Charles Rolls of Rolls-
The book tells the story of Charles Stewart Rolls , pioneer motorist, balloonist and aviator,
best know as the co-
The book captures the spirit of the Victorian and Edwardian age of motoring -
Rolls was just nineteen when the Red Flag Act was repealed in 1896.
Rolls had the first car at Cambridge, the first car in Wales, and wrote on motoring in the
Press and Encyclopaedia Britannica in his very early twenties.
He raced in the scary, inter-
early Tourist Trophy race, over 200 miles, on the Isle of Man, held the Monte Carlo Rally record,
and controversially the World Land Speed Record -
against fierce competition, seeking to publicise the ‘Best Car in the World’.
He had a London car showroom, which held two hundred cars, and employed some seventy staff.
The firm trained chauffeurs, sold cars, taught people to drive and sold cars on hire purchase, an
innovation at that time.
Rolls was astute enough to recruit Claude Goodman Johnson, who was superb at public
relations, first for C.S.Rolls & Co., Where he was a manager with Rolls, and then later on with
Club of Great Britain and Ireland), the ultimate authority in matters motoring, since the birth
of British car ownership.
Seeking a quality English car to sell, Rolls met Henry Royce, and despite their disparate
backgrounds, a marriage made in heaven ensued. Both men were perfectionists. Rolls knew
wealthy buyers wanted -
remain long after the price was forgotten.
Unlike Napier and Edge, their principal rivals, sales and manufacture merged, and Rolls-
went on to make ‘The Best Car in the World’, raising finance for expansion and meticulous
development on the strength of its prowess and reputation for supreme quality.
Ironically, once Rolls-
particularly the Silver Ghost, Rolls was needed less and less. He, therefore, having followed
events unfolding in America, turned to the next frontier -
for ballooning to study wind and weather.
He met the Wright Brothers, learned to fly in a year and was looking to build aeroplanes under
licence in England, in the year in which he made the first two-
weeks later he was dead, killed at a flying show in Bournemouth.
A private, handsome man, son of a millionaire peer, Rolls socialised discreetly.
His dedication to motoring and flying, and his parsimony, made him a complex character,
unmarried at the date of his death.
The book introduces a heavyweight cast of characters whom Rolls was lucky enough to meet,
socialise and work with. These included Lord Northcliffe (Alfred Harmsworth), founder of the
Daily Mail, Sir Henry Royce, Claude Johnson (the Hyphen in Rolls-
Montagu, the motoring M.P., The artist and sculptor Charles Sykes, Lord Brabazon of Tara,
Orville and Wilbur Wright, Louis Bleriot and the Prince of Wales, and in ballooning, bon viveur
adventurer, Frank Hedges Butler, and Griffith Brewer.
Fellow race competitors, apart from Brabazon include Australian Selwyn Edge, and Charles
Jarrott, who, like Rolls, motored fearlessly in the early intercity races across Europe.
In a man’s world there was no shortage of glamour. The ladies included balloonists Vera
Hedges Butler who, at sixteen, climbed Mont Blanc, and Mrs May Harbord, both, at one time,
companions of Rolls. Via Car Illustrated, edited by Montagu, Rolls Would have known Selwyn
Edge’s girlfriend and works driver Dorothy Levitt, ‘The Fastest Girl on Earth’, and also Montagu’s
long time mistress, Eleanor Thornton, generally regarded as Sykes model for the Sprit of
Ecstasy, better known as the Flying Lady.
the spirit, elan and glamour of the Edwardian era, which existed before World War 1 brought it to