The Magic of a Name: The Rolls-Royce Story, by Peter Pugh, Volume One of a two-part series, Goldberg McDuffie, New York, 2000, $50.
This solid tome is the first part of a definitive two-volume history of one of the most famous and revered names in business–the Rolls-Royce company. The word “definitive” is part of the publisher’s description of the work, but in this case it is no exaggeration. There is a tremendous amount of information between these covers about the company, its people and the engineering developments it was involved in. But The Magic of a Name is not the type of book you will want to settle down to read for entertainment.
The book’s historical aspects extend well beyond the doors of the factory, exploring the company and its people as well as the evolving relationships among other companies and individuals, and changing world and business conditions that influenced the direction and fortunes of the Rolls-Royce organization.
If you are looking for an adventure story, I doubt you will find it here–except, maybe, in some of the intrigues that seem to come out of the closet once in a while. But if you are patient and persistent, The Magic of a Name can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about one of the world’s premier auto and aircraft engine companies.
The automobiles came first, of course, when Henry Royce and Charles S. Rolls formed the company in 1906 and brought out the Silver Ghost, “the best car in the world.” But the company soon expanded into aero engines, and World War I saw them produce the Eagle, Hawk, Falcon and Condor. In 1919, an Eagle-powered Vickers Vimy carried John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown across the Atlantic–for the first direct flight over that ocean.
The company’s interest reverted to great automobiles in the 1920s, but then another war pulled it back into aircraft power plants. The Rolls-Royce “R” engine established a world airspeed record and won the Schneider Trophy, powering a Supermarine S.6. One thing led to another, and soon aircraft designer Reginald J. Mitchell was dropping Rolls-Royce Merlin engines into his Spitfire. Merlins would also soon power the Hawker Hurricane, the Avro Lancaster, the de Havilland Mosquito and the North American P-51 Mustang.
When the jet age blossomed, Rolls-Royce jumped into turbine engines with both feet. But the mid-1940s is where this first volume leaves off. You’ll have to tune in again, folks, when the next volume comes out with the rest of the story.
Arthur H. Sanfelici