The partnership between Henry Royce and Charles Rolls began in 1904 with Royce agreeing to sell his cars exclusively through Charles Rolls’ dealership as Rolls-Royce’s. In 1906 they founded Rolls-Royce Ltd and that same year they introduced the model that would permanently establish the company’s international reputation.
The 40/50 hp was launched at the 1906 Olympia car show, but not given to the press for testing until the following year. Autocar dubbed the 40/50 hp the “best car in the world”, something that has been claimed by Rolls-Royce of its products ever since. One particular 40/50 hp, registered as AX201, was given the name “Silver Ghost” by Rolls-Royce’s commercial director, Claude Johnson. This car was driven 27 times between London and Glasgow in a publicity stunt to prove how reliable the new car was. The press seized upon this and began referring to all 40/50 hp cars as Silver Ghosts, something that Rolls-Royce adopted retrospectively once the 40/50 hp was replaced in 1926. AX201 is probably the most valuable car in the world, with a reputed insurance value of $40,000,000.
The Rolls-Royce Phantom went through three iterations before the outbreak of war in 1939. The Phantom I and II continued to use an ever more developed version of the 40/50 hp engine from the Silver Ghost. The Phantom III was unusual for a Rolls-Royce in that it used a V12. This was equipped with a twin ignition system involving two spark plugs per cylinder, two ignition coils and two distributors. After the war, the Phantom name was used for a series of exclusive Rolls-Royce’s produced in tiny numbers for heads of state and other leading dignitaries.
The first postwar Rolls-Royce was the Silver Wraith launched in 1946. This was the last Rolls-Royce that could not be ordered with a factory-fitted bodyshell. Owners bought the chassis and had a coachbuilder cover it with bespoke panels. Three years later the closely related Silver Dawn was launched. This was available with a standard bodyshell, but was the less popular of the two cars.
The Silver Cloud of 1955 was also available with a factory fitted body, but this time the vast majority of owners opted to purchase the standard bodied car as opposed to employing a coachbuilder. The Silver Cloud was the last Rolls-Royce built with a separate chassis. Its replacement, the 1965 Silver Shadow, was of a monocoque construction which effectively ended the tradition of Rolls-Royce owners having their cars bodywork tailored to their own preferences.
The Silver Shadow took Rolls-Royce through the 1970s and is still the biggest selling Rolls-Royce model today.