Rolls-Royce is one of the oldest car manufacturers still in production today, having been started in 1907. The name derives from the founders, Sir Henry Royce and Charles Rolls, and the company's logo, two interlocking "R"s is instantly recognisable. The other unique identifying item for Rolls-Royce autmobiles is the Spirit of Ecstasy badge that adorns the bonnet of each vehicle.

Right from the start, Rolls-Royce have only built luxury vehicles. Their first car was named the "Silver Spirit" and a contemporary reviewer was amazed to find that:

"At whatever speed this car is being driven on its direct third (gear) there is no engine so far as sensation goes, nor are one's auditory nerves troubled, driving or standing, by a fuller sound than emanates from an eight-day clock."

In 1921 Rolls-Royce started looking to the export market and their first vehicle made exclusively for the USA, the Silver Ghost, went into production at a new factory in Springfield, MA.

The company continued as the world's finest manufacturer of prestige vehicles, but in the post-war boom motoring ceased to be an activity purely for the middle class and Rolls-Royce found its sales slipping. Additionally an ill-advised venture by the aircraft engine side of the company resulted in diaster and in 1971 it became officially insolvent and had to be nationalised by the British government.

The company was returned to private ownership in 1987 and has continued producing both cars and engines ever since. Rolls-Royce has about 25% of the worldwide market for aircraft engines but the automobiles were still overpriced for the mass market (being largely handmade) and in 1998 Volkswagen and BMW fought a bitter battle to try to obtain the company.

BMW emerged as the main victors, succesfully bidding for the world-famous Rolls-Royce brand name. VW acquired a five-year lease to produce the cars, after which ownership will move over to BMW in full.

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