“In 2017, we stunned the world with our first fully coachbuilt motor car of the modern era, the spectacular Rolls-Royce Sweptail,” says Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Rolls-Royce CEO. He then goes on to reveal: “This was, by definition, an entirely unique commission; but in our minds, it was the start of a journey.”
This journey reached its first major creative milestone this year with the unveiling of the unique Rolls-Royce Boat Tail – “a collaborative exploration of luxury, design and culture” between the marque’s new Coachbuild division and its commissioning clients. According to Müller-Ötvös, Boat Tail is also “the confirmation of coachbuilding as a permanent fixture within Rolls-Royce’s future portfolio.”
Coachbuilding combines art and science to create a bespoke bodywork on a pre-assembled chassis. This is by no means a new concept. It is, in fact, how all the earliest cars were built, when cars were a preserve of the elite. Then, in 1908, Henry Ford ushered in the age of mass-produced cars with his Model T. In 1924, the Lancia Lambda became the first car to use a monocoque construction – a lighter and better-performing architecture than the body-on-frame approach.
The luxury brands, Rolls-Royce in particular, persisted with the body-on-frame construction as it offered their clients far greater customisation options than the new monocoque architecture. As a result of this commitment, the pre- and post-war years gave us some exceptional one-off creations that are highly sought after by collectors to this day.
As the years passed, the ever-increasing physical demands placed on car chassis eventually led Rolls-Royce to adopt the monocoque architecture, starting with the Silver Shadow in 1965. However, the body-on-frame tradition was carried forward by the Phantom VI platform until the early 1990s.
While the old method of bodywork customisation ended with the Phantom VI, a new approach was born with the Phantom VIII. Unveiled in 2017, it became the marque’s first car to be built on its new “Architecture of Luxury” platform. At its core was an all-aluminium spaceframe chassis, designed and engineered from the ground up to be scalable for a range of different model sizes.
The “Architecture of Luxury” has thus far proven itself quite brilliantly. It forms the architectural core of the Sweptail,the Cullinan SUV, launched in 2019, as well as the second generation Ghost launched last year. These two cars have distinctly different body shapes and sizes, yet both are built using the same core architecture. The flexibility of this new approach, therefore, offers Rolls-Royce designers and engineers the freedom to construct almost any body shape that a patron can imagine, constrained only by fundamental design and engineering requirements.
While the old body-on-frame approach was abandoned because it lagged behind the innovations of the day, the new approach is just the opposite. Using sophisticated 21st Century technology and materials, Rolls-Royce’s “Architecture of Luxury” has set new industry benchmarks.
The new Rolls-Royce Boat Tail became the first coachbuilt car to be created using the “Architecture of Luxury.” At nearly 5.8m long, Boat Tail is generously proportioned, and its clarity of surface presents a graceful and relaxed stance. Its profile lines, wrap-around windscreen, the gentle rearward lean of the A-pillar, the large and crisp volumes at the front and the tapered rear are all rich in nautical references.
According to Rolls-Royce, “the clients’ fascination of the Boat Tail form was furthered by a motor car in their private collection; a 1932 Rolls-Royce Boat Tail, lovingly restored, by them, in time for their modern Boat Tail’s completion.”
One of the best-preserved examples of such a car seen in public recently is the 1934 Phantom II Continental Drophead Coupé, built by Gurney Nutting & Co of London. It is a beautifully balanced car, with sweeping concave curves at the rear and topped by a varnished rear decking.
The new Boat Tail’s “aft deck” is a modern interpretation of the wooden rear decks of historical Boat Tails. Its gently sloping surface incorporates large swathes of grey and black Caleidolegno veneer, specially adapted for the exterior. The open-pore material features a linear wood grain that is visually elongated by brushed stainless steel pinstripe inlays.
The exterior of the Rolls-Royce Boat Tail is swathed in a rich and complex tone of the client’s favourite colour – blue. This colour also makes a direct reference to a coachbuilt car commissioned by Henry Royce himself. Wanting to highlight the performance capabilities of the original Phantom platform, he commissioned the EX series of experimental cars. They are all open top and lightweight with highly streamlined bodies. The fifth car in the series, the 17EX, was built by Jarvis of Wimbledon and finished in brilliant blue.
The aquatic hue on Boat Tail goes a step further with embedded metallic and crystal flakes. A hand-painted, gradated bonnet, a first for Rolls-Royce, rises from a comparatively subdued deeper blue and cascades onto the grille.
The Boat Tail was commissioned, we are informed, by “a globally successful couple” – reminiscent of the “The Phantom Of Love” commissioned by an American businessman as a gift for his wife. The interior of the 1926 Phantom I Brougham De Ville, built by Charles Clark & Son, recreates the Rococo ambience of a salon in the Palace of Versailles, with polished satinwood veneer panelling, Aubusson tapestries and a painted ceiling. It also features a French Ormolu clock mounted on the cabin partition.
Like “The Phantom Of Love,” Boat Tail’s lower cabin and floor area feature Anthracite coloured veneer. Its dashboard clock is, in fact, a pair – his and hers – and two-sided. The custom-made Bovet 1822 timepieces can be worn on the wrist, or alternatively, placed within the car’s fascia. Rolls-Royce and Bovet collaborated over a course of three years to develop a ground-up remastering of the Swiss Watchmaker’s Amadeo convertible system.
The interior leather of the Boat Tail reflects the bonnet’s colour tone transition, with the front seats swathed in the darker blue hue while the rear seats are finished in the lighter tone. A soft metallic sheen is applied to the leather to accentuate its pairing with the painted exterior.
At the press of a button, the rear “deck” of the Boat Tail opens, in a sweeping butterfly gesture, to reveal its party piece – an intricate and generous hosting suite. This feature pays homage to a car that is considered the swansong of the coachbuilder’s art – a 1972 Phantom VI limousine coachbuilt by Mulliner Park Ward.
Based on the production model, the Phantom VI limousine includes numerous additional lavish features. Among them are a pair of detachable burled walnut picnic tables that can be fixed to the front wings for alfresco dining, along with a pair of ‘toadstool’ seats clipped to the front overrides.
The new Boat Tail’s deck opens to reveal a treasure chest of select dining artefacts that offer themselves to the host “at a precise angle of 15 degrees.” A double refrigerator has been developed to house the clients’ favourite vintages. Housed beneath the rear centre line is a unique parasol that deploys effortlessly. Cocktail tables elegantly rotate to open on either side, while two minimalist stools are discretely stowed below.
Following the unveiling of Boat Tail, Müller-Ötvös elaborated on what a Rolls-Royce Coachbuild project means to the luxury carmaker and its clients: “Historically, coachbuilding had been an integral part of the Rolls-Royce story. In the contemporary Rolls-Royce narrative, it has informed our guiding philosophy of Bespoke. But it is so much more.
“Rolls-Royce Coachbuild is a return to the very roots of our brand. It represents an opportunity for the select few to participate in the creation of utterly unique and truly personal commissions of future historical significance.”