Rolls Royce Factory, Crewe
Home of the Rolls Royce and Bentley marques between 1946 and 2002
Period of construction:
1900 - 1949
Transport Trust plaque:
Bentley Motors Ltd, Pyms Lane, Crewe, Cheshire, CW1 3PL
The "Crewe" era of Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars spanned more than 50 years, considerably longer then the earlier Manchester and Derby periods.
Rolls-Royce Limited was a British car (and from 1914, aero-engine) manufacturing company founded by Henry Royce and Charles Stewart Rolls on 15 March 1906. The company built its reputation for luxury, quality and reliability on the 6, 173 Silver Ghost models it produced until 1925. To increase output for the growing US market, it opened a a second factory in Springfield, Massachusetts where a further 1,701 "Springfield Ghosts" were built between 1921 and 1931. The chassis was used as a basis for the first British armoured car used in both world wars. During the First World War Rolls-Royce also produced rifles for the war effort.
In 1931, the company acquired rival car maker Bentley, whose finances under Chairman Woolf Banarto, the leading Le Mans driver, were unable to weather the Great Depression. From then until 2002, Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars were essentially badge engineered products, with the latter commanding a premium price. In the '30s, Rolls-Royce employed a fifth of all workers in the aircraft industry. As war seemed inevitable, demand for aeroplane engines soared. Rolls-Royce and the British government looked for other sites. â€˜Shadow' factories were set up to meet demand and to reduce the likelihood of production being wiped out in the event of an enemy strike.
Crewe was a railway town, which meant a good transport infrastructure and a ready supply of skilled labour. The site chosen, on the outskirts of Crewe, were potato fields, part of Merrill's Farm. Construction began in July 1938. Car production stopped for the duration of the war, with Merlin aero engine assembled instead. At its peak in 1943, 10,000 people were employed at the factory. A war memorial in the build hall carried the name of seventeen worlers killed during a bombing raid in 1940. With the end of hostilities and the Derby factory committed to building new-era jet engines, car production finally switched to Crewe. Employees now had to be retrained in unfamiliar techniques necessary for bespoke automobile manufacture in a world of new technologies - Rolls-Royce did not make a complete car until after the Second World War, producing only the chassis and drivetrain, the bodies being added by outside coachbuilders.
Rolls-Royce Motors was created from the demerger of the Rolls-Royce car business from Rolls-Royce Limited in 1973, the latter having been nationalised in 1971 following the collapse of the company caused by development problems with the RB211 jet engine. In 1973 the British government sold the Rolls-Royce car business to allow Rolls-Royce Limited to concentrate on jet engine manufacture.
In 1980 Rolls-Royce Motors was acquired by Vickers, but eight years later the company was up for sale again. The leading contender seemed to be BMW, who already supplied engines and other components for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, but they were beaten with a higher offer by the Volkswagen-Audi Group.
However Rolls-Royce plc, the aero-engine maker, decided it would license certain essential trademarks (the Rolls-Royce name and logo) not to VW, but instead to BMW, with whom it had recently shared joint business ventures. VW had bought rights to the "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot and the shape of the radiator grille, but it lacked rights to the Rolls-Royce name in order to build the cars. Likewise, BMW lacked rights to the grille and mascot. BMW bought an option on the trademarks, licensing the name and "RR" logo for Â£40m, a deal that many commentators thought was a bargain for possibly the most valuable property in the deal. VW claimed that it had only really wanted Bentley anyway. Bentley was the higher volume brand, with Bentley models out-selling the equivalent Rolls Royce by around two to one.
BMW and VW arrived at a solution. From 1998 to 2002 BMW would continue to supply engines for the cars and would allow use of the names, but this would cease on January 1, 2003. On that date, only BMW would be able to name cars "Rolls-Royce", and VW's former Rolls-Royce/Bentley division would build only cars called "Bentley". The last Rolls Royce from the Crewe factory, the Corniche, ceased production in 2002.
More than six out of ten of all Rolls-Royce Motor cars built are still roadworthy. At the Rolls-Royce factory in Crewe the cars were always referred to as Royces - they were never called Rollers. Strangely, the Rolls -Royce radiator was not registered as a trademark until 1974.
Burgess-Wise, David, "The Slippery Shape of Power", Auto Aficionado (January 2006)
Feast, Richard, Kidnap of the Flying Lady: How Germany Captured Both Rolls Royce and Bentley, Motorbooks, ISBN-7603-1686-4
Frankel, Andrew, Bentley - The Story, Redwood Publishing, ISBN 0-9517751-9-7 (2005)
Georgano, N., Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, HMSO, ISBN 1-57958-293-1 (2000)
Harvey-Bailey, A. The Merlin in Perspective - the combat years. Derby, England: Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, 1983. ISBN 1-872922-06-6
Rubbra, A. A. Rolls-Royce piston aero engines: A designer remembers. Derby, England: Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, 1990. ISBN 1-872922-00-7
Public tours of the factory are available on Friday mornings, but places are extremely limited - apply by email only to email@example.com .
How To Find:
By Road: Off A530, Pyms Lane.
By Rail: Bentley Motors is approximately 15 minutes by road from Crewe Station.
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