Frederick Henry Royce, who with Charles Stewart Rolls founded the luxury British automaker Rolls-Royce, dies on this day in 1933 at the age of 70 in England.
Royce was born on March 27, 1863, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England. He grew up in a family of modest means and worked a variety of jobs, eventually becoming an electrician. In the mid-1880s, he founded a business that made electric cranes and electrical generators. In the early 1900s, after purchasing his first car, Royce began designing cars of his own, deciding he could build something better. Royce met British automotive dealer Charles Rolls, who agreed to sell Royce’s cars; the two men later formed a company, Rolls-Royce Limited. Royce, who was known for his attention to detail and perfectionism, served as head engineer. The six-cylinder Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which debuted in 1906, was dubbed by the British press the world’s “best car.”
In 1910, Charles Rolls died at the age of 32 while piloting his own plane. Royce continued on with their company and during World War I, designed aircraft engines for the Allied forces. Following the war, Rolls-Royce returned to making cars, launching the Phantom I , a vehicle that was “powered by an all-new, pushrod-operated overhead valve engine with detachable cylinder heads–cutting-edge technology for its time,” according to the automotive information Web site Edmunds.com. In 1931, Rolls-Royce acquired rival luxury automaker Bentley. Frederick Henry Royce died on April 22, 1933, at West Wittering, West Sussex, England.
In 1950, Rolls-Royce introduced the powerful and highly exclusive Phantom IV. Only 18 of these cars were produced, according to Edmunds.com, and they all went to royalty and other VIPs. The automaker continued to thrive during the 1950s and 1960s; however, in 1971, Rolls-Royce Ltd. declared bankruptcy after financial troubles related to the development of a jet engine. The company was restructured into two separate businesses: automotive and aircraft. In 1980, the auto company was acquired by a British defense business, Vickers. The following year, the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, a car designed to attract a new generation of buyers, launched.
In the late 1990s, when Vickers decided to sell Rolls-Royce, German automakers Volkswagen and BMW each made a play for the business. VW ended up acquiring the Rolls-Royce production facilities in Crewe, England, while BMW got the rights to the Rolls-Royce car brand. BMW licensed the Rolls-Royce name to VW until the end of 2002, then BMW began producing Rolls-Royce cars in 2003. VW continued to make Bentleys at the Crewe plant.