Rolls-Royce Celebrates 110th Anniversary Of 1913 Spanish Grand Prix

Rolls-Royce recently commemorated the 110th anniversary of their remarkable triumph at the 1913 Spanish Grand Prix.

The race witnessed the Silver Ghosts, Rolls-Royce’s iconic vehicles, securing first and third places, showcasing their technical prowess and tactical superiority. This victory set the stage for their legendary triumph at the 1913 Alpenfahrt just a few weeks later, establishing Rolls-Royce as a force to be reckoned with.

Racing Ahead: Rolls-Royce’s Endurance Trials and Motor-Racing Prowess

During the early 20th century, endurance trials served as the primary platform for automobile manufacturers, including luxury brands like Rolls-Royce, to showcase their products’ capabilities. Rolls-Royce boasted an exceptional track record in these arduous tests, dominating prestigious events such as the 15,000-mile Scottish Reliability Trial in 1907 and the renowned London to Edinburgh run in 1911, which was completed entirely in top gear.

Simultaneously, the world of motor racing was rapidly evolving, both in terms of sophistication and popularity. In 1906, France held its inaugural Grand Prix, organized by the esteemed Automobile Club de France, of which the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls, a successful motor-racing pioneer, had been a member since he was 18.

While Rolls-Royce typically preferred trials over racing, by 1913, three years after the untimely death of Charles Rolls, managing director Claude Johnson was eager to boost sales in Europe. He recognized Continental racing as a vital promotional opportunity and thus entered two Silver Ghosts in the inaugural Spanish Grand Prix scheduled for 15th June 1913.

High Endeavours: The Appeal of the Spanish Grand Prix to Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce found the Spanish Grand Prix particularly appealing due to its focus on endurance and reliability, qualities in which the Silver Ghost excelled, rather than sheer speed. The 192-mile course comprised three laps, including challenging passes through the rugged Guadarrama mountains, located northwest of Madrid. The race exclusively featured four-seater touring cars, mandated to be equipped with mudguards, lamps, hoods, and two spare tires. The bonnets were sealed, and once the race commenced, no water could be added to the radiator, despite starting under scorching temperatures above 30°C in La Granja.

Rolls-Royce Celebrates 110th Anniversary Of 1913 Spanish Grand Prix

Among the 17 participants, two modified Silver Ghosts took their positions at the starting line. The first car was owned by Don Carlos de Salamanca y Hurtado de Zaldivar, who recently became Rolls-Royce’s agent in Madrid, although, against the company’s express wishes, he took on the role of the driver. The second vehicle was a company-owned Silver Ghost, expertly driven by Eric Platford, one of Rolls-Royce’s highly experienced and dedicated engineers, who had been instrumental in their previous triumphs in various trials.

Strategy and Sacrifice: Platford’s Selflessness

After three hours of intense racing, Platford established an impressive lead of over 20 minutes. However, given the practical business aspect of the endeavour and not merely a sporting challenge, Platford adhered to strict instructions. Setting aside his personal ambitions, he made the selfless decision to pull over and allow Don Carlos de Salamanca to pass him. The Madrid agent went on to secure victory, becoming the first-ever winner of the Spanish Grand Prix, completing the race in 3 hours, 34 minutes, and 12 seconds, with an average speed of 54mph.

Regrettably for Platford, his altruistic move also opened the door for another contender, the Marqués de Aulencia in a Lorraine-Dietrich, who clinched second place, a mere three minutes ahead of Platford. In an era when races could be won or lost by hours, this narrow margin was significant.

Just Rewards: Recognition for Platford’s Sacrifice

Fortunately, Platford’s sacrifice did not go unnoticed. Following the race, he drove his car to Madrid, where he received a congratulatory telegram from Claude Johnson. In recognition of his selflessness, Platford was later awarded a holiday in Venice, partly as a gift and partly to provide respite from the inevitable press attention. Additionally, he received two gold watches as compensation—one from the Rolls-Royce directors and the other from a grateful Don Carlos de Salamanca.

On to the Alpenfahrt: Rolls-Royce’s Triumph Continues

The victory at the 1913 Spanish Grand Prix arrived just one week before the start of the daunting 1,600-mile Alpenfahrt, a gruelling trial through the Alps. As the team manager, Platford led the Rolls-Royce Works Team to an extraordinary clean sweep of the top four positions, solidifying the Silver Ghost’s reputation as “the best car in the world,” as described by the media. Platford epitomized the spirit of teamwork, dedication, selflessness, courage, and an unwavering pursuit of excellence, embodying the ethos of Inspiring Greatness that remains at the core of the Rolls-Royce marque to this day.

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