Example: [Cerf, 1956]
A London plutocrat was driving his fine new Rolls-Royce over the Alps when he heard a disquieting "twang." His front spring had broken.
He called the Rolls plant in London by long distance, and, in what seemed like no time flat, three gentlemen arrived by plane with a new spring — and off went the plutocrat on his interrupted jaunt.
Now comes the really interesting part of the story. After six months the plutocrat had received no bill from the Rolls people. Finally he appeared at the plant in person and asked that the records be checked for "the repair of a broken spring in Switzerland." After a brief delay the manager of the plant appeared in person, gazed at him rather reproachfully, and announced, "There must be some mistake, sir. There is no such thing as a broken spring on a Rolls-Royce."
Origins: Famed for its sumptuous luxury and reputation for craftsmanship, the Rolls-Royce automobile is the ultimate symbol of wealth, style, prestige, and elegance. For this reason it has become the subject of a body of lore celebrating these aspects of the vehicle.
The legend listed above has been in circulation since the 1950s. Although some of its smaller details do shift from telling to telling (broken spring or axle, or engine that needs replacing; the number of mechanics sent; whether they arrive by airplane, helicopter, or in another Rolls), the story itself has remained remarkably consistent for half a century. Always the repairman comes to the motorist (there's none of this "have the car towed to the nearest garage" business), and always the conscientious car owner finds out about Rolls-Royce's disavowal of the incident only when a bill for services performed fails to materialize, and he contacts the company to inquire about it.
The thrust of the story is the underlying presumption that Rolls-Royces are so well constructed they practically never break down, prompting the company's later denial of (what would be to them) an embarrassing incident. Rolls-Royce itself claims at least some elements of the legend came true in 1932 to no less a personage than Rudyard Kipling, as detailed in the
The car was delivered to his house one morning by a uniformed driver, who handed him the keys and was then driven away (in another Rolls, of course).
The new car looked so luxurious that it was nearly an hour before the man got up the courage to get in and start it. But when he turned the ignition key nothing happened. He tried again, and again, still the motor refused to turn over.
Finally in anger and disgust he called the Rolls dealership, only to be told by a haughty man with a snooty accent that the car had indeed started, but was running so quietly that he couldn't hear it.1
Notice how the new car owner is described as someone who has only recently come into money (via the scandalously low-class mode of winning the lottery, no less). The lad is portrayed as a parvenu, someone who has no right to a car of this pedigree, even though the money to purchase
The twin themes of pervasive quality and snob appeal tie all Rolls-Royce legends to one another, forming a body of lore that works to convince listeners the Rolls is very special indeed, a vehicle intended strictly for the upper crust. Such cachet is its own advertisement; folks would kill to own a car like that even if it were a terrible piece of equipment, just to have that presumption of blue blood rub onto them.
One final bit of Rolls lore attaches to the silver lady hood ornament called "The Spirit of Ecstasy" (or, in the USA, "The Flying Lady") that has adorned Rolls-Royce motor cars since 1911: Some people believe she is made of pure silver. Although that would perhaps be fitting, until recently, it was never the case. Over the years, several different metals have been used, but never silver. In the early days, white metal was used to fashion the shape; now it is formed of highly polished stainless steel.
However, in the 2000s, Rolls Royce has deigned to offer at additional cost the Spirit of Ecstasy in sterling silver or
Barbara "untarnished image" Mikkelson
|Rolls-Royce Motor Cars|
Cerf, Bennett. The Life of the Party. Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1956 (p. 281). Smith, Paul. The Book of Nasty Legends. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. ISBN 0-00-636856-5 (p. 9). Smith, Paul. The Book of Nastier Legends. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. ISBN 0-7102-0573-2 (p. 38). Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations. Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1979. ISBN 0-88469-100-4 (p. 1266). Tide. "Pride and Prejudice." Reader's Digest. January 1960 (p. 138).
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