The Rolls-Royce Light Twenty 1905: 26350
by John Kennedy
This car, a four cylinder Rolls-Royce Light 20, is one of only two surviving examples of the model. It was the third such car to be built and the first production model; it is one of the earliest surviving Rolls-Royce motor cars. First registered by Charles Rolls in December 1905, it is similar to the two prototype cars which he and Percy Northey drove in the first Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race in September of that year.
This car was discovered in 1945 at the old Henry Royce home of Brae Cottage in Knutsford, Cheshire. The first owner was Charles H. Benton, from the same town.
This model, the only true early sports car made by Rolls-Royce, was raced in Ireland, the Isle of Man and the USA between 1905 and 1907, enabling Rolls-Royce cars to gain an early reputation by taking second place in the 1905 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race, winning the 1906 Isle of Man TT Race and also winning various sprint races at Empire City Track, New York and Ormond Beach, Florida. Rolls himself drove the cars on many of these occasions and also beat the Monte-Carlo to London record in a Light 20 in May 1906. This actual car was never raced.
When Rolls-Royce introduced their Silver Ghost model in 1907, the company ceased production of all other models. No more than 40 examples of this early 20 horsepower model were built, even though, by their early racing successes, they helped to give Rolls-Royce its reputation for quiet and reliable cars.
This car was originally restored in 1953 by Stanley Sears, who acquired the car in 1945 and retained it until 1983. It was acquired by the present owners in 1987, since when the engine and running gear have been completely overhauled.
In 1990 the car travelled to France to take part in 80th anniversary commemoration of the first two-way non-stop flight across the Channel (by Charles Rolls) and was received with great interest at Sangatte, near Calais, where Eurotunnel held a reception to mark the occasion, then at Reims, where the champagne firm of Ruinart, who had presented Rolls with a cup in 1910, held a special dinner at their historic cellars to commemorate the event.
On at least seven occasions, including September 2005, when both the car and the TT were celebrating their centenary, this Light 20 has taken part in commemorative runs of the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races.
It is still capable of speeds of up to 60 miles per hour (100 Km/H).
During 2002, this car took part in the Windsor Jubilee celebrations, then was the first early Rolls-Royce motor car to visit the new Rolls-Royce factory near Goodwood. In November 2002 it had a special invitation to participate in its first ever London-Brighton run, where it finished in a running time of some three and a half hours in spite of traffic conditions.
On 4th May 2004 this car was present at the special lunch held at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, to commemorate the centenary of the first meeting between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. In September 2005, the car again visited the Isle of Man, this time to celebrate its own centenary along with the centenary of the Isle of Man TT. Again the car traversed the original route, this time with the grandson of John Napier, who drove the Arrol Johnson to victory in the original event in which a Light 20 driven by Percy Northey came in as runner up. The car returned to the Isle of Man in September 2006, this time to celebrate the centenary of the TT win by Charles Rolls in a sister car.
In January 2007 it travelled to America to drive along Ormond Beach in Florida, celebrating 100 years since the Rolls-Royce win in beach races with a sister car in January 1907.
© 2009 John L Kennedy