Travel to any part of the world, from the depths of Siberia to the
interior of Africa and mention the name Rolls-Royce and you can be
certain that the name is recognised.
It conjures up all that is finest in mechanical engineering and luxury.
The Rolls-Royce motor car has been the choice of kings and princes, film
stars and gangsters, the cars of the vintage period epitomise the
glamour and decadence of the roaring 1920s. What is less well known is
the incredible story of The Rolls-Royce car at war.
Henry Royce’s masterpiece the 40/ 50hp Rolls-Royce chassis known as The
Silver Ghost was already famous for its quality and endurance by the
time war was declared in August 1914, up until this period the motor car
had hardly ever been deployed in the military context and the horse was
still supreme on the battlefield.
Mercifully by the end of the conflict in 1918 the horse had finally been
replaced and the horrific scenes of wounded and dying animals as
witnessed by correspondents at battlefields like Waterloo would never
again be repeated.
The British War Office quickly recognised the Rolls-Royce chassis as the
most appropriate basis for a light armoured vehicle, built for speed and
It should be remembered at this stage the tank was unknown and would not
be seen until 1916. The first Rolls-Royce armoured cars were actually
built for The Royal Navy (for shore patrols) but the efficiency of the
vehicle soon led to them being deployed in all theatres of war.
The most famous use of The Rolls- Royce armoured car was in the Middle
East, when armoured car squadrons were used to support the Arab revolt
against Turkish rule and indeed TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) once
said “ A Rolls in the dessert is above rubies “
During The Rising of 1916 in Dublin armoured cars were quickly rushed to
Ireland to quell the rebellion.
These cars were so effective that very soon Irish Republican forces were
improvising there own armoured cars, even in one case acquiring and
armouring a Rolls-Royce.
By the time of The Irish War of Independence and subsequent treaty
between The British government and the fledgling Irish Republican
government there were a large number of Rolls-Royce armoured cars,
Crossley Tenders and Model T Fords garrisoned around the country by The
In an effort to assist the new Irish National Army, a large number of
these vehicles and weapons were supplied to that force and their new
commander General Michael Collins.
The vehicle inventory included thirteen 1920 pattern Rolls-Royce
armoured cars, all fitted with the standard .303 Vickers water-cooled
They were given the Irish military numbers ARR1 (Armoured Rolls-Royce)
to ARR14, the number 13 was not issued. The National forces used their
new armoured cars to great effect against the anti-treaty forces in the
ensuing Irish Civil War.
On the 22nd August 1922 General Michael Collins was carrying out an
inspection of West Cork, which was his own home territory, when he was
shot dead during an ambush near the hamlet of Béal na mBláth.
In his motorcade that day was the armoured Rolls-Royce ARR2 named Sliabh
na mBan which was used to transport General Collin’s mortally wounded
body from the ambush site.
The death of Michael Collins dealt a heavy blow to the new Irish state
and Sliabh na mBan was at the heart of this iconic moment in Irish
The Rolls-Royce armoured cars continued to be in service with The Irish
Army all the way through The Emergency (World War Two) and on into the
early 1950s when they were replaced in favour of more modern vehicles.
Twelve of the cars were stripped of their armour and weapons and sold at
auction in Dublin.
ARR2 was preserved becauseof the car’s link to General Michael Collins.
This was due to the foresight of the staff of the Cavalry Corps based at
The Curragh Camp in Kildare.
The Sliabh na mBan remained at The Curragh camp and was used for
military parades during the 1960s and 1970s and as was inevitable the
historical importance of this famous car became increasingly apparent as
the years went on.
It is now recognised to be one of the most importance historical
artefacts from the foundations of the modern Irish state.
It should also be recognised that this particular vehicle is one of only
two or three surviving of its type and this is certainly the most
original surviving example anywhere in the world.
Three years ago a decision was reached by The Irish Defence Forces to
sympathetically restore the vehicle out of a sense of duty to ensure
this living piece of Irish history is preserved for future generations.
I was delighted to be asked by the Defence Forces to assist on this
I was invited by the senior commander of the Cavalry Workshops to
inspect the Sliabh na mBan and give my opinion on its originality,
condition and the feasibility of the restoration.
They are fortunate indeed to have some excellent craftsmen within the
ranks and this coupled with state of the art workshop facilities, boded
well for a fantastic restoration project.
Myself and my staff in close collaboration with Irish Defence Forces
mechanics proceeded to dismantle, catalogue and photograph all the
component parts, although heavy wear was found throughout the chassis,
very little was missing from the original specification.
After the dismantling and cleaning of all the components we proceeded to
restore each large piece as a separate entity i.e. engine, gearbox, back
axle etc. The engine was entirely rebuilt including new pistons, valves,
valve guides etc and finished to a high cosmetic standard.
We did have one research trip to The Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset,
which is home to the only other complete Rolls-Royce armoured car with
any provenance. We quickly realised that the Sliabh na mBan was a much
superior vehicle to The British Army example both in originality and
One cause for concern was a major break in the torque tube close to the
back axle housing, however we were fortunate to have in stock a complete
drive shaft assembly in good condition.
The carburettor was fully rebuilt with the air valve being resleeved and
the jets being replaced. We also rebuilt the beautifully made
Rolls-Royce distributor and had the magneto and coil rewound.
The finished chassis was painted in the original battleship grey
favoured by the early Irish cavalry corp. Approximately a year after the
commencement of the project the chassis was back in running and driving
We next turned our attention to the armoured body and the staff at The
Curragh Camp did the majority of this work, during this time we found
the distinctive tell tale strike mark of a .303 bullet on the turret, a
scar possibly obtained during the ambush at Béal na mBláth.
After the refit of the body, the turret and the restored but deactivated
Vickers .303 machine gun, we had out first few test drives in this most
evocative of motor cars.
We found her capable of 63mph on the motorway and approximately 40mph
over the grassy plains that surround the Curragh Camp.
We as a company have been delighted and honoured to be involved in the
restoration of this hugely important piece of motoring history.
We would also like to praise the excellent craftsmen and workshop staff
at the cavalry workshops and I have no doubt at all that this vehicle
will survive for another one hundred years in the care of these
dedicated and able men.