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Car of the Month - May 2023
Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., 1905, #22357 Tourer by Morgan and
Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., 1906, #40523 Tourer by


Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.

100 years have passed since the Rolls-Royce 20 H.P. was introduced in 1922 as a 'little Rolls-Royce' with a displacement of only 3 litres to complement the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost - whose engine had a displacement of 7.4 litres. The anniversary of the 'Twenty', which quickly enjoyed a very good reputation, will be celebrated on various occasions this year. It should be noted that decades earlier in the model range of the English manufacturer there had been a model called Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.. This too had been a successful model. It was one of the early creations of Frederick Henry Royce, who had relied on a 4-cylinder in-line engine as the power source for the 20 H.P..

Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.

The car demonstrated its fine performance by finishing second in the Tourist Trophy race on the Isle of Man in 1905 with Percy Northey at the wheel of the car with chassis number #26357. The factory had entered two cars from this model-series. The other 20 H.P. with chassis number #26358 was driven by Charles S. Rolls, who was forced to retire though early in the race. At least Percy Northey had achieved a very respectable success with 2nd place.

Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.

The following year, 1906, Rolls-Royce decided to compete again in the Tourist Trophy race on the Isle of Man. The experienced pilots Percy Northey and Charles S. Rolls were again relied upon. The two had already prudently completed in-depth test drives on the Isle of Man course prior to the race. The results immediately ignited up-dates to the cars scheduled for the race. But a few examples: The wooden-spoked wheels were replaced by wire wheels because such were lighter and stronger. The engine hoods were provided with ventilation slots for rapid heat dissipation. Henry Royce increase the engine's power output by achieving higher compression thanks to modified pistons. It was a triumph for the automobile manufacturer, founded only two years earlier, when Charles S. Rolls did win with #26350B. This time, bad luck struck driver Percy Northey, who was entrusted with #40523. He hit a bridge edging and was lucky to move his car under its own power to the finish. The telegram sent by Northey to Henry Royce became an anecdote in the annals of Rolls-Royce: "Spring broken, heart broken."

Rolls-Royce 20 H.P.

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Contrary to what often has been concluded, Percy Northey at that time was no member of the Rolls-Royce staff. He was listed as an 'amateur'. From today's point of view, P. W. Northey (1872-1935) is worthy of recognition as a peculiarly distinguished personality at Rolls-Royce. From the outset, the electrical engineer brought exquisite knowledge; among other things, he held a number of patents for electric vehicles and even one for an early variant of an automobile with 'hybrid drive'. In 1905 and 1906, as previously stated, he had been the second driver - along with Charles S. Rolls - for the Rolls-Royce 20 H.P. motor cars used in the Tourist Trophy races. It was not until 1907 that a contractual commitment was made (other sources state not prior to 1909). His achievements during World War has to be considered as 'outstanding'; by 1918 he had become promoted with the rank of  Captain to the position of Head of the Tank Division of the War Office. Consequently, Northey was one of the pioneers in the manufacture and use of tanks.

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
Percy Northey's Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, #6CA, Limousine by Barker, on war-time during World War I.

From 1920 onwards, he was entrusted with the management of the test department at Rolls-Royce – he was based at Conduit Street, London. He used almost all his tours to the continent for contacts with authorized dealers and their mechanics as well as for customer contacts to get clients' feedback. A 'windfall profit' for him has been this enhanced chances to smuggle camera components and films and radio equipment, too; although he merely acted to meet his own needs, not for profit. Northey was a most talented photographer. He won awards for his wildlife shots and his photos of Rolls-Royce were so exquisite that they were used in the manufacturer's brochures and often found their way into the customer magazine 'Bulletin'. Remarkably, his colour photos - including those of cars in motion - found their way into factory brochures as early as during the 1920s (whereas many American manufacturers continued to favour creations of draftsmen/illustrators well into the 1950s). Sadly, he died shortly after he had retired from work in 1933; he did not enjoy a long period as a pensioner. As a 'liaison' between the Derby factory and the authorized dealers, especially on the continent, this personality played an important role.

Rolls-Royce Phantom II
Rolls-Royce Phantom II, 1930, #73WJwith Percey Northey on a promotion tour in Sweden.

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