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Letter from Europe: Bernie Bids for Rolls!

25 November 1997

Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

According to my information from sources within Vickers, owners of Rolls Royce Motors, the undisputed Czar of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, decided to put in a bid for this most famous of car makers.

If the reports can be believed, Bernie has 500 million pounds at his disposal (which is equivalent to about 775 million dollars). Ecclestone is bidding against BMW, Mercedes, Ford, VW, and Chrysler but he has a number of things in his favour. Because of his unique position in Grand Prix racing, Ecclestone is already close to BMW, Mercedes, and Ford, all of whom are either in Formula One or about to re-join (such as BMW).

Obviously the British Government would prefer to keep Rolls in local hands, if at all possible. After all, Rolls is a major national symbol. If Bernie were to become Rolls' owner, it would not present a problem for BMW, which supplies the next generation of engines for this famous car maker, although the German carmaker would probably object to, say, Ford getting ahold of its outstanding V12 engine.

There are people in the City of London who think that the bid is purely an ego-trip and that Bernie is doing it partly to restore his somewhat tarnished reputation as a result of the Schumacher fiasco and the brouhaha concerning his donation to the Labour Party. There will be no decision taken until next Spring, and it would be impossible to predict the outcome.

One thing is for sure, should Bernie become owner of Rolls-Royce, a title-Lord of Ecclestone of Silverstone could not be far behind.