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Car of the Month

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Rossfeldt: Rolls-Royce and Bentley / From the Dawn of the 20th Century into the new Millennium



Car of the Month - March 2020
Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., 1906, #40523
Barker Roi-des-Belges


2020 is the year to celebrate the 'Centenary of Rolls-Royce of America' because "real business activities" of Rolls-Royce of America, Inc., did start 1st February 1920. That has been the day when at the factory at Hendee Street, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, five employees of Rolls-Royce of America, Inc., began their work  " check and order tools from English prints...". Increasingly busy activities  to make 'Springfield' Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost began 100 years ago; hence 2020 marks the 'Centenary of Rolls-Royce of America'.

Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.
1906 Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., # 40523. C.S. Rolls at the steering wheel with Rolls-Royce’s director Claude Goodman Johnson in the passenger seat and P. Northey in the rear seat. The photo taken in front of the Alpine Club, London, shows the car prior to the frame becoming drilled to save weight and wooden wheels substituted by wire wheels.

Well worth to look back further and check which had been the first Rolls-Royce motor cars ever exported to America? Charles Stewart Rolls (the ‘Rolls’ in Rolls-Royce) arranged for the first three Rolls-Royce motor cars to arrive on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1906 he travelled to the USA and with him he had taken two Rolls-Royce 30 H.P. 6-cylinder cars plus a Rolls-Royce 20 H.P. 'Light Twenty' 4-cylinder. The Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., #40523, he entered successfully in several competitive events and that was a key factor to gain publicity.

Rolls-Royce 20 H.P
1906 Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., # 40523, piloted by P. Northey. Coachwork in the from of a Special side Entrance Light Tourer was by Barker in the form of. Shown here during a lighter moment when practising for the RAC Tourist Trophy 1906 on Isle of Man.

Bodied by Barker as a Special side entrance Light Tourer this car had been used as a works demonstrator. A prominent event had been a 10th thru 12th May 1906 run from Monte Carlo to London with C.S. Rolls at the wheel. Following that #40523 – with the Cromwell windscreen taken off for weight saving – was driven by P. Northey to practice for the "RAC Tourist Trophy 1906" that was scheduled on the Isle of Man for September that year (on that training C.S Rolls employed a second Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.). After the practice on the Isle of Man the T.T. cars were fitted with louvred bonnets, wire wheels, lighter exhaust systems, and new petrol tanks with ''aps getable'.  Their frames and some engine parts were drilled. The engines were refined with balanced crankshaft and domed pistons, lightened flywheels, aluminium pumps, and 112½ rather than 110 degree camshafts.  In the event, alas, Northey had the misfortune not to finish because he damaged the car. However C.S. Rolls won the 1906 Tourist Trophy with a second Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., so for the company it was a success.

Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.
1906 Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., # 40523, piloted by P. Northey. Up-Dated by weith-savin features plus ‘tuning’ of engine and drivetrain the car was entered in the RAC Tourist Trophy 1906. The team suffered from a mishap and #40523 “did not finish”. This photo of the car limping home after the accident with Northey and his driving mechanic Macready provides a glimpse of the damaged left side front wing.

Damage to #40523 cannot have been too severe, because repairs were finished within a few days. The car went with C.S. Rolls to the USA where it arrived 17th October 1906. On American soil C.S. Rolls played the “trump card” of the fabulously well-prepared Rolls-Royce 20 H.P. to be capable to stand against competitors of much larger capacity. In November 1906 he succeeded in the Silver Trophy Race Empire City Track, Yonkers, New York. He was awarded a Silver Medal – and worth a note is his competitors had been cars featuring engines of much larger capacity and rated at double or even triple the horsepower figure of the 20 H.P. (e.g. Peerless 45 H.P., Renault 60 H.P. etc.)  

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Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.
1906 Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., # 40523, with C.S. Rolls at the wheel and R. Macready as riding mechanic. The card signed by C.S. Rolls is proof C.S. Rolls as an alert business man was keen to achieve publicity from success in competitions and to transform that into a marketing-tool. 

C.S. Rolls arranged for the Rolls-Royce 20 H.P. to be noted at the right spots by prospective purchasers. Florida with its mild climate was the area where a vast number of wealthy Americans spent time of the winter months. In January 1907 Ormond Beach, Florida, was the location, where #40523 became successfully raced by company driver R. Macready. It was at that stage a contract on the car’s sale was finalized. As per factory documents "the 20 H.P. was sold to Captain Hutton from Texas".  

Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.
1906 Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., # 40523, with R. Macready and Capt. Hutton. A highlight of winter vacation in Florida was for wealthy Americans to flock at Ormond Beach to view the races there. Hence it was ‘the right crowd’ to become demonstrated the 4-cylinder sports car’s superior qualities.

In the light of later research it seems more probable Capt. Hutton acted as an agent who did assist to establish the new marque based on highly-publicised victories. By October 1907 a certain A. Sewell, New York, is listed as new owner for #40523.