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

By Rob Harvey
By Rob Harvey

Marketing Manager - Bridge Classic Cars

On the 15th of June 1913, the first-ever Spanish Grand Prix was held, and two Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts took first and third place. This was a huge success in both technical capabilities and tactical planning and would go on to set the template for the brand’s iconic triumph at the 1913 Alpenfahrt the following week.

Now, 110 years later, the accomplishments of the day are credited to three points – the overwhelmingly superior engineering of the Silver Ghost, perfect team tactics, and the self-sacrifice of one of the marque’s most experienced and loyal employees.

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Racing

Back in the early 20th Century, car manufacturers used endurance trials as the main way to show off the capabilities of their vehicles. Rolls-Royce was no exception to this and the brand had something of an enviable record in this type of event thanks to their cars dominating in a series of trials, including the 15,000-mile Scottish Reliability Trial in 1907, and the London to Edinburgh in 1911, in which the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost won the epic race where all cars had to be locked in top gear.

At the same time, motor racing was getting more popular and more sophisticated and, in 1906, France staged its first Grand Prix. This was held with the support of the Automobile Club de France, which the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls had been a member of since he was just 18 years old.

By the time 1913 came around, Charles had sadly died and the Managing Director of Rolls-Royce, Claude Johnson wanted to boost sales in Europe, so the inaugural Spanish Grand Prix seemed like a fantastic promotional opportunity for the brand. As a result, two Silver Ghosts were entered into the race that was taking place on the 15th of June.

The First-Ever Spanish Grand Prix

The Spanish Grand Prix was a real test of endurance and reliability and not just raw speed. These two things were key strengths of the Silver Ghost so hopes were high.

The race covered 192 miles over three laps, including two passes of the formidable Guadarrama mountains, northwest of Madrid. It was an exclusive event that could only be entered by four-seater touring cars which all had to be fitted with mudguards, lamps, hoods, and two spare tyres. The bonnets were sealed and no water could be added to the radiator once the race had begun. Considering the temperature in the shade was well above 30°C when the cars made their way to the start line – it was obvious that this would be a very demanding challenge.

17 vehicles started, including the two modified Silver Ghosts – one owned and, against the company’s wishes, driven by Don Carlos de Salamanca y Hurtado de Zaldivar, who had recently become Rolls-Royce’s new agent in Madrid. The second Silver Ghost was company-owned and driven by Eric Platford, who was one of the brand’s most experienced and dedicated engineers. In fact, he had been responsible for many of the previous trial successes.


A Winning Strategy

After three hours of racing, Eric Platford was leading the race by more than 20 minutes and was heading for a commanding win. However, he was a loyal employee and understood that this was as much a commercial undertaking as it was a race he personally wanted to win. Following strict instructions, Eric pulled over and let Don Carlos de Salamanca overtake him. Don Carlos went on to win the debut Grand Prix of his home nation with a time of 3 hours, 34 minutes, and 12 seconds – averaging a speed of 54mph.

Unfortunately for Platford, his selfless act inadvertently allowed another driver to pass him too. The Marqués de Aulencia, in a Lorraine-Dietrich, finished in second place just three minutes ahead of him.

Third Place Rewards

Despite finishing third, it was clear that Eric Platford was a catalyst for the success of the Grand Prix. After the race, he drove to Madrid where he received a congratulatory telegram from Claude Johnson. He was also given a holiday to Venice, and two gold watches – one from the directors of Rolls-Royce, and one from the very grateful Don Carlos de Salamanca!

Further Success For The Silver Ghost At The Alpenfahrt

A week after the Spanish Grand Prix was the 1913 Alpenfahrt – a 1,600-mile trial through the Alps. Eric Platford was the team manager at the event and led his team to even more success as Rolls-Royce took the four top spots.

This was enough to seal the Silver Ghost’s reputation and was described by the media as ‘The Best Car In The World’. Eric’s team spirit, dedication, selflessness, courage and constant pursuit of excellence is the perfect nod to the marque’s ethos to this day of inspiring greatness.

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