Between 1922 and 1929 Rolls-Royce went out on something of a limb. The company was known for manufacturing luxury cars, and those luxury cars were known for being very large and room. After all, they weren’t producing them for the economically-minded; the people buying Rolls-Royce automobiles longed for the extravagant. What better way to show off one’s power and prestige than by driving around in the most expensive car on the planet?
It’s likely that when the Rolls-Royce Twenty was first unveiled to the public in 1922 the heads of company had knees that were knocking ever so slightly. Thus far, all they had been known for was the big and luxurious, and the Twenty would be there smallest automobile yet…actually, it would be the smallest the company would ever make. It was not what we would refer to as a ‘compact’ car by the standards set today, but for the times, it probably appeared to fans of the company’s vehicles that there was no better adjective to use. Compared to its other offerings, the Twenty was rather…well, small, for lack of a better word.
So, why would a company with such a flair for creating ‘bigger and better' decide to produce a car that, for all intents and purposes, was substantially smaller than its predecessors? Well, only the men who were there knew what was really going on in their head. The only thing we can do is dive into the history of the Rolls-Royce Twenty and see if we can figure it out for ourselves.
The Winds of Change?
As it turns out, the head men at Rolls-Royce hadn’t gone off their rockers at all. They hadn’t suffered high fevers that effected their judgment, nor had they decided to make the model Twenty just to toy with those who loved their cars the most by dangling something seemingly foreign before them to see how they’d react. In reality, the opposite was true: It seemed there had been a growing demand on the part of consumers for a car that was smaller and more economical, but still bore the coveted Rolls-Royce name. True to form, those in charge got together, discussed it, and decided to give them what they wanted.
The Rolls-Royce Twenty (or 20HP, as it was truly called) was first unveiled in 1922 and made available for sale to the waiting consumers. Yes, there had indeed been several public suggestions that Rolls-Royce produce a smaller, less expensive vehicle, but its release didn’t go over well with everyone on the buying end. As a matter of fact, according to a book by John Fasal about the Twenty, which is discussed in the September, 1979 issue of Motorsport Magazine, Rolls-Royce was compelled to defend the new model and its design in a series of letters, which are published in the book . Through the publication of these letters, the book tells of how British consumers felt that the car had been Americanized in specific ways, such as the use of the original three-speed gearbox, push rods, and brake levers. Interestingly enough, the issues were rectified later on, but the existence of the letters and the company’s obvious need to defend their work in those letters tells us that not everyone was as enthused, at least initially, as they would have hoped.
So it took them a couple of years to get it right. But they obviously did get it right, because during the years of the Twenty’s production more than 2,800 chassis were built for that car, and over the next four decades or so the Twenty was said to have been found just about all over the world. Australia was reported to have been the purchasing spot for 122 of the model.
If we’re being honest, and if they were being honest back then, we would all have to admit that the Twenty, which was introduced to the public right after World War I, came during a period of great economic hardship. When the car was new, it sold for approximately £1,600, or around $1,975 US currency. Considering that they typically model Rolls-Royce sold for about $12,000 in 1920, it seems to me that a particular gearbox and some brake levers should be the least of the consumer’s worries; the company was trying to do folks a favor,
1922 Rolls-Royce 20HP (Twenty): Specs & Features
The unique little beast was actually a cool car, and it managed to sell fairly well, considering there were those who were apprehensive. Here is a list of specs to give us a better idea what was making that puppy run.
- Gasoline fueled
- Small family/compact class
- Rear-wheel drive
- 4-stroke, spark ignition engine
- In-line six; 2 valves per cylinder
- Carbureted fuel system
- Naturally aspirated charging system
- 3 inch x 4.5 inch bore & stroke (76.2mm x 114.3mm)
- Compression ratio of 4.8:1
- 190.9 cubic inch displacement (3127cm³)
- 50 hp maximum (50ps; 37kW)/3000rpm
Wrapping It All Up…
After years of producing great big luxury cars that cost a very pretty penny indeed, Rolls-Royce listened to those who bought the cars, and the result was the model 20HP, which first came out in 1922. But not everyone thought they were being true to themselves, and they ended up defending the vehicle, which managed to be a very good seller for them anyway. Since the dawn of economic depression was upon the world, it was a very good move for the company in more ways than one.
The 20HP may not have been all that the rich wanted it to be, but it was more than enough for those who still wanted to stay true to Rolls-Royce without going into the poor house over their decision. The fact is, some of these cars are still out there today, and can even be found for sale, but those are few, far-between, and at a price that is much more exorbitant than it was nearly a century ago.
This is a very cool car to look at and read about, but most all of us will have to nix even the thought of purchasing one. Those thoughts are reserved for wealthy collectors and celebrities with a ‘must-have’ outlook. More power to them; I say if you can, do, no matter who you are. But I would prefer to think about one of these babies going to a person who can not only enjoy it and love it, put can afford to care for it properly. After all, it is a piece of history that is damn hard to come by.
Happy driving…and remember to always enjoy the vehicle you’ve got.
Written by Benjamin Smith
Read more posts by Benjamin Smith