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Rolls-Royce: A Brief History, Part Two

Article by: Hannah in General - 1 October

In Part One of this article we looked at the early days of Rolls-Royce, from founding through to the 1920s. The marque had earned a reputation for very high build quality and reliability, and in 1931, concealing itself behind the name British Central Equitable Trust, it acquired the sports car maker Bentley. Bentley had enjoyed great racing success – it had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times – but it had a chequered financial history and was in trouble. Rolls-Royce retained only the name and the reputation, but the acquisition did open the way to 1930s racing success in the form of the new Bentley 3.5 litre – the ‘silent sports car’.

In 1976 our founder, Will Fiennes, started Fiennes Engineering. He combined his training as a nuclear physicist and tribologist – the science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion covering friction, lubrication and wear – with his passion for Rolls-Royce and Bentley motorcars of this very period. The business started small, but the starting place was cylinder heads for 20 hp Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. 

Now with over 45 years’ in-depth knowledge of these early models, Will has compiled the most authoritative database in existence for Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis numbers and parts references. Nothing about these vehicles was mass-produced, and it wasn’t until after World War 2 that Rolls-Royce even started offering a complete car to its customers. In those early days they provided the chassis and engine and the customer then selected a coachbuilder to provide the bodywork. Everything was bespoke, handmade, with the predictable variations.

Whether it’s paint, woodwork, body panels or mechanical components, at Fiennes Classics we have a deep and instinctive understanding of how these vehicles were built. Even with a few modern advantages to assist us, we are practising the same skills. No two panels are ever identical and no two pieces of woodwork ever precisely match. Fiennes Engineering is a world leader in production of mechanical parts, and Fiennes Classics can do everything from French polishing a wooden trim piece to fashioning entire body panels from scratch.

If a mechanical component cannot be repaired or reconditioned, our decades of experience in reverse engineering these allows us to produce replacements that far exceed the durability and reliability of the originals. Put simply, if there is a fact to be known about restoring and maintaining Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, Fiennes Classics and Fiennes Engineering pretty much wrote the book.

Following World War 2 Rolls-Royce moved to Crewe, began producing some complete vehicles (although for two decades it could still offer customers chassis and engines only) and acquired some of the coachbuilding businesses that had previously worked with them. All went well until the RB211 aero engine design project in the 1960s ran into financial problems that ultimately would see the company nationalized, split up, and bought out multiple times.

But if one of those glorious early vehicles is in your collection, you can be assured that there are no safer or more skilled hands anywhere in the world to look after it than ours. So whether you want a simple service or a nut and bolt restoration we are ready to have a conversation and guide you through everything you need to know.