Rolls-Royce recently unveiled the Black Badge Wraith Black Arrow to mark the end of production of one of the most transformative motor cars in the marque’s history. This bespoke masterpiece, limited to just 12 examples worldwide, is also the last V12 coupé Rolls-Royce will “ever make,” as it embarks on an all-electric era.
Launched in 2013, Wraith is considered one of the most important and influential models ever designed and built at Goodwood. More performance-focused than its predecessors Phantom and Ghost, Wraith fundamentally altered perceptions of Rolls-Royce and brought new, younger customer groups to the brand for the first time. Its wider cultural significance is underlined by countless references to the Wraith in music, cinema, art and fashion.
Wraith’s dramatic ‘fastback’ silhouette signalled its dynamic intent upon launch. This was further amplified in 2016, with the introduction of the Black Badge Wraith – an even more powerful expression of the car. It delivered some of the highest levels of performance ever achieved by a V12-powered Rolls-Royce. When considering how best to mark the end of the Wraith era, Goodwood’s designers and engineers took inspiration for the Wraith Black Arrow from another significant V12 in Rolls-Royce’s history.
In 1938, Captain George Eyston set a world land speed record of 575.335 kmph with Thunderbolt – a seven-tonne, eight-wheeled leviathan equipped with two Rolls-Royce V12 ‘R’ Series aero engines. The outbreak of the Second World War in the following year ended Eyston’s endeavours. All subsequent records were set with different engine types and configurations, thus enshrining Thunderbolt in perpetuity as the fastest V12-powered motorcar ever built.
Thunderbolt’s record attempts took place on the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Against the glare of the brilliant white surface, and under a blazing desert sun, the reflections from the car’s polished aluminium body made it almost impossible to tell precisely when it passed the timing equipment.
Eyston’s simple but ingenious solution was to paint a large black arrow on the car’s sides, incorporating a yellow central circle motif that could be seen clearly even at high speed. This is where the Wraith Black Arrow gets its name and its historical context.
Wraith Black Arrow’s exclusive Bespoke finish features a full-colour graduation between two tones – Celebration Silver and Black Diamond. A glass-infused ‘Crystal’ paint overlayer has been applied to the Black Diamond paint to enhance the transition between the two colours, achieving a striking motion blur effect from front to rear. This exclusive technique also gives the coachwork a subtle texture inspired by the crusted surface of the Bonneville Salt Flats, set beneath a high gloss lacquer, which is polished for more than 12 hours to achieve a glass-like finish.
The realisation of this extraordinary finish required the marque to undertake 18 months of surface testing and development before it complied with Rolls-Royce standards. The total time invested in developing the material chemistry, application technique and surface finishing makes Gradient Paint one of the most technically complex paints that Rolls-Royce has ever created.
Contrast to the Gradient Paint is provided by Bright Yellow bumper inserts and wheel pinstripes, subtly recalling the yellow circle within Thunderbolt’s black arrow. In another Rolls-Royce first, Black Arrow’s V-struts, located behind the radiator grille and in front of the engine, are also finished in Bright Yellow. This subtly draws the eye to the V12 engine sitting behind the car’s dark chrome grille surround. The use of Bright Yellow extends to the base of the motor car’s layered carbon fibre Spirit of Ecstasy, which incorporates a Bright Yellow ring detail and an engraving of the Collection name.
To commemorate Rolls-Royce’s last-ever V12 coupé, the marque’s Bespoke Collective – comprising designers, craftspeople and engineers – collaborated to create a unique artwork for Black Arrow’s fascia. The intricate, tactile design skilfully depicts the contemporary V12 engine in Wraith.
In keeping with the Black Badge family’s noir ambience, the highly complex design – itself the product of two months of development – is engraved in a single sheet of black-coated aluminium to reveal the gleaming metal beneath, providing a bold visual link to Thunderbolt’s polished aluminium body.
Black Arrow’s coach doors are lined with open-pore Black Wood, in a complex design comprising over 320 multi-directional and lasered marquetry pieces that mimics the cracked, irregular surface of the Bonneville Salt Flats. This extraordinary feature also extends onto the rear ‘Waterfall’ panel, which separates the two rear seats.
Thunderbolt underwent a series of design iterations during its lifetime. Its final shape, in which it captured the records is recalled in the polished and illuminated aluminium Speedform encapsulated behind glass on the front console.
Inside, Black Arrow’s interior is provisioned with a new material type developed specifically for the Collection. The armrests, seat gussets, transmission tunnel, door detail, door panniers and lower dashboard panel are all finished in ‘Club Leather.’ Its intentional greater sheen and even deeper black colouration provide a subtle contrast to the matte Rolls-Royce natural-grain black leather.
The leather’s natural markings are intentionally emphasised to give the interior more visible ‘life lines,’ and a closer resemblance to what was described at the time as “the club-armchair type of driving seat,” which George Eyston is said to have preferred above all others.
In keeping with the Black Badge series’ use of daring pulses of colour, Bright Yellow is employed for the front seat leather. Atop the seat, the outer headrest features an arrow embroidery motif, providing rich, tactile detail and referencing the arrow symbol painted on Thunderbolt’s aluminium body.
When the steering wheel is set in a straight-ahead position, a dark marking at the twelve o’clock position aligns with a similar pattern in the seats. This references the black lines Eyston’s team painted on the white Salt Flats to help him maintain direction – his sole point of reference at record-breaking speeds. In recognition of the significance of this marking, this track guide flows in a deliberately asymmetric line from the steering wheel to the driver’s and rear passengers’ seats.
Given Thunderbolt’s record-breaking status, it is only fitting that Black Arrow incorporates a record of its own. Casting a dramatic night’s-sky ambience over the interior suite, Black Arrow’s Bespoke Starlight Headliner incorporates 2,117 fibre-optic ‘stars’ – the greatest number ever seen in a Rolls-Royce motor car. All individually arranged by hand, the ‘stars’ depict the Milky Way as seen from vast open spaces, and the constellations precisely as they would have appeared over the Salt Flats in Utah on 16 September 1938, the date of Eyston’s final record.
Inspired by the analogue instruments of the 1930s, the fascia clock bezel references the raw, technical aesthetic of Thunderbolt’s interior, enhanced by black hand-tips that mimic the original car’s side-arrows. The surround is inscribed with the legend ‘Bonneville’ and Thunderbolt’s everlasting record speed for a V12-engined car. A further ‘arrow’ detail appears on the motor car’s Bespoke treadplates.
An exclusive Bespoke plaque is mounted on the engine cover to signify this as the last V12 ever to be fitted to a Rolls-Royce coupé. Machined from a single piece of polished metal, the plaque is inscribed with the V12 monogram in Bright Yellow, and the legend ‘Final Coupé Collection’ in Black.
All 12 cars in the Black Badge Wraith Black Arrow Collection have already been allocated to clients around the world.