When we signed that agreement four and a half years ago, all we had was a wonderful brand… and a blank piece of paper. Both responsibilities filled us with genuine excitement and genuine trepidation in equal measures.
Our first job was to appoint the best people for the job, three of whom you will meet in a few minutes. Chief designer Ian Cameron and exterior designer Marek Djordjovic will describe the styling and chief engineer Tim Leverton the more technical aspects. But before they do, I’d like to explain something of the philosophy behind the new Rolls-Royce.
So, there we were at the start of 1999, a hand-picked expert team ready to go: Just imagine the questions …… "What makes a Rolls-Royce a Rolls-Royce? What should it look like? How should it drive? What size should it be?"
In the early days of the project, we established a secret design studio in London where our team of designers set about creating our new car. We chose London for one very good reason: the studio, which we called The Bank, because that’s precisely what the building used to be, was very close to Mayfair and Belgravia.
Whenever they needed inspiration, all the designers had to do was pop out of The Bank and stroll down Park Lane for an hour or so, certain that they’d see the Spirit of Ecstasy in one of its natural habitats.
Later we moved to another London base, in Holborn, to work on six clay model designs from which the final design would be picked.
Our design team was inspired by some of the iconic Rolls-Royces of the past – well aware that there’s more to a Rolls-Royce than a proud radiator grille.
We found particular inspiration in the Phantoms of the 1930s, the Silver Cloud of the 1950s and the Silver Shadow of the 1960s.
All have elegance and supreme confidence: features we wanted in our new motor car. As Ian and Marek will explain in more detail, the Phantom incorporated what we considered to be all the authentic Rolls-Royce design elements, most notably its sense of proportion and balance.
The Silver Cloud combined elegance with understated lines, while the Silver Shadow – the first monocoque Rolls-Royce – represented a bold modernism.
Features like a long bonnet, short front overhang, deep C pillar, rear-set passenger compartment and even the stance of the car – leaning back slightly as if lightly accelerating – were just some of the important visual cues.
Understated elegance, modernism and perfect proportions – this is what we wanted to incorporate into the design…and I hope you’ll agree, the motor car we will reveal shortly could only be a Rolls-Royce.
But there is of course another essential element to what would make the Rolls-Royce of Motor Cars ….. its peerless Engineering. This after all was at the very root of the brand. The early motor cars, the Ghosts and Phantoms that established Rolls-Royce as the finest in the world incorporated engineering principles which fully reflected Henry Royce’s Philosophy of "Striving for Perfection". In all cases the absolute best possible materials, and design solutions were employed, the most advanced production and process technologies utilised to produce vehicles with unsurpassed quality, supreme reliability and effortless performance.
So the task was in some ways simple "take the best that exists and make it better, if it does not exist, design it" and that is precisely what we have done. In each and every engineering decision a no-compromise view has been taken, in many cases moving onward from current industry practices to find the best solutions for a Rolls-Royce, designing whole systems completely afresh, and reaching back to discover the lost art of coachbuilding and the benefits to the driver and passenger.
We had to ask ourselves a number of fundamental questions.
For example, what is the most advanced series automobile bodyshell construction technology available? ……. Quite simply it is the aluminium space frame. With its combination of light weight, tremendous torsional rigidity and sheer inherent strength it can be the only answer. It also gives us the ability to offer bespoke body designs. This has to be a motor car which can be structurally tailored to meet the needs and desires of the customer. So, an aluminium spaceframe had to be the basis for a modern Rolls-Royce.
Next, what kind of engine should we choose? It had to be supremely smooth, quiet and refined with the kind of effortless urge available from tick-over upwards to waft the occupants along on a wave of torque…and at pace. It also had to be clean, fuel efficient and supremely reliable, demanding the latest engine technology.
So a high capacity, normally aspirated, V12 with enormous reserves of low-down torque and leading edge engine technology would be a suitable power unit for our new Rolls-Royce.
What Chassis layout would provide the absolute best of primary and secondary ride quality whilst giving precise handling? And incidentally precise handling is vital as we understood that most owners of our new car would probably spend most of their time driving it themselves. So a chassis with a long wheelbase for excellent primary ride and supple suspension with high profile tyres for optimal secondary ride would be key and the latest in steering and multi-link suspension technology would all make perfect sense for a new Rolls-Royce.
What is the very best way to accommodate the driver and passengers in a motor car? Our new model would have to be supremely quiet and comfortable of course, but should also offer everyone a good view of the road ahead, a social environment and a degree of privacy for rear passengers without resorting to smoked glass or blinds.
So an interior with the best seating structures, clad in the finest leather available and positioned high to give the best view for everyone would be important. In the rear a curved lounge seat would make it a more sociable place to sit and a deep C pillar would add a degree of discretion.
And what about the way you get in and out of a car? How can it be made easy, comfortable and elegant. Well….by returning to an idea first seen decades ago using rear hinged doors at the back – coach doors as we call them – and creating a flat floor, instead of the conventional footwell, passengers can simply walk in to the rear compartment, turn and sit down. No awkward squirming and wriggling.
I am just scratching at the surface here but I hope you can begin to see how we returned to first principles to define the desired characteristics and features of the new Rolls-Royce. The latest received wisdom has been challenged and the simple question asked – what would be the best way to do this?
Much of the resulting technology and engineering is not obviously visible to the casual observer, but the fact that each element has been so painstakingly developed to such a fine level of detail contributes significantly to the character of the whole…the quality of the design, the quality of the engineering and also the quality of the thinking that has gone into this car. It is a no compromise motor car and we believe, unmistakably a Rolls-Royce. It is simply a motor car apart from any other on our roads today and is firmly rooted in the design philosophies of Sir Henry Royce which we believe are as valid today as they were almost 100 years ago.
You will be among the first judges of our work. All I can tell you is that in all my experience, both as an engineer and having been associated with Rolls-Royce for over 18 years I cannot imagine a more thorough, dedicated and faithful approach to the challenge of creating a Rolls-Royce for today.
I have said enough for now. You’ve been very patient but now it is time to reveal the new Rolls-Royce… and its name (and I know there have been a number of rumours circulating).
The inspiration for this motor car came from the halcyon days for Rolls-Royce. Towards the end of the life of Sir Henry Royce the products reached a pinnacle of achievement. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Rolls-Royce products were renowned as the finest in the world. That of course must be the underlying goal of this Company.
We feel very proud of our new motor car, we have spared no effort to produce one of the best designed and finest engineered vehicles to bear the name Rolls-Royce. Ladies and Gentlemen our aim is to recreate the legend of Rolls-Royce, to rekindle the flame that burned so fiercely in the heyday of the marque, to create a new benchmark for the automotive world, to create the Rolls-Royce of motor cars, to create a Rolls-Royce PHANTOM.Published 5 January 2003