They might be regarded as one of the most quintiessential of British motor cars, but during the 1920s, Rolls Royce also built its cars in America, and of the 3000 or which were produced, it is estimated that about three-quarters are still in existence.

British company executives at the time believed that as America was by far away the world’s largest single car market -especially for luxury cars, then it made more economic sense to produce the cars in the US, than individually import each one from the England and pay the high import duties.

After a number of trips to the US by Rolls Royce’s general manager, Claude Johnson, an appropriate factory was found in Springfield, Massaschuttes. This was regarded as an ideal facility as it was equidistant between the two main markets of Boston and New York and as there was a railway line literally outside the factory gates, the finished cars could also quickly be transported to the rest of north America.

With everything signed and sealed more than 50 managers along with workers (and their families) and a huge amount tooling equipment then left the UK to begin this major new overseas venture.

The first cars were finished in 1921 and were almost identical to the British models, although with prices ranging from $12,000 to $15,000 they were still more expensive than any rival car in the US.

As was Rolls Royce’s policy in the UK, the company itself only produced the chassis, with the bodies being built by specialist companies, such as, Merrimac, Biddle and Smart, Willoughby and Brewster, although Rolls Royce did purchase the Brewster company themselves in 1926.

After New York and Boston, the next biggest market was seen as the West coast, and particularly the growing affluence of Southern California where the movie industry was becoming a major force. Indeed, the new movie stars were regarded as prime customers and Charlie Chaplin, Goria Sawnson and Clara Bow were among some of the leading celebrities of the day who purchased a US built Rolls Royce. Politicians also bought the cars. Former President Woodrow Wilson received his as a present on his 67th birthday in 1923.

A total of 1703 Silver Ghosts were built at Springfield until the new Phantom car was launched in 1927. This was the start of a new era for the company on both sides of the Atlantic, although the car which was built in the US was now much more Americanised.

The Phantom was well received, and in 1929, the American operation enjoyed its best ever annual sales, although the success was only short lived. The damaging effects of the Wall Street Crash, meant the demand for expensive luxury cars quickly plummeted, and along with a collection of other problems, a decision was taken to run down the loss making enterprise and the last true American Rolls Royce was built at Springfield in 1931.

Even though most of the American built Rolls Royce cars are now more than 80 years old, many still remain in existence and are now extremely valuable.

But while the overall venture of a truly American built Rolls Royce eventually proved a costly failure for the company, it did help Rolls Royce to gain a much greater presence in the US and this is something which still benefits the company today.

 

Film of the longest ever continual owner
 of an American built Rolls Royce car

The American Rolls Royce

Duration: 5 mins. 47 seconds

To view the film, scroll to the bottom of the page

Rolls Royce began selling cars in the US in 1906, the same year that Charles Rolls raced in America

Some of the company's US executives (+child) pose outside the new Springfield factory

A new car nears completion inside the factory

A mechanic finishes installing a car's engine

A publicity photograph showing a new Springfield car outside a main building in the city

American Rolls Royces were advertised  indepedendently of the British cars

A publicity photograph in Ormond Beach in Florida

Many American owners prefered more
garish colours than British customers opted for

Many of the better known cars are now housed in
museums. This is film actress Clara Bow's Rolls Royce. 

About three quarters of the original American built Rolls
Royce cars still exist, with many in outstanding condition. 

Senior sales staff pose next to a new car
at the door where the finished cars depart

New Rolls Royce models received plenty
of coverage in the local Springfield newspapers

Rich land owners used the cars to help develop the American west -especially Arizona and California

Amongst many of the distinctive features in these US Rolls Royce cars were the unusual drum speedometers

The traditional Rolls Royce clock on the
dashboard is one feature still found on modern cars

Film provided courtesy of www.auto-history.tv

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