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

The Three Royce Prototype Cars: 1904

by Nick Forder: Curator (Air and Space) Manchester Museum of Science and Industry:

Sources & further reading
The First Car
The Second Car
The Third Car


Sources and further reading

A History of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Volume 1 1903-7 , C W Morton, GT Foulis 1964

In the Beginning:The Manchester Origins of Rolls-Royce , Mike Evans Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, 2nd edition 2004

The Edwardian Rolls-Royce John Fasal & Bryan Goodman, 1994. See Volume 1 - A Reflection on the pre-40/50hp Cars: by Tom Clarke

See also the article on this website under History - People - Frederick Henry Royce - "Early Life to 1904" by Tom Clarke



Frederick Henry Royce set up the electrical and mechanical engineering company of F H Royce & Co in Manchester in 1884. Initially the works were located at Blake Street, Hulme, but the need for expansion caused the company to occupy a number of premises in the surrounding area. The 1A Cooke Street workshops (long regarded as the initial site) were occupied from December 1888.

F H Royce & Co became a limited company in 1899 and land for new premises in Trafford Park was acquired in 1901. This site was adjacent to the new factory being built for W T Glover, a Salford cable maker whose products were used by Royce. In 1893 Henry Edmunds had taken over as managing director of Glover’s following the death of its founder.

In 1884, shortly after the foundation of the Royce company, Ernest Claremont purchased a partnership in Royce’s for £50 and in 1899 he also became a director of W T Glover. In March 1903 Claremont succeeded Edmunds as managing director of Glover’s, allowing Edmunds to become the chairman. Claremont then arranged with Edmunds to exchange shares in Royce Ltd for shares in Glover’s. This was probably done to make Claremont eligible for the post of Managing Director, but it was significant because it also gave Edmunds a direct interest in Royce Ltd.

Early products of the Royce company included battery-powered doorbells, and later electric motors and switchgear. Other work was taken on to augment income, including the repair of Singer sewing machines. Later cranes were made at the Trafford Park factory. These were both for local use (including nine for the Manchester Ship Canal) and for export. However, Britain suffered an economic depression following the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Royce Company Board was forced to review the sales of its existing products in the face of increasing competition from cheap imports.

Around this time Henry Royce’s doctor began to express concerns over the state of Royce’s health and the strain brought about by overwork. Claremont was made aware of this and he and the doctor made a decision to purchase three De Dion Quadricycles so that they could accompany Henry Royce on leisure trips.

Royce used the drive of his home in Brae Cottage, Legh Road, Knutsford, Cheshire to test his quadricycle. Brae Cottage is built on a very steep slope and t he rockery at the end of the drive was built as a fail-safe brake. Another source of "relaxation" was gardening after work, often in the dark under a Royce Ltd electric lighting system to his own design.


Brae Cottage (some cottage!): th e Motor House for the electricity generator is in the foreground, just left of centre and it was here that the rockery was built behind the house and at the end of the drive, as a fail-safe in case of brake failure. Photo taken on the RREC Northern Section Centenary Rally 1 April 2004: Graham Eastwood




Royce's monogram on Brae Cottage. The i nitials are FH (Frederick Henry) and MG (Minnie Grace). Photo Graham Eastwood

Unfortunately, despite Claremont’s kind thought, Royce suffered a collapse and was persuaded to go to Capetown, South Africa on a ten-week break with his wife Minnie, to visit her sister there and to recover. In 1984 a book turned up bearing the signature of FH Royce with a date written next to it of September 1902. The book was called “The Automobile – its construction and management” with the sub-heading “translated from Gérard Lavergne’s ‘Manuel théoreique et practique de l’automobile sur route’ with additions and new illustrations.”

Given that the Royce's were gone for 10 weeks and they returned in late 1902, the inference is that Royce bought the book to read on the sea voyage and this indicates that he was already thinking about the manufacture of motor cars as an alternative product for his factory.

On his return in 1902, Royce soon replaced his quadricycle with a French built 10hp, two-cylinder Decauville. This was fitted with a ten-horse power engine and is known to have been one of the first four of such cars imported in to Britain. The car was delivered to the Goods Station on London Road, Manchester, where Royce travelled by tram to collect it. Despite his best efforts Royce couldn’t get the car to start, with the result that it had to be pushed to Cooke Street.

