3 shocking insights from Rolls-Royce history

Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

A founder who predicted modern EV adoption, and another who was a pioneering electrical engineer – Rolls-Royce has a spark-filled history despite its reputation for superb cars and engines

Goodwood, UK – Rolls-Royce will announce its first full-production, all-electric car later this week and in anticipation of that, it’s hyping up its surprising electric heritage. In its long history, Rolls-Royce has become famous for ultra-opulence, refinement – and whacking great V12 engines. But here are some surprising facts from the company’s past that are all about volts rather than V-engines. 

1. Charles Rolls said EVs were the future – 121 years ago

One half of the founding pair of the company, the engineer Charles Rolls, had an early fascination with electricity. Aged nine, he wired a bell from his bedroom to the stables at his ancestral home. 

As a young man, he acquired an electric car – The Columbia Electric Carriage – way back in 1898 and pronounced it one of the best cars on the (admittedly small) market at the time. But while he knew the benefits of electrics, he was also wise to their drawbacks – the need for charging infrastructure. 

Charles Rolls in the Columbia Electric Carriage circa 1900

In April 1900 he told the Motor Car Journal: “The electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean.  There is no smell or vibration, and they should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged.  But for now, I do not anticipate that they will be very serviceable – at least for many years to come.”

In fact, in 1904 he became the agent for a French electric car brand Contal, but ditched it when he went into business with a certain Henry Royce

2. Henry Royce was one of the first electrical engineers in the world 

Henry Royce

Electrical power really took off toward the latter half of the 1800s, and Henry Royce – born in 1863 – had early employment in 1881 at the  Electric Light & Power Generating Company (EL&PG) in Southwark, UK. There, took night classes in electrics or what passed for electrical engineering of the time.

Eventually, Royce began his own company making small electrical appliances and moving onto heavier equipment. In 1902, the company supplied motors to Pritchett and Gold, a battery maker that expanded into making electric cars. 

Royce’s company fortuned waned after 1900 and Royce then pivoted to another kind of product entirely, the motor car, setting up Rolls-Royce limited in 1904. 

Chief Ed Derryn drives the S$1.8m Rolls-Royce Ghost Extended Wheelbase and discovers the best umbrella he’s ever used in his otherwise sordid life

3. Rolls-Royce’s ‘Other Henry’ was also a bright spark of the age

Henry Edmunds

The man that brought Henry Royce and Charles Rolls together was Henry Edmunds, who himself was an entrepreneur, electrical engineer, and experienced driver of both industry and automobiles. 

While he played no direct part in Rolls-Royce itself, it was he who introduced the pair at the Manchester Hotel on May 4, 1904. He was friends with Thomas Edison, Joseph Swan (inventor of the lightbulb) and setup W T Glover & Company, which would become the world’s leading maker of electric cables. 

All that history is real jolting, but where’s the new car?

The Rolls-Royce 102EX

Here’s what we know so far: The EV will be an all-new development rather than an electrified version of an existing model, and as rumours say it will be named ‘Silent Shadow’. 

In keeping with previous statements, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös, and the brand have previously mentioned that the car would arrive before 2030, be a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV), and will only be ‘launched when the time is right, and every element meets Rolls-Royce’s technical, aesthetic and performance standards.’

What could it be like?

Rolls-Royce 103EX concept

The brand’s latest concept the 103EX  embodies what a Rolls without a honking great V12 would be like.

A decade ago Rolls showed off its first electric concept, the 102EX, which was based on the Phantom limousine and used as a test bed for an electric future. The 290kW-800Nm electric motor was more muscular more than the 6.75-litre V12 of the time (338kW, 720Nm), but limited range, battery life, and long charge time meant it didn’t become a production reality then

 Stay tuned to CarBuyer.com.sg for the announcement on the new car this week. 

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about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong