20154 - The Oldest Surviving Rolls-Royce....


The 1904 10hp 2 cylinder motor car, chassis number 20154 is believed to be the oldest known Rolls-Royce motor car in existence. Below you will find a number of photographs and videos, and the car’s detailed history in the link to a Bonhams listing from when it was sold in 2007.

Fun fact: 20154 is the only Rolls-Royce motor car eligible to enter the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car run. 

And a small Australian connection
with 20154 in the 1950s. The 1904 10 hp 2-cylinder, 20154, when owned by Oliver Langton, who permitted Gavin Sandford-Morgan, South Australia Foundation Branch member and HLM, to drive it from Leeds to Doncaster in late August or early September 1957 [photo courtesy of Gavin Sandford-Morgan].

Below and to your right, you will find a number of photographs and videos, and the car’s detailed history from the Bonhams auction house listing from when it was sold in 2007.

It was a significant meeting in the Midland Hotel, Manchester, on 4th May 1904. The Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls had travelled to Manchester by train with his business associate and fellow pioneer motorist, Henry Edmunds, for a meeting with Mr Frederick Henry Royce who arrived from his Cooke Street offices, off Stretford Road, Manchester. The significance of that meeting cannot possibly have been perceived by either party, however the outcome was that the names of Rolls and Royce would forever be linked and fall into common parlance, not only in the motoring world but in the field of aviation. Here was the start of a legend where those two names became synonymous with superlative quality in so many spheres.


Both major parties to that meeting knew each other well by repute and no doubt fully anticipated the potential benefits for each of them should agreement be reached for Royce to manufacture motor cars to be sold exclusively by Rolls. The Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls and Mr Frederick Henry Royce sat at the same table with a strong mutual respect, both giants within their peer group and yet from totally different backgrounds.

Charles Stewart Rolls was born into a privileged background on 27 August 1877, the youngest son of Lord and Lady Llangattock whose family seat was The Hendre at Llangattock in Monmouthshire, on the English/Welsh border. The family had substantial property interests in London and Monmouthshire, participating actively in civic duties within Monmouthshire. Lord Llangattock represented that county as Member of Parliament between 1880 and 1885 and was raised to the peerage in 1892. Displaying an early engineering bent and a fascination with electricity in particular, young Charles Stewart Rolls went up to Trinity College Cambridge in 1895, studying electrical and mechanical engineering. Among his many interests while at Cambridge he was to captain the University Cycle Racing Team and, as a young student at Trinity, must have been the envy of his fellow students when he returned from a Paris trip in October 1896, the owner of a 3 3/4hp Peugeot Phaeton. Thus began a compelling fascination with the motor car, young Rolls becoming a Committee Member of the newly formed Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, actively participating in motor tours and races and later, in 1904, briefly holding the World Land Speed Record mounted on a 100hp Mors. Rolls recognised fully the potential of the new-fangled motor car, passionately proclaiming its virtues at every available opportunity and in high places. He was a driving force in instigating and organising the One Thousand Miles Trial held in 1900 which brought the motor car to greater prominence. Rolls himself participated in that event, being a Gold Medal winner and winning the Speed Trials part of that event, held at Welbeck Abbey, on his 12hp Panhard-Levassor at a speed of 37.63mph.

Although his generous allowance enabled him to indulge his passions, Rolls had greater ambitions and in 1902 established his own motor business, utilising to the full his MA degree in mechanical engineering and applied sciences obtained that year, along with considerable business acumen. In January 1902 he opened his car sales and service depot at Lillie Hall, a former roller-skating rink in Seagrave Road, West London, the operation financed by his father, Lord Llangattock. Claude Johnson who, as secretary, had worked with Rolls in promoting the One Thousand Miles Trial, was to join C S Rolls & Company in 1903, a formidable partnership indeed, combining outstanding mechanical skills with an in-depth knowledge of the motoring world and unrivalled social contacts. Rolls was outspoken in his praise of the French automobile industry and frustrated at the apparent lagging behind of the industry in England. He was to obtain agencies for Panhard, Mors, Minerva and New Orleans cars but, underlying these activities was a desire to become involved in motor car manufacture and raise the standards of British-built cars.

Frederick Henry Royce came from a background far removed from the privileged Charles Stewart Rolls. Some 14 years older than Rolls, he was born at Alwalton in Northamptonshire in 1863, the son of James Royce, a mill manager who also farmed in a small way. Following a business failure James Royce went with his two sons James and Frederick Henry (known as Henry) to London seeking work and was to die from Hodgkin’s disease at the age of forty-one in a poorhouse in 1872. Nine year old Henry Royce scraped a living as a newspaper vendor and later a telegraph boy, prior to his aunt financing an apprenticeship at the Great Northern Railway Works at Peterborough where he worked under the guidance of the legendary Patrick Stirling.

Hungry for knowledge and practical experience, young Royce read avidly, teaching himself the basics of electricity and learning to use a lathe in the garden shed of a Mr Yarrow with whom he lodged. His apprenticeship completed at a time of financial recession, Henry was fortunate to find employment with a Leeds tool maker before moving back to London and working for the Electric Light & Power Co. During all this time Henry bettered himself by night-time studies. At the age of 21, with his friend Ernest Claremont, he set up business in rented premises in Cooke Street, Manchester, manufacturing electrical components. That business thrived and was later incorporated as Royce Ltd., manufacturing electrical motors, electric cranes and amongst his significant patents was the bayonet light bulb fitting which is still universally adopted. Royce and Claremont married two sisters and Royce built Brae Cottage at Knutsford, an imposing family home.

Royce and Claremont both acquired De Dion Quadricycles to enjoy the Cheshire countryside to the full and thus began an interest in the motor car. Royce’s De Dion was soon followed by the acquisition of a 10hp, twin-cylinder, French-built Decauville which he used regularly for the journey from Knutsford to Cooke Street, Manchester. The Decauville fell far short of Royce’s high mechanical engineering standards and it was not long before the little car was stripped right down, analysed in detail and its shortcomings fully identified. Royce decided that he could do better and determined to build his own car to a similar, but much improved design, in a corner of the Cooke Street factory. Patterns and aluminium and brass castings for the new engine were made in Cooke Street while iron castings were made at Royce’s new factory at Trafford Park. Royce recognised that performance and absence of vibration would best be achieved by lightness in all mechanical components and he became a true pioneer in this area of development.

The first Royce motor car engine was tested on 16th September 1903 and on Friday 1st April 1904 Royce drove his first car out of the Cooke Street factory to much din and applause from the Cooke Street staff. Henry Edmunds drove this car on the Automobile Club’s Sideslip Trials later that month, carrying Hugo Massac Buist of the Morning Post and Noel Kenealy of Motoring Illustrated as observers. It was at this time that C S Rolls took more than a passing interest in the all-new Royce motor car. Rolls disliked twin-cylinder motor car engines but noted the remarkable smoothness that Royce had achieved with his car. Henry Edmunds urged Rolls to travel to Manchester to meet Royce to discuss a business arrangement using the mechanical talents of Royce and Rolls’s marketing skills. Initially there was a reluctance, probably because Rolls and Royce found their time fully committed in their expanding businesses. The meeting however finally took place at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, on 4th May 1904. There was a meeting of minds and instant rapport despite substantially different backgrounds and skills, both parties recognising that a combination of those skills would prove a formidable force – and indeed it did. C S Rolls & Co. agreed to take the entire Royce production and, although legal formalities were not completed until 1905 the cars were to be marketed under the name of Rolls-Royce from late 1904. Rolls and Royce had agreed to develop and produce a range of twin-cylinder, three-cylinder, four-cylinder and six-cylinder cars, all clearly developed from Royce’s three prototype twins. The plan was to build nineteen 10hp cars although only seventeen were finally constructed. These cars, designated Type A, featured a twin-cylinder engine with three-bearing crankshaft and twin camshafts operating overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves. The 1.8-litre engine drove through a cone clutch to a three-speed sliding gearbox with shaft final drive.

The Type A 10hp models were prefixed 20, production cars beginning with chassis no. 20150, more correctly we believe known as a Royce as there is no known reference to Rolls’s involvement with that car. 20151 can be considered to be the first Rolls-Royce motor car following the marketing agreement between Rolls and Royce. The engine for this car was tested on 21st August 1904 and the car delivered to sewing machine magnate, Paris E Singer, a friend of Rolls. 20152 came off test on 27th September 1904 and notably was the first car to sport the classical Rolls-Royce radiator shape. This Barker-bodied car was delivered to Joseph Blamires of Huddersfield. 20153 came off test on 10th October 1904, carried coachwork commissioned from Cann of Camden and was delivered to a Lt. Col. Moffatt of Tidworth, Wiltshire.

Car no. 20154 – this car – came off test in November 1904 and was the third car to wear the Rolls-Royce radiator and the fourth car to carry the Rolls-Royce name. It was developed as a show car and Barker were commissioned to build the Park Phaeton coachwork with two occasional rear seats. It was this car that was selected for exhibition at the ‘Salon de L’Automobile’ in Paris, an exhibition that ran from 9th to 25th December that year. Remarkably this car was driven by C Vivian Moore from London to Southampton and then from Le Havre to Paris for the exhibition, The Autocar of 10th December 1904 congratulating C S Rolls & Co. Ltd. for displaying ‘all-British cars in the midst of France’s best’ and complimenting the company in the following terms. ‘The design and workmanship of these cars are excellent throughout and the exhibit reflects great credit on those responsible for its being beneath the roof of the Grand Palais’. Exhibited alongside 20154 on that stand were the first Royce, also driven to Paris, along with 15hp and 20hp cars, shown in an unfinished state, along with a six-cylinder 30hp engine.

