A New Rolls
Selected by Brian Cathcart from the New Statesman archive, 24 December 1938
The announcement of a new Rolls is always an event. Extremists of the Left variously consider that all motoring should be prohibited, or that until identical Rotwagens can be issued in Utopia to the entire adult population to the entire adult population the present inadequate supply of motor cars should be allotted in order of priority to (i) invalids; (ii) the aged; and (iii) the more important commissars. Nevertheless, until such time as the e extreme Left is in a position to control the production and distribution of cars, we may control the production and distribution of cars, we may momentarily slough off our political convictions and enjoy the purely technical pleasure of appreciating a new Rolls; and surely even Stalin in his unguarded moments- if he has any-would admit that a Rolls-less world would be a poorer planet. This new Rolls is a modern version of the 25-30 h.p. Of the two components of genius-perspiration and inspiration-it betrays principally the former. The Rolls people have always manifested an infinite capacity for taking pains, and there is nothing very startling or even original about the individual items of this incarnate or excellency. It is only when one occupies a scat in the car , or better still, takes the wheel, that the enthusiast is conscious of perfection beneath him. It may be outrageous that when millions are underfed and exist in grimy slums, individuals by the hundred should expend £1,100 on a naked chassis, or £1,885 on a complete motor car; but if anything could excuse such contrasts, this car approaches the impossible, for on the road it furnishes sensations which can only be described as pure isolated motion. No effort is involved in the various controlling movements which a driver must make. The car steers to a hair on a finger pressure. The gears slide inaudibly into mesh. The brakes arrest her at speed with no more exertion than a comfortable shoe indents a rich pile carpet. For those who lounge idly inside her and converse or peer, there are no shocks or bouncings Their bodies are softly sustained on yielding supports, which do not swing or rise or fall.
At express train speeds the vehicle makes far less fuss than the cheap mass-produced midget creates at twenty miles an hour. With a Rolls-approved body there is no roar of passing wind, though with Rolls-approved tyres and a window open the smooth sizzle of rubber treads on tarmac may rank as obtrusive when all else is like the transit of a dream. There are cheaper cars-cheaper by £1,500 or so, which may aspire to ape the Rolls motion at one carefully selected speed when they are just new, when the initial roughness has been worn off by a few hundred careful miles, and the ship, as Kipling would have put it, is beginning to find herself. But it is characteristic of the Rolls that when she leaves the factory she instantaneously produces the pluperfect form of road motion, that she continues to do it throughout an incredibly extended working life, that during her ten or even fifteen years of silky service she demands the absolute minimum of attention, and that she achieves all those feats on very low working costs. The Rolls engineers cannot, of course, control such extraneous matters as the high tax which a callous Government may impose upon the poems which are breathed into existence at Derby, nor yet on the premiums which soulless insurance companies exact from powerful cars, nor yet on the manipulations of the oil barons, who put a high price upon fuel. Yet in spite of these harsh and external hindrances there are men-astute business men at that-who claim that the purchase of a 25 h..p. Rolls at £1,695 (the minimum price for a standard saloon) represents a genuine economy, because the car is so cheap to maintain, and will always command its second hand value if the market should stiffen against you. It is the custom of the Rolls engineers to allot a name to each new model, and they display a pardonable preference for titles drawn from a superstitious past; we have had the “Silver Ghost,”and the “Phantom”; and this new 25 h.p. Is offered as the “Wraith.” They were presumably thinking solely of silent passage. For Webster defines a wraith as a guardian angel (which a safe and trusty car may well be); or an apparition of a person in his exact likeness, seen either immediately before or immediately after his death (surely the Communist revelation in Britain is hardly so near as that?); or as an unreal image-and possibly this Rolls is almost too good to be true.
It's predecessor was so good that until one takes the air in this car it is difficult to imagine why such radical re-design has been thought necessary; perhaps because the unco' rich must have the very latest, and were keeping the late model too long? Technically its motif is the ever-familiar Rolls objective-to supply plutocrats and princelings with a car in which they can travel without being perpetually reminded that they are travelling aboard a swift-moving platform, propelled by an explosion engine, and controlled by human effort. The chassis is very large, very stiff and very light; almost any coach builder's body could be mounted upon it without fear of creakings and grindings; and corpulent occupants will never be cramped in it. The engine has been altered in many particulars to generate from familiar dimensions the utmost maximum of power divorced from noise on the one hand, and roughness on the other. The performance in terms of speed and acceleration and climb is high, though not higher than that of sundry coarse rivals of the same nominal power. It is the nuances of the performance which set this car on a pinnacle of its own; for its violent transport emits no sound more clamorous than the sigh of a maiden at beholding some spectacle too lovely to be applauded in words. It is in fact a magic carpet, transformed into a steel box for use in a climate where a magic carpet would alternately freeze or char its fortunate occupants, and on roads where collisions are possible and metal protection is advisable.
The suspension is as noticeable as the silkiness. Long semi-elliptic springs astern have their action meticulously adjusted to independent front wheel springing, the whole controlled by shock absorbers automatically adjusting themselves to the load and speed and surface of the moment, with a master hand control by which the ruder kind of driver may tighten up his suspension to suit handling unworthy of a dream car. When the pedal brake is operated, the gentlest imaginable pressure of the shoe-sole brings a stationary disc into contact with a moving disc driven by skew gears off the gear box; and engine power then applies admirably balanced brake-shoes in all four wheel drums. Every control is equally efficient, equally elaborate, equally effortless in action. If the size and price of the car were not so formidable, it would be the pluperfect vehicle on which grandmother might essay to get rid of her L plates. Small wonder that the hallmark of the advancing plutocrat, the aspiring royalty and the social climber alike is to own a Rolls. Small wonder, too, that when these magnificent cars at least grow senile, they are snapped up by taxi concerns for hire work, partly no doubt from sheer snobbishness, because customers love to ride in a Rolls; but also because the taxi-man knows that if even a senile Rolls is given the once over annually, it will never let his fares down.