were for elderly dowagers. They wanted Bentley's image, and Bentley's wealthy, sporty young customers.

Until WW2, Bentley cars were different from their Rolls-Royce stable mates. They used the "small" Rolls-Royce engine and gearbox in a much lower and lighter sporty chassis, to give high performance with Rolls-Royce refinement. They were known as The Silent Sports Car, or as Derby Bentleys (after where they were built) or, in the public's mind at the time, "Rolls-Bentleys". The Bentley did what Rolls-Royce had hoped: it opened a whole new market to Rolls-Royce manufactured cars, without taking anything away from its existing luxury market. Derby Bentleys sold very well indeed.

After WW2, Bentleys steadily lost their distinctive differences, until by the mid-1950s they were identical to their Rolls-Royce counterparts. In 1982 Rolls-Royce revived the distinction with the sensationally fast Bentley Mulsanne Turbo and later Turbo R (R for "roadholding"). In the 1990s Bentley offered the Continental R coupe and Azure convertible, models not available as Rolls-Royces. The companies were separated after 2002, with Rolls-Royce owned by BMW and Bentley by VW. Once again Bentley cars and Rolls-Royce cars became distinct.

Q: Is it true that Rolls-Royce cars never break down?

A: Yes, it's true. Rolls-Royce cars do not break down the way lesser cars do. Sometimes, however, they, er, "fail to proceed".

Q: What are the picnic tables for?

A: Picnics of course. They can't be used while the car is moving because everything would slide into your lap. M'lord and m'lady, stopping briefly by the roadside for a snack and a glass of bubbly while travelling, wouldn't have to eat from plates in their laps; and they would have somewhere to put the crystal champagne flute (or gin and tonic glass) between sips. Lesser cars have cupholders; in a Rolls-Royce you have picnic tables.