1904 10hp 20154: U44: The world's oldest surviving Rolls-Royce
by Stewart Skilbeck, Bonhams Motoring Specialist www.bonhams.com
Rolls and Royce had agreed to develop and produce a range of twin-cylinder, three-cylinder, four-cylinder and six-cylinder cars, all clearly developed from Royce’s three prototype twins. The plan was to build nineteen 10hp cars although only seventeen were finally constructed. These cars, designated Type A, featured a twin-cylinder engine with three-bearing crankshaft and twin camshafts operating overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves. The 1.8-litre engine drove through a cone clutch to a three-speed sliding gearbox with shaft final drive.
The Type A 10hp models were prefixed 20. 20151 can be considered to be the first Rolls-Royce motor car following the marketing agreement between Rolls and Royce. The engine for this car was tested on 21 August 1904 and the car delivered to sewing machine magnate, Paris E Singer, a friend of Rolls. 20152 came off test on 27 September 1904 and notably was the first car to sport the classical Rolls-Royce radiator shape. This Barker-bodied car was delivered to Joseph Blamires of Huddersfield. 20153 came off test on 10 October 1904, carried coachwork commissioned from Cann of Camden and was delivered to a Lt Col Moffatt of Tidworth, Wiltshire.
Car no. 20154 – this car – came off test in November 1904 and was the third car to wear the Rolls-Royce radiator and the fourth car to carry the Rolls-Royce name. It was developed as a show car and Barker were commissioned to build the Park Phaeton coachwork with two occasional rear seats. It was this car that was selected for exhibition at the ‘Salon de L’Automobile’ in Paris, an exhibition that ran from 9 to 25 December that year. Remarkably this car was driven by C Vivian Moore from London to Southampton and then from Le Havre to Paris for the exhibition.
20154 (right) about to depart Lillie Hall for the Paris Salon. The first Royce prototype in on the left. Picture & caption from A reflection on the pre-40/50hp cars by Tom Clarke in Vol I The Edwardian Rolls-Royce by Fasal & Goodman, 1994.
The Autocar of 10 December 1904 congratulated C S Rolls & Co. Ltd for displaying ‘all-British cars in the midst of France’s best’ and complimenting the company in the following terms: ‘The design and workmanship of these cars are excellent throughout and the exhibit reflects great credit on those responsible for its being beneath the roof of the Grand Palais’. Exhibited alongside 20154 on that stand were the first Royce, also driven to Paris, along with 15hp and 20hp cars, shown in an unfinished state, along with a six-cylinder 30hp engine.
20154 returned from Paris and was displayed at the Olympia Motor Exhibition in London in February 1905 on the Rolls-Royce stand, along with a 15hp and 30hp car, again the two larger cars being exhibited in an incomplete state.
Rolls was keen to promote the 10hp model as a most suitable car for the medical profession and it is thought that a Dr Briggs owned 20154 briefly in 1905, possibly for trial or demonstration purposes before the car passed to a Kenneth Gillies of Tain in Scotland, remaining in his ownership until 1910. The car later belonged to Dr Kenneth MacGregor of Thurso, Scotland, from 1910 to 1913 and a Dr W H Wishart of Fife and later Edinburgh from 1913. The next recorded owner was a Frank Trafford, Motor Engineer, of 63 Westcliffe Terrace, Harrogate, the car later passing in 1920 to Percy C Binns of 34 Victoria Avenue, Harrogate and later of Woodhouse Lane, Leeds. The car was reputedly a 21 birthday present to Binns from his great uncle, a Scottish worsted manufacturer. At this time the car was fitted with a later-style streamlined body, updating its general appearance, a domed radiator cowl mounted over the original classical Rolls-Royce radiator. Binns, an insurance company manager, used the car until 1930 when it was finally retired.
In 1950 the car was discovered in a farm building at Seacroft, near Leeds, by the late Oliver Langton who, along with brother Eric, was a notable pre-war speedway and TT rider. It is reputed that this car, along with others, had been parked in a field during World War II to prevent the landing of enemy aircraft. Ownership was traced to Percy Binns who agreed to sell his car and a deal was struck on 30 August 1950 allowing it to be removed from Whinmoor Lodge, Seacroft. 20154 was found to be in remarkably original condition as far as all mechanical and chassis elements were concerned, even the original radiator was found lurking under the 1920's cowling. The steering box and base of the column had at some time been changed, a later 20hp Rolls-Royce steering box having been fitted, which the car still retains.
A four year restoration was embarked upon, Oliver using his own skills and those of his ace-engineer brother Eric to restore the car to its former glory. A period four-seater Edwardian body was located, the front seats providing the two-seater coachwork currently fitted to this car and the back seats providing, reputedly, the coachwork for a two-seater 1907 Mercedes 40/45hp car.
Photos Colin Hughes
Oliver completed the car in time to participate in the 1954 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, accompanied on that occasion by his good friend James P Smith, a fellow motorcycle enthusiast and owner of 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis no. 60577. The car was at that stage registered with the number U 44, a number given to him by his local friend Mr Bryden. A complete London to Brighton Run was achieved that year, the start of many during Oliver’s ownership. In 1955, returning from the London to Brighton Run, the crankshaft broke and a new crankshaft was fabricated using Oliver and Eric Langton’s exceptional engineering skills. The car was to remain in Oliver Langton’s ownership until 1978, taking part in many Veteran Car Club events, both at home and overseas, as well as appearing at many charity and display events in and around Oliver’s home county of Yorkshire.
During his ownership the Rolls-Royce badge was added to the radiator to fend off the inevitable question “what make is it mister?”
20154 was acquired in 1978 by Tom Love who had known the car for many years and driven it several years earlier at Oliver’s invitation. It joined a stable of veteran motor cars in a second generation veteran car-owning family and later was to be used by its new owner as his Presidential transport in Veteran Car Club events during his years of office and continuing its history of use in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. 20154 is the only surviving Rolls-Royce eligible through its 1904 manufacture date to participate in this prestigious event.
20154 is now presented in dark blue livery with fine gold coachlining and upholstered in nicely matured red leather buttoned and pleated upholstery. It is equipped with P&H no 540 oil side lamps and acetylene headlamps from that same manufacturer.
It is also equipped with a most useful Stepney wheel. During the present ownership the car has been maintained to the highest standards, engine work carried out in 1989/90 including the fitting of new piston rings and aluminium pistons.
On 3 December 2007 the car was auctioned in London by Bonhams and realised £3.5 million.