May 4 might be about to become as iconic a date for Rolls-Royce fans as it is for Star Wars fans: it is on this date in 1904 that aristocrat and motorist Charles Rolls met engineer Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, launching one of the auto industry’s most rarefied marques. It also happens to be the day that the company restarts production at its Goodwood‑based facility following a coronavirus-related shutdown. Rolls-Royce made the decision to temporarily cease production in March as the Covid-19 pandemic intensified.
These two events––separated by 116 years––demonstrate how resilient the company remains surviving everything from two World Wars to the Great Depression to an outbreak often cited in comparison to the contemporary health crisis: the Spanish Flu of 1918. The decision to resume production while the pandemic remains far from over was considered carefully, according to company management.
“We are living through historic times,” Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös said in a press release. “Our primary focus is, of course, on safely resuming production at The Home of Rolls-Royce in Goodwood, West Sussex; but in marking this amazing anniversary, we are taking a moment to reflect on what 116 years have taught us.”
The current shepherds of Rolls-Royce may have only recently made working from home a new normal, but it harkens back to the company’s early days. Sir Henry Royce preferred working in solitude, sometimes in his private studio, where he is said to have devised some of his greatest ideas. Legend has it that while walking on the nearby beach one day, Royce sketched the initial design for the groundbreaking R-series aero engine in the sand with his walking-stick. His home and the nearby beach is a short eight miles from the present-day manufacturing plant and global head office.
“As a company, we can draw strength from the knowledge that although Rolls-Royce has faced uncertainty many times over the years, it has emerged more resilient and confident, with its fundamental principles unaltered,” Müller-Ötvös said in the release. “Our present challenges may be unprecedented, but as we look to the future, I am confident there is no company in the world better prepared to overcome them.”