By Lifestyle Editor
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars marks the 110th anniversary of its success in the Alpine Trial in 1913 – an event whose significance in Rolls-Royce’s legend cannot be overstated. It was this challenge, held over eight days and 2,600km, that established Rolls-Royce's reputation as ‘the best car in the world’ – a crown it retains to this day. Rolls-Royce looks back on the characters, cars and conditions that helped make automotive history.
A DAUNTING CHALLENGE – AND UNMISSABLE OPPORTUNITY
From its foundation in 1904, Rolls-Royce immediately earned an enviable reputation for quality and reliability. This was cemented in a faultless performance by the new 40/50 hp, or Silver Ghost as it came to be known, in the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trials, followed by a peerless demonstration at the famous 1911 London to Edinburgh Top Gear Trial and Brooklands 100mph Run.
These endeavours earned Rolls-Royce the soubriquet ‘the best British car’. However, for energetic, ambitious managing director Claude Johnson, who described himself as the hyphen in Rolls-Royce, this was merely the beginning. He wanted to conquer the European market and knew that success in a high-profile continental event was the key. The 1913 Alpine Trial would provide precisely the opportunity he was looking for.
Johnson personally selected a Rolls-Royce Works Team, with Eric Platford – one of the company’s most trusted employees and former mechanic to Charles Stewart Rolls himself – as manager. The specially prepared Silver Ghosts would be driven by Curt Friese, the marque’s representative in Austria, experienced Alpine driver Jock Sinclair, and EW Hives, a senior member of the Experimental Department at Derby and the first man to drive the Silver Ghost at 101mph.
Johnson also invited an enthusiastic privateer Silver Ghost owner, James Radley, to act as the team’s pacesetter.
The Works cars were meticulously prepared for the hazards of a springtime crossing of the Alps. Then as now, these included extreme temperatures, high altitudes, punishing gradients and vertiginous descents – but all without the benefit of the modern road surfaces of today.
The most significant technical modifications to the Silver Ghosts included a new four-speed gearbox with a special low gear, strengthened chassis and suspension, a larger main fuel tank together with a reserve, and a new starting system that could get the engine running in under a minute even in freezing temperatures.
After a successful reconnaissance mission in May – in which the cars overcame appalling conditions with perfect composure – the team travelled to Vienna for the start of the Alpine Trial on 22 June 1913.