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Rolls and Royce

rollsRolls and Royce. When Charles Rolls and Henry Royce first met in 1904, they each knew what the other could bring to the car business, reports Martin Rubin in a Wall Street Journal review of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars by Andreas Braun (5/31/14). Charles, "a well-known merchant, was longing to open a fashionable auto showroom in London but could not find cars of sufficient quality." Henry, whom Charles considered the world’s greatest engineer, saw in Charles "someone with the acumen to market his product."

The two perfectionists set themselves apart by tailoring their cars to buyers, "following a practice akin to that of bespoke suit makers on Savile Row." Rolls-Royce did offer "standardized models, ranging from sporty roadsters to grand vehicles reminiscent of the carriages they were replacing. But whether a customer bought a Silver Cloud or a Phantom or one of the other models, "the car’s body and appointments could be custom-made by coach builders, such as Hooper in London’s Berkeley Square."

A few things changed for Rolls, "as firms like Hooper ceased to exist and the upper classes from which the company had drawn its customers lost some of their wealth or social dominance." Rather than focusing chauffeur-friendly vehicles, newer models were more about delighting "the owner as he took the wheel himself." For a time, the cars were made in the US, and today Rolls is owned by BMW, but the brand itself remains British, and "their design principles and aspirations to quality" haven’t changed in more than a century.