Rolls-Royce Motor Cars returned in magnificent style to the Scottish roads that, in 1907 set the scene for one of the marque’s defining moments.
Wraith, Ghost Series II, Phantom and Phantom Coupé all paid homage to the achievements of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which, by completing a 14,371 mile virtually non-stop run, forged the marque’s reputation as purveyor of the ‘Best Car in World’.
The 1907 Scottish Reliability Trials
The petrol-powered automobile was still in its infancy in 1907, and the greatest concerns for the motorist were a car’s ability to cope with gradients, the ease with which it could be steered, stopped and started again, but above all, its reliability. However, very few early manufacturers could truly meet these requirements. Indeed, Rudyard Kipling, an ardent motoring enthusiast, summed up the mood of the time by saying: “I like motoring because I have suffered for its sake”.
Ever the innovators, Sir Henry Royce set out with Charles Rolls to build the best cars in the world and conceived a challenge, the successful completion of which would show the world what their motor car could achieve.
The challenge was not one to be taken lightly. A six-cylinder Rolls-Royce 40-50 h.p. (later known as the Silver Ghost) was to be driven over 5,000 miles in less than a month, without once entering a repair shop for the duration of the trial. The mileage was twice the annual mileage a motorist would be expected to cover at that time and 748 miles would be covered as part of the gruelling challenge that would become known as the Scottish Reliability Trials.
Run in various forms since 1901, the Scottish Reliability Trials were administered by the Scottish Automobile Club and designed as the ultimate test over some of the most demanding and remote roads in Great Britain. Starting and finishing in Glasgow, the route stretched as far as Aberdeen, Inverness and Pitlochry. Providing one of the greatest challenges was the already well-known Cairnwell Hill, on the route to Braemar, which included the Devil’s Elbow and is still the highest pass in Great Britain, peaking at 2,200 feet above sea level.
The 748 miles took five days to complete and 14 of 104 cars failed to make the finish. The Rolls-Royce 40-50 h.p. completed the Trials in style, comfortably taking the gold medal in its class.
While the Silver Ghost competed in the Trials alone, it was accompanied to Scotland by three other cars from the Rolls-Royce stable. That many owners took in Scotland as part of their travels made the Scottish Reliability Trials particularly relevant to Rolls-Royce, but the 1907 Trials were part of a bigger test and immediately the victorious car was again on the road. Within two weeks of completing the Scottish Reliability Trials, the 40-50 h.p. had completed over 5,000 miles. That this had been done without once visiting a repair shop was an outstanding achievement for the time.
In 1911, Rudyard Kipling bought a Rolls-Royce. The only car he could afford, he said, ‘because they did not break down’.
Over a century later, the four contemporary Rolls-Royce models revisited some of the original routes conquered by the Silver Ghost. The quartet completed a tour around the Cairngorms and Trossachs, including Cairnwell Hill, touring through the breathtaking scenery with an ease only to be expected from the descendants of the Silver Ghost. Technology may have moved on immeasurably in 108 years, but the aim is still the same for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars today: to produce the best cars in the world.