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Rolls-Royce Limited was founded in 1906 by Henry Royce and Charles Rolls at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, as a manufacturer of luxury cars, before diversifying into aircraft engine manufacturing. The production of road vehicles remained a major activity of the company until the car business was split off in 1973 as Rolls-Royce Motors.

Rolls-Royce produced its first aircraft engine in 1914. Around half the aircraft engines used by the Allies in World War, I was made by Rolls-Royce. By the late 1920s, aero engines made up most of Rolls-Royce's business. The last design in which Henry Royce was involved was the Merlin aero engine, which came out in 1935; Royce had died in 1933. This was a development subsequent to the R engine, which had powered a record-breaking Supermarine S.6B seaplane to almost 400 mph in the 1931 Schneider Trophy. The legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin is revered as a British icon. The Merlin powered many World War II aircraft: the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, De Havilland Mosquito (twin-engined), Avro Lancaster (4-engine); it also transformed the American P-51 Mustang into one of the best fighters of its time, its Merlin engine built by Packard under licence. The early Merlins – Rolls-Royce piston engines were named after birds of prey – were used by the British Royal Air Force in the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire that won the Battle of Britain. The Merlin engine is often considered to be one of the main factors in winning the war for the Allies. Over 160,000 Merlin engines were produced.

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