Yesterday I was invited to a guided tour of Rolls Royce. Rolls Royce is owned by BMW who acquired the name when Volkswagen bought the company as well as Bentley. After a dispute BMW were allowed to manufacture and built a plant on the Goodwood Estate in Sussex.
On visiting it, I was immediately struck by its cleanliness. Readers might expect a dark satanic mill of workers in oil-stained overalls but it could have been a clinic so spotless was it. Trim workers moved around airy spaces in black branded polo shirts. There was not even a assembly line as much of the manufacture is by hand. The car moves along a way where various parts are applied. The factory builds the Phantom and Wraith. These are bespoke and the owner can choose colour, wood finish, almost everything. It was very much like having your a Savile Row suit cut to order. A Phantom can cost £350,000 so the buyer is entitled to be picky.
I was mightily impressed by the combination of state of the art engineering and meticulous hand finish. The final polish takes 8 hours. On the tour was a classic car dealer and we had an interesting chat at the end. Whilst we both admired the car as a work of engineering , both the Wraith and Phantom had a boxy contour and line which belied the best stylish traditions of say the Bentley Continental. I can recall my father buying a burgundy red Continental for £3,000 in the sixties. Whilst this was lot of money, he sold it for £18,000 and it was the most beautiful car I ever saw. David Hemmings in the film Blow Up drove a navy one. I could not help but feel that the current model was designed for the rich overseas market, China is the biggest importer despite a 100% duty. Sir Henry Royce who started life in a workshop in Manchester and built a car for aviator Charles Rolls were a remarkable partnership. Their name is still emblematic of style. Rolls Royce and Bentley too offered a choice of the finest motor car but, now in the hands of two rival German companies, they certainly produced a magnificent factory and a car at the high end but somehow the tradition has been lost.