In 1900, aged 22, Charles Stewart Rolls was the best known motorist in Britain, better known than Jeremy Clarkson today, having won the "Thousand Mile Trial" of that year, the event that launched motoring as a practical popular concept. Rolls followed his success in the Trial by racing in highly dangerous inter-city races in Europe.
He drove the fastest time ever achieved in Britain, although this was never ratified. At the same time, Rolls ran a large car-sales and service showroom in London, employing 70 staff with space for 200 cars. In the span of six months, he persuaded the secretary of the Automobile Society of Great Britain and Ireland to join him, and then, shortly after, discovered Henry Royce with whom his name is now forever linked.
This triumvirate of talented engineers and businessmen took Rolls-Royce Ltd. to the pinnacle of motor and aero engineering that the company has occupied ever since. Rolls helped create the new sport of hot-air ballooning and raced his balloon for his country. He then joined a select band of intrepid pioneers who risked all to prove the theory of powered flight. He was first to fly the English Channel both ways but weeks later perished at the Bournemouth Air Show. Engineer, salesman, aristocrat, pioneer, and businessman, Charles Rolls offers us a timely reminder of British invention, courage, and ingenuity more than 100 years ago.
©2013 Bruce Lawson (P)2015 Bruce Lawson
I am an avid eclectic reader.
This is the first biography in fifty years about Charles Stewart Rolls (27 August 1877-12 July 1910). He was a pioneer motorist, balloonist and aviator of the early motorized planes; he is best known for the Rolls-Royce automobiles. Rolls graduated from Cambridge with a degree in mechanical engineering.
I was amazed to learn that Britain was slow in accepting the automobile compared to other countries. Apparently the railroads were so efficient and easily accessible people saw no need for a personal automobile. According to Lawson, France accepted the car immediately and was the leader in car manufacturing, laws and also car racing. Rolls had the first car at Cambridge, the first car in Wales and wrote on motoring for the newspapers/ magazines and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Rolls also raced cars and won the Tourist Trophy race on the Isle of Man. He also raced in the early Monte Carlo Rally. He also held the World Land Speed Record. Prior to getting in to automobiles he raced bicycles. He formed the C.S. Rolls& Co and opened a car showroom in London. He had to teach people to drive as part of selling the automobile.
Rolls met Henry Royce and together they build the Rolls –Royce automobile. Rolls was an excellent sales person and Royce a master builder of the automobile, their goal was to build the perfect automobile. Lawson details Rolls personal life as well as his life of adventure. Rolls died in a plane crash at the age of 32.
The book is well written and meticulously researched. Lawson managed to capture the spirit of the Victorian and Edwardian age of motoring. The author also captures the spirit, élan and glamour of the Edwardian era, which existed before World War One. This was an exciting time in London history with Rolls with his car dealership and Selfridge with his department store. The author did a adequate job narrating his own book.
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