On This Day in 1906: Rolls-Royce Was Founded
Beloved by heads of state, among them Queen Elizabeth II, as well as marquee idols such as Frank Sinatra and Richard Burton, and many rock stars throughout history, Rolls-Royce motor cars have been the go-to vehicles for anyone with grand taste and a bank balance to match since the company was established on March 15, 1906, by aristocratic dealer Charles Rolls and the brilliant Mancunian engineer Henry Royce. Early models, sold from Charles Rolls's showroom in Fulham, London, were magnificent bespoke creations—at first the company produced only the chassis, outsourcing the custom creation of each car’s body to expert coachbuilders such as Gurney Nutting and Hooper. Rolls-Royce continued this practice until the end of the 1930s, by which time companies selling cheaper cars were beginning to produce pre-fabricated steel bodies, and even after bowing to the fiscal logic of American-style modernization, RR employed coachbuilders for a limited run of 18 Phantom IV state cars as late as the 1950s. After pioneering aviation and automotive design throughout the first half of the 20th century, the company split in 1971 into two separate entities, the aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce PLC and Rolls Royce Motor Cars, a luxury division that eventually came under the control of BMW in 1998. Though the company has changed hands, it still clings to the standards set by early reviews—one of the first Rollers, the Silver Ghost, was dubbed “the best car in the world” by Autocar magazine when it appeared in 1907, and today’s models, including this year’s Ghost, aim for no lesser status. Photographer Hedi Slimane has had a long love affair with Rolls-Royce. His intriguingly abstracted images of his own vintage “triple black” models have a manifesto-like clarity, bestowing a sexy graphic sheen on the glossy surfaces, grinning radiators and swooping "Spirit of Ecstasy" hood mascots.