Despite this inauspicious beginning, Royce was apparently pleased with some aspects of the design but, typically, appalled by the lack of attention to detail. The Decauville was studied in detail and eventually dismantled and rebuilt with modifications and improvements. During the dismantling every component was measured and drawn. It is believed that Henry Royce offered a repair and maintenance service for the cars of friends and acquaintances so he could further extend his knowledge.

Royce also had some involvement in the Pritchett and Gold electric car. The Royce company supplied the electric motor for this car, for which a drawing dated 18 November 1902 survives.

By May 1903 Henry Royce had resolved to build three prototype cars and gained the support of two company directors. Claremont remained unconvinced of the future of the motorcar and from then on gave more of an emphasis to his involvement with Glover’s.

Bodywork and number plates were often switched between the three prototypes and their exact history is not a simple one.


The First Car: 15196

The first Royce car. Photo Rolls-Royce plc

The first Royce ten-horsepower petrol engine was run on 16 September 1903, and the first car was completed in the Cooke Street factory during spring 1904. John Roberts of Hulme provided the bodywork, and the car was taken on its first test drive on 1 April 1904.



The first Royce car in Cooke Street 1904. Photo courtesy Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust

This was an incident free journey of some 20 miles from Cooke Street to Brae Cottage and the event was commemorated at the Museum by hosting a Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club, Northern Section Centenary Rally of almost 50 Rolls-Royce cars, who drove from the site of Cooke Street to Brae Cottage 100 years to the day.

The marketing and selling of the new car had been considered prior to this. Royce company headed notepaper dated as early as February 1904 listed petrol motor cars among the company’s products. Thus it is probable that Royce intended to set up his own dealership, though previously the company’s electrical goods had been sold via Thomas Weston Searle. Even at this time it was usual to promote cars by exhibiting them at shows and taking part in trials and competitions. It was at this point that the acquisition of Royce company shares by Henry Edmunds became significant.

Edmunds had purchased his first motor car in 1898. In 1899 he joined the Automobile Club, and by December 1900 Edmunds was a member of the committee. In 1902 he sponsored the Automobile Club Hill Climbing Trophy, which was competed for the first time in 1903. Thus Edmunds was in an ideal position to help promote the new product of the company in which he had recently acquired shares.

The first Royce car was given to Claremont to use, so that any development work needed as the result of regular use could be identified (presumably this included driving it to work). Edmunds mentioned to Claremont that the Automobile Club was to hold Sideslip Trials in London in April/May 1904. Claremont and Royce agreed that this would be a good opportunity to promote the new car and decided to loan it to Edmunds for entry. During the trials the car would have been seen, and possibly driven, by the Hon C S Rolls, a fellow member of the Automobile Club committee. Edmunds knew that Rolls was looking for a British-made car he could retail and so persuaded Rolls to take the train with him to Manchester, have lunch with Henry Royce, and examine Royce’s new car.

Arrangements were made and what was to become an historic meeting took place at the then recently opened Midland Hotel in Manchester on 4 May 1904. After lunch, Rolls was shown the second prototype car, which was then being used by Claremont as a replacement for the first car, which was still in London.

It was the first Royce prototype that Rolls took to the Paris Salon in December 1904 together with the Rolls-Royce 10hp 20154, featured elsewhere on this website.


The first Royce car (left) about to depart Lillie Hall for the Paris Salon with Rolls-Royce 10hp 20154 (right). 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.

It seems that the first Royce was scrapped quite early on with some parts then being re-used on the second car.



The Second Car: 15881

It was this car that was seen by Rolls in Manchester on 4 May 1904. The car was parked in the covered carriage court of the hotel, which is now a raised platform accessed by steps. Although Rolls was not looking for a two cylinder car, he was sufficiently impressed to start negotiations which resulted in him undertaking to retail all the cars which Royce could build, on the understanding that they would be sold as “Rolls-Royces”. These arrangements were finalised on 15 February 1906 with the registration of Rolls-Royce Limited.

Photo copyright@MOSI

The second Royce engine was first tested on 23 March 1904, producing 7 hp. The engine differed in detail from the first Royce engine, in that No 1 cylinder had a flat mounting face and a five-bladed fan fitted. The angle of the fan blades could be altered, presumably to allow experimentation with the cooling effect.