20154 returned from Paris and was displayed at the Olympia Motor Exhibition in London in February 1905 on the Rolls-Royce stand, along with a 15hp and 30hp car, again the two larger cars being exhibited in an incomplete state.

Rolls was keen to promote the 10hp model as a most suitable car for the medical profession and it is thought that a Dr. Briggs owned 20154 briefly in 1905, possibly for trial or demonstration purposes before the car passed to a Kenneth Gillies of Tain in Scotland, remaining in his ownership until 1910. The car later belonged to Dr. Kenneth MacGregor of Thurso, Scotland, from 1910 to 1913 and a Dr. W H Wishart of Fife and later Edinburgh from 1913. The next recorded owner was a Frank Trafford, Motor Engineer, of 63 Westcliffe Terrace, Harrogate, the car later passing in 1920 to Percy C Binns of 34 Victoria Avenue, Harrogate and later of Woodhouse Lane, Leeds. The car was reputedly a 21st birthday present to Binns from his great uncle, a Scottish worsted manufacturer. At this time the car was fitted with a later-style streamlined body, updating its general appearance, a domed radiator cowl mounted over the original classical Rolls-Royce radiator. Binns, an insurance company manager, used the car until 1930 when it was finally retired.

In 1950 the car was discovered in a farm building at Seacroft, near Leeds, by the late Oliver Langton who, along with brother Eric, was a notable pre-war speedway and TT rider, It is reputed that this car, along with others, had been parked in a field during World War II to prevent the landing of enemy aircraft. Ownership was traced to Percy Binns who agreed to sell his car and a deal was struck on 30th August 1950 allowing it to be removed from Whinmoor Lodge, Seacroft. 20154 was found to be in remarkably original condition as far as all mechanical and chassis elements were concerned, even the original radiator was found lurking under the 1920s cowling. The steering box and base of the column had at some time been changed, a later 20hp Rolls-Royce steering box having been fitted, which the car still retains.

A four year restoration was embarked upon, Oliver using his own skills and those of his ace-engineer brother Eric to restore the car to its former glory. A period four-seater Edwardian body was located, the front seats providing the two-seater coachwork currently fitted to this car and the back seats providing, reputedly, the coachwork for a two-seater 1907 Mercedes 40/45hp car. Oliver completed the car in time to participate in the 1954 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, accompanied on that occasion by his good friend James P Smith, a fellow motorcycle enthusiast and owner of 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis no. 60577. The car was at that stage registered with the number U 44, a number given to him by his local friend Mr Bryden. A complete London to Brighton Run was achieved that year, the start of many during Oliver’s ownership. In 1955, returning from the London to Brighton Run, the crankshaft broke and a new crankshaft was fabricated using Oliver and Eric Langton’s exceptional engineering skills. The car was to remain in Oliver Langton’s ownership until 1978, taking part in many Veteran Car Club events, both at home and overseas, as well as appearing at many charity and display events in and around Oliver’s home county of Yorkshire. During his ownership the Rolls-Royce badge was added to the radiator to fend off the inevitable question “what make is it mister?”

20154 was acquired in 1978 by the present owner who had known the car for many years and driven it several years earlier at Oliver’s invitation. It joined a stable of veteran motor cars in a second generation veteran car-owning family and later was to be used by its new owner as his Presidential transport in Veteran Car Club events during his years of office and continuing its history of use in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. 20154 is the only surviving Rolls-Royce eligible through its 1904 manufacture date to participate in this prestigious event.

20154 is now presented in dark blue livery with fine gold coachlining and upholstered in nicely matured red leather buttoned and pleated upholstery. It is equipped with P&H no. 540 oil side lamps and acetylene headlamps from that same manufacturer. It is also equipped with a most useful Stepney wheel. During the present ownership the car has been maintained to the highest standards, engine work carried out in 1989/90 including the fitting of new piston rings and aluminium pistons.

The car comes with a wealth of period and more recent photographs and other technical and historical information relating to the 10hp Rolls-Royce. It is also offered with an old style buff logbook from when Oliver Langton returned the car to the road in September 1954, together with a Northern Ireland V5 registration document and Veteran Car Club of Great Britain Dating Certificate no. 491, issued on 15th June 1955 and stamped confirming Dating Review by that body in 1993. Although 20154 has seen little recent use it was in excellent running order when last driven and will simply respond to the usual careful recommissioning.

This – the oldest known surviving Rolls-Royce in the World – is surely a true motoring icon, being the model which established the credentials of that indomitable partnership of the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls and Mr Frederick Henry Royce. It is appropriate that the car should now be offered at Olympia, London, where it was displayed at The Motor Exhibition in February 1905.

Historical note –

Three other 10hp Rolls-Royce motor cars survive:-

20159 a 1905 car reported to be in private ownership – its precise whereabouts not in the public domain

20162 a 1905 Barker Park Phaeton in the custody of the Science Museum, London

20165 a 1907 side-entrance swing seat tonneau, in the Bentley Motors Heritage Collection