For the first time in decades, custom coachbuilding returns to Rolls-Royce
Wouldn't it be great if you could commission a car to be built to your specification?
In a return to its heritage, Rolls-Royce announced last week that it is introducing Rolls-Royce Coachbuild, which allows customers to do just that. The first three cars built will share a common body style but vary widely in appearance and details. Each car will be a collaboration between Rolls-Royce and the clients, reflecting their taste.
For most of its history, Rolls-Royce built only a rolling chassis with mechanical components and a radiator grille. It was then sent to coachbuilders, who would finish the car's interior and exterior to a client's specifications. In this, Rolls-Royce was not unique. Even American luxury automakers, including Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard and Duesenberg, offered custom coach-built vehicles prior to World War II. Rolls-Royce continued its coachbuilding service until 1965, when the unibody Silver Shadow replaced the body-on-frame Silver Cloud.
The three new Coachbuild cars will be built using the architecture that underpins the Phantom, Cullinan and Ghost, but the process will be more than a mere re-skin, with more than 1,800 new pieces made for the car.
"Each body is going to be very different," said Gerry Spahn, head of communications for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America.
It's possible thanks to Rolls-Royce's proprietary all-aluminum spaceframe chassis. It's scalable, with four fixed points at each corner that allow the bulkhead, floor, crossmember and sill panels to be lengthened, shortened or increased in height, depending on the vehicle requirements. By moving away from pure unibody construction, Rolls-Royce designers can construct any number of different vehicles.
The return of custom coachbuilding at Rolls-Royce was spurred by the 2017 Rolls-Royce Sweptail, a one-off concept car.
"We had several clients come to us and tell us, 'I want a one-off,' " Spahn said. Upon hearing the requests, the company had to figure out how to accommodate them.
Alexander Innes, now head of Coachbuild design, began by sorting through the different requests and noticed that three different clients had requested a boat-tail body as seen in J-class yachts. In response, Innes decided to build "Boat Tail" cars for the three clients. He pulled together designers, artisans, craftspeople, and a sales and marketing team over the past four years, and in the process created the Coachbuild department.
Innes' approach to designing a bespoke Rolls-Royce reflects a person's life and lifestyle, interpreting that into the design of the car.
For the initial commission, Innes found that the clients loved to entertain, whether in their house or on their yacht, so that was integrated into the design. The owner is also a watch aficionado, so the car incorporates a titanium watch holder in place of the traditional Rolls-Royce clock. Such specificity in design is similar to having a custom suit or gown made.
The Boat Tail has an open top with a fixed canopy. The architecture is extensively modified to fit the unique shape of the aluminum skin, which is hand-pounded, hand painted and shares no exterior components with the Dawn, Ghost or Phantom, although it does share its mechanical bits. Filled with nautical references, its owners' lifestyle is most apparent in the rear deck. Made with Caleidolegno open-pore book-matched wood veneer offset by brushed stainless steel pinstripe inlays, it resembles the deck of a fine yacht.
But the center-hinged rear deck opens to reveal intricate hosting compartments fitted for al fresco dining. This includes a refrigerator fitted with polished custom cradles polished to hold the owner's favorite champagne. A large umbrella deploys over the rear deck should it rain, while rotating cocktail tables open on each side, and are matched to the slimline stools crafted by Italian furniture maker Promemoria. In addition, Bovet 1822 created a man's and a women's watch to complement their new ride. It can be worn or placed in the watch holder on the instrument panel.
Such extravagance doesn't come quickly, or cheaply.
From the Boat Tail's inception, its design and construction took four years, despite being exempt from certain government testing requirements due to being one of three built.
Although Spahn didn't reveal the new Boat Tail's price, or the clients who commissioned it, he did acknowledge that the new car cost well into seven figures — but not eight.
"These are some of the most valuable cars ever built," he said. "These will be the first Goodwood Rolls-Royces that will be in a Concours." In other words, these will be the first Rolls Royce cars built since BMW Group’s ownership that will be eligible for a concours field.
But for the company, the return of custom coachbuilding is more than a historic milestone in the industry; it's crucial in maintaining the marque's health.
"When you're a brand like Rolls Royce, where your whole premise is exclusivity, this allows us to grow, but not in volume," Spahn said. "We can grow our business delivering fewer commissions."
And create fine motorized art at the same time.
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