Photo copyright@MOSI

The test schedule started with the setting of each camshaft being recorded for reference. The timing was altered so that the inlet valve opened earlier and closed later. As a result performance increased from 700 rpm (34 amps at 120 volts) to 1,000 rpm (46 amps at 120 volts).




Photo copyright@MOSI

Carburation was investigated by fitting a smaller air tube and a No 12 nozzle to the Loguemare carburettor and then noting the best mixture positions for both the air and gas levers. The automatic air valve had a tendency to stick. The inlet valves were thought to be too noisy, but this was remedied by fitting stronger springs.



Photo copyright@MOSI

G Eric Platford had been employed by Royce’s since 1900 and became involved in testing the early cars. Platford’s record log for the test noted:



“a knocking sound occurs at slow running which Mr Royce says is due to the play in the wheels (timing). Maximum amount of oil that the engine will run with is one pint….

Running with separate cylinders, each one gave about 10 amps at 120 volts. With no play (clearance) on the inlet cams there is slight noise of the exhaust coming through the carburettor. With 30 mils (thousandths of an inch) play, runs a little quieter but power diminishes. Cams fixed at 10 mils on inlet cams and 15 mils on exhaust cams”…” One of the chief troubles of this engine (as with the last) is that the sparking plugs get oily. The plug on the leading cylinder more than the trailing plug… new pump fixed, works satisfactorily. Test passed by Mr Royce and the engine sent in to the shop 7/4/04.…. It takes 21 draws of the oil pump to make up the required amount of oil for the engine.”

After some 16 hours of testing and experimentation the engine was cleared for installation in the second Royce car on 7 April 1904.


Photo copyright@MOSI

This car was fitted with a crimson rear-entry tonneau body by an unrecorded maker. It was given to the Royce company chairman, Ernest Claremont, to use as his personal transport. For this reason the car never carried a ‘CS Rolls & Co’ dash plate. Claremont used the car, but with little success as his knowledge of its mechanics fell short of an understanding that it needed refuelling periodically. Some modifications were carried out to the car both cosmetic, such as replacing the flat front hub nuts with domed items, and practical, such as fitting internal pull-on brakes.

The car was registered initially as N414, to Claremont’s house in Knutsford. In 1904 he was living in Old Trafford, having separated from his wife in 1902, but the latter remained in residence in the Knutsford house until 1914.

On 4 April 1906 the car was re-registered as M-1137, but again to Claremont at the Knutsford address. In September 1907 Claremont acquired a Rolls-Royce Twenty (Chassis No 40525), but retained the Royce car until 1909. It is unclear who used the Royce car in the interim, but the implication is that it was at the disposal of Claremont’s estranged wife, Edith.

Alternatively, it may well be that staff of W T Glovers & Co had the use of the car, Claremont being a director of Glovers also. Certainly the latter became owners of the car in August 1909, and it was used regularly by W T Anderson, then Manager of the Contracts Department.

The car was regularly serviced at Derby until at least 1915 and this may explain why the surviving engine has parts stamped ‘15880’ and ‘15196’ yet overstamped ‘15881’; the numbers being those of the other Royce cars.


Photo copyright@MOSI

Around 1921 Glovers donated the engine and gearbox to the Royal Laboratory of the Manchester Technical College, the forerunner of UMIST, and now merged with Manchester University. It is believed that Professor Stoney, of the College, decided against preserving the entire car and this was scrapped. Eventually the engine was placed in a glass case in the College entrance on Sackville Street, before moving to the museum on Grosvenor Street and then to Liverpool Road. Since September 1983 the engine has been on display in the recently renamed Museum of Science & Industry, in Manchester.


Photo copyright@MOSI


The Third Car: 15880

The third Royce does not have a definite number, but is generally referred to as 15880. At the time of Rolls' visit he was shown this car almost complete in the factory. Royce was learning all the time from the other two cars and the third car reflected this. It would have been looked on by Royce as his production model and in later life Royce was to remark "we could rely upon our third engine starting up and taking the road within an hour of completion, which it did without previously having smelt petrol."

This car was registered in Royce's name in Sept 1904, but by April of the following year it was sold to a Mr Benton. A few years later, perhaps around late 1908, it returned to Rolls-Royce at Derby and was used there as a works hack. In this role it lasted until 1923 when it was scrapped.