Nestled deep in the tranquil surroundings of the Goodwood estate in Chichester lies the home of arguably the world’s most prestigious car manufacturer, Rolls-Royce. It feels wrong to use mundane words such as manufacturer or factory in the context of this illustrious brand, so incredibly special are the beautifully crafted masterpieces that silently roll off the assembly line at Goodwood.
Driving by, the modest entrance could be that of a country club, and as you drive through the gates and traverse a slight hump in the driveway, the factory is momentarily hidden from view before the Nicholas Grimshaw designed building and formal gardens are revealed before you. Even the tree-tops are square-cut and a simple “Rolls-Royce Motor Cars” sign above the main entrance welcomes visitors to this hallowed ground.
The recently unveiled über-cool Black Badge models are a sign that Rolls-Royce cars, while the quality of their materials and the master craftsmanship employed in their assembly will always be steeped in heritage and tradition, are now thoroughly modern incarnations of the dream of the company’s founders, Henry Rolls and Charles Royce, to “take the best that exists and make it better.”
This is actually quite apt, as Charles Royce was somewhat of a modern playboy himself, a baller of his day if you will, an adventurous spirit that met his end in an aviation accident having only reached the age of 32. In models such as the Black Badge Wraith, Rolls’ youthful and avant-garde spirit lives on in a car built to the exacting standards of his partner in crime, the perfectionist Henry Royce.
The Rolls-Royce factory tour is a fascinating insight into the painstaking and meticulous processes involved in building the company’s cars. The first step is “surface finishing” whereby the cars are sprayed by the only robot in the entire factory in any shade of the customer’s choosing. This bespoke and seemingly infinite choice of finishes and specifications is a theme that continues right the way through the production process, until the final hair of the brush lifts of the paint leaving behind a perfect hand-painted coach-line stretching the length of the car.
The leather of the cars’ interiors is made from the hides of cows bred in countries where there is no barbed wire to nick them, while an employee travels the world sourcing the finest trees to provide the veneers for the wooden interior inlays.
While almost any wood can be used, traditional burr walnut remains the most popular choice. Multiple layers of veneers and aluminium (to prevent splintering in the unfortunate event of a crash) are compressed together to form a single piece, after which many sanding and polishing processes are employed to achieve the flawless finish the company is famous for.
Attention to detail is of paramount importance at Rolls-Royce, and all wooden inlays are made using a ‘book matching’ mirroring technique such that the natural wooden grain in each panel is symmetrical, angled upwards at 55 degrees and in the case of centre console pieces, in a chevron pattern to complement the dynamic flow of the interior.
However, in this new era of Rolls-Royce many more modern materials are employed in creating interior inlays such as carbon-fibre and even copper in the special edition “Wraith Inspired by Music” model.
One of my favourite features is the optional starlit headlining, consisting of 1,340 fibre-optic cables hand-woven into the leather roof lining, creating the illusion of a starlit sky at night in any constellation of the customers choosing.
Indeed customer choice is so well catered for at Rolls-Royce that there is an entire Bespoke Department should you which to specify your car with features ranging from a champagne cooler to a nail dryer or diamond studded dash inlay.
So what is a Rolls-Royce like to drive? Time to test the magnificent purple and silver two-tone Rolls-Royce Wraith parked outside to find out!
While few would argue that Rolls-Royces are truly beautiful looking cars, it is their sheer presence and sense of occasion that is mesmerising. As the long rear-hinged coach door of the Wraith opens, the whiff of fresh leather is the second sensory delight after sight, shortly followed by touch, such is the irresistible urge to sink one hand’s into the much-publicised ultra deep-pile lambswool carpets.
The next thing to observe is both the most traditional and special aspect of the car – the sight of the spirit of ecstasy gracing the end of the long bonnet as the flying lady poises to take flight from the top of the radiator grille, and on this particular example, illuminated at night by recessed LEDs in the mascot’s base. It is little touches like these that make Rolls-Royces so incredibly special.
A firm press of the engine start button and the mighty 624 bhp V12 awakens. The car is fitted with an eight-speed ZF transmission, and a remarkable 800 Nm of torque is available from just 1,500 rpm.
Not that such a mundane gauge as a rev-counter could be found gracing the instrument cluster of a Rolls-Royce, but rather a power-reserve dial which usually reads close to 100% as you drive around in the most serene silence imaginable.
Given that this is the most dynamic Rolls-Royce ever produced, it certainly picks up speed at an astonishing rate, reaching the 60 mph milestone in a mere 4.4 seconds, each depression of the accelerator accompanied by a gently burbling exhaust note.
The most fascinating aspect of driving a Rolls-Royce regardless of the enormous power in reserve is that you simply do not wish to drive it quickly, such is the delicacy of the controls, the lightness of the steering, the sheer sense of occasion of piloting one of the most relaxing cars in the world. 0-60 times couldn’t be further from one’s mind, but it is certainly nice to know that the performance is there if required to be summoned upon.
At 2,325 kg, the Wraith is undoubtedly a heavy car and this weight is evident on braking although the monster calipers scrub off speed very well. The car does an excellent job in controlling its mass through corners, its handling inspiring confidence while providing the soft cloud-like sense of waftability that Rolls-Royces are known for.
Now is an exciting time of change at Rolls-Royce, as the existing Phantom saloon, Coupe and Drop-Head Coupe will soon retire to make way for new models such as the Dawn and of course the all-new Phantom due to be unveiled in 2018. Rolls-Royce remain tight-lipped about the Phantom’s replacement, other than to say that “it will be the best car in the world.”
Purchasing and personalising a Rolls-Royce is a wondrous occasion for anybody, regardless of their wealth or the number of cars in their collection. For all of its prestige and tradition, the Rolls-Royce factory is a refreshingly welcoming place, a tranquil setting in which traditional craftsmanship meets modernity, and cars are built to a standard justifying the coining of the phrase used to describe the finest example of any man-made object, Rolls-Royce.