1904 Rolls-Royce 10 hp Two-Seater

Such luxury was the equivalent of today’s private jet, a powerful symbol of its owner’s status and forward thinking

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The Midland Hotel, Manchester, was the site of a significant meeting in automotive history on May 4, 1904, when the Hon. Charles Rolls arrived by train with his business associate Henry Edmunds, to meet Frederick Henry Royce.

Both parties knew each other by repute and their partnership was to be one of lasting significance in the automotive world. Their backgrounds could not have been more different-Rolls was an aristocrat, a Cambridge graduate who briefly held the world land speed record, wheras Royce was a railway engineer whose fascination with electricity had led him to the auto industry, while inventing the bayonet bulb fitting along the way.

Royce had owned a French-built de Dion and later a Decauville before he decided he could do better and built his own 10-hp, 2-cylinder car, which he launched on April 1, 1904. Henry Edmunds drove this car on the Automobile Club’s Sideslip Trials later that month carrying two reporters and, based on its performance, encouraged his friend Charles Rolls to meet with Royce.

The Midland Hotel meeting led Rolls to agree to take Royce’s entire production. The cars were to be marketed as Rolls-Royces from late 1904, and the two agreed to develop a line of 2-, 3-, 4-, and 6-cylinder cars. The plan was to build 19 Type A 10-hp cars, though only 17 were constructed. These had a 2-cylinder engine, three-bearing crank, and twin cams operating overhead inlet valves and side exhaust. The 1.8-liter engine drove through a cone clutch to a 3-speed gearbox and shaft drive.

The first Type A was number 20150 (still a Royce). The car presented here is 20154, the fourth Rolls-Royce and the oldest one known. It was developed as a show car with a Barker Park Phaeton body with occasional rear seats. It was selected for the Paris Salon de l’Automobile, which ran from December 9 to 25, 1904, and was driven to Paris by C. Vivian Moore. It then returned for the Olympia Motor Show in Februrary 1905.

The 1904 Rolls-Royce 10 hp Two-Seater provenance is remarkably complete, passing through the hands of several Scottish doctors before returning to Harrogate, Yorkshire, in 1913. Insurance agent Percy Binns was given it as a 21st birthday present in 1920, fitted with a later-style streamlined body. He drove it until 1930.

In 1950, 20154 was discovered by enthusiast Oliver Langton in a farm building near Leeds. It was found to be remarkably complete and correct, with the exception of a later 20hp steering column and box-the original radiator was even hidden behind the streamlined cowl. Percy Binns agreed to sell it and Langton rebodied 20154 with a period two-seater Edwardian body in time for the 1954 London-to-Brighton run, with the license plate U44.

The 10 hp Two-Seater made numerous London-Brighton runs until 1978, when it was acquired by the present owner. It is presented in dark blue livery with red leather upholstery, P&H side oil lights and acetylene headlights. 20154 has been carefully maintained, including an extensive rebuild in 1989-90, including aluminum pistons and new rings.

20154 comes with a wealth of photographs and documents and remains the only existing pre-1905 Rolls-Royce eligible for the London to Brighton run. Only three other 10hp models are known to survive-20159, 20162, and 20165, all of them 1905 models.

Simon Kidston

Simon Kidston - SCM Editor at Large

Simon is from an old British motor-racing family. He started his career at Coys, leaving to co-found Bonhams Europe in Geneva. Over the next decade, he staged high-profile auctions around the world, branching out on his own in 2006 to found Kidston SA, a consultancy responsible for some of the larger deals you rarely hear about. Simon also judges at Pebble Beach and is “the voice” of the Villa d’Este Concours and the Mille Miglia.

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