Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club - for Rolls-Royce and Bentley Enthusiasts

1905 10hp Rolls-Royce AX148: Chassis Number 20162

On display at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester

by Nick Forder, Curator (Air & Space)



After C S Rolls and F H Royce agreed to manufacture and sell cars under the name ‘Rolls-Royce’, Royce was set the task of developing a production car from the three Royce prototypes. It was decided that the first production car should be available for display at the Paris Salon in December 1904. The first batch of Rolls-Royce cars had 10 horsepower engines, giving a top speed of 30 mph, but it was planned that a range of three (15hp), four (20hp) and six cylinder (30hp) engine cars would be offered also.

It was intended that nineteen 10 horsepower cars would be built, but in the event only seventeen were completed. These were the first of 106 cars built at Cooke Street before the creation of the first ‘Silver Ghost’.

The reason that the first production batch was not completed was because it was considered to be overpriced. Initially the running chassis (ie without bodywork) sold for £215, though by March 1905 this had been reduced to £208. CS Rolls & Co wrote to Royce Ltd on 6 March 1905: “Type No 2 (10hp) – Unless price for the chassis can be considerably reduced Messers Rolls will not give any further orders for the Type No 2 for 1906”.

The 10hp Royce designed engine was 1.8 litres capacity with 3.75” bore x 5” stroke, and was capable of 12 bhp. The engine was fitted with a three forward and one reverse gearbox. All-up weight of the car was 12 hundredweight.


History of Chassis Number 20162/ AX148


This car was manufactured in Hulme, Manchester, in September 1905. The 10hp engine went to test on 19 September 1905. Initially the car was finished as a grey rear entrance tonneau, possibly re-using the Barker body previously fitted to the first (Royce-owned) and third (Edmunds-owned) Royces. The car was registered as AX148 on 13 January 1906.


Due to the limited demand for the 10hp car by early 1906, it is believed that this car was used by Henry Royce himself pending sale. Royce was a Captain in the Motor Volunteer Corps and it is thought that he used AX148 in connection with his duties.


By December 1906, however, Royce had decided to re-body the car as a two-seater phaeton. Barker provided the coachwork again and the car was repainted beige. This may have been to make it more attractive to a purchaser, especially as Paris Singer - who purchased the car on 14 December - was known to favour light-bodied cars. This surplus tonneau body was retained, being listed as 'available in stock' in July 1907.

Paris Eugene Singer, of 121 Sloane Street SW1, was the son of the sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer. The former had purchased Chassis Number 20151, another 10 hp car, in August 1904. This made him Rolls-Royce’s first customer.


Although Singer had this car until 19 September 1907, clearly he decided he needed a second car. This purchase may have as aspect of altruism about it as Singer was a well known benefactor of the car industry and the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, of which he had been a founding member in 1897.

Apart from the bodywork, the only major difference between Singer’s new purchase and the earlier car was the gearbox. AX148 was fitted with non-standard gears of lower ratios than normal. At 1000 rpm, this meant that the performance of the car was 30 mph (48 km/h) in third gear (direct drive); 17 mph (24 km/h) in second, and 7.5 mph (12 km/h) in first gear. It is possible that this modification was an attempt to improve performance in the hilly area around Singer’s country house near Paignton.

It seems that the car was not driven by Singer from late in 1914, but the next confirmed owner, Mr WM Graham of Castle Bromwich, is not known to have owned the car until 1920. One suggested theory for the gap is that the car was loaned to Graham to drive some time after Singer left for America in the summer of 1914. This seems possible, as Graham was a relative of Singer’s wife, whose unmarried name was Graham, and came to Britain from New Zealand during the Great War.

In 1930 the car passed in to the ownership of Mr K Kirton, of Honiton in Devon, 1930. By this time the car was an obsolete design and in November it passed to Sir John Prestige of Bourne Park, Canterbury. Prestige had a sense of occasion and in August 1931 sent the car to Henry Royce so that he could experience driving it once more. In November the car was entered in the VCC London to Brighton Run and driven by Sir Malcolm Campbell. It is known that it was overhauled beforehand, and the work included the replacement of the front axle.

Rolls-Royce purchased the car from Sir John Prestige in 1935 and presented it to the Science Museum in London.


History of Chassis Number 20162/ AX148 as a Museum Object


Since becoming a ‘museum exhibit’, AX148 has undergone three periods of restoration work.

In March 1961 the car was returned to Rolls-Royce for a repaint, which is believed to have returned the car to the colour scheme it wore when delivered to Singer in 1906 (beige with black lining). It is unclear whether any specific references were used to inform this work, but it seems doubtful that the intention was anything other than a refurbishment.

The remaining two periods of work relate to entries in the Vintage Car Club London-Brighton run.

The first entry was in November 1962, for which new tyres and inner tubes were fitted during the previous month. It is possible that the repaint by Rolls-Royce was part of the preparation for this event too.

Possibly as a result of the rigours encountered during the London to Brighton, a decision was taken to re-upholster the car in 1963.

In 1977 a survey was made of the car, possibly to assess its suitability for the entry in the London to Brighton run. This survey revealed the need for a certain amount of work: the transmission brake was relined in March 1977, a new reverse gear pinion was made and fitted in April, as were new inner tubes for the tyres. The restored car participated in the London to Brighton Run in November 1978, and again in 1981. The car was maintained in running order for the next ten years, until the road tax was allowed to expire in 1991.

The car returned to Manchester in 1996 and has been displayed in the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester ever since, except on the 1 May 2004 when it was displayed in the foyer of the Midland Hotel as part of the Rolls-Royce Centenary Celebrations.