When I’m in the UK, I try to take advantage of access to the world’s best car manufacturers. Last year I made the trip to Gaydon to visit Aston Martin, and this year I visited Rolls-Royce, McLaren and Caterham.
If your aim in life was to fill your garage with the two most contrasting vehicles on the market today, it would be extremely hard to look past the Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Caterham 270S (and your status as a true motoring connoisseur). One of which is an affordable, super light, unaided, no frills, raw race car. And the other, the most expensive, heaviest, luxurious, kitted out, stately saloon on the planet. Getting the opportunity to drive the two of them, just days apart, was one of the most interesting motoring experiences I’ve had to date, especially considering that you can assemble one yourself, and the other is put together in a state of the art building, with the world’s finest raw materials, and painstakingly precise procedure.
That procedure takes place in Rolls-Royce’s purpose built facility on Lord March’s Goodwood Estate, home to the Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival. It’s hard to comprehend that, in this day in age, one man can still own 12,000 acres of picturesque English countryside, and lease a portion of it to one of the most recognised brands in the world, for 125 years. Originally the plan to build the Rolls-Royce ‘factory’ on the Estate caused local uproar, but the Sir Nicholas Grimshaw designed building that rose from the ground, has since been received with nothing but admiration, becoming the largest employer in the area, and a shining example of Britain’s exemplary luxury automotive industry.
What sets Rolls-Royce apart, is their beginning to end service. How their brand is perceived, at every stage of interaction with the customer (and journalist), is of utmost importance. Both my dealings with the Rolls-Royce brand have been unmatched, by any brand, in any category. Every detail is considered, whether it’s an international trip to Japan, or a day trip to Goodwood. On the eve of my Goodwood visit, at dinner with a friend, he questioned whether my transfers would be in a Rolls-Royce. I delivered my answer with such assurance, that had he not been one of my closest friends, he would have surely labelled me a pompous twat. I wasn’t trying to sound arrogant, I was just certain that Rolls-Royce would send a Rolls-Royce to collect me, because that’s the kind of brand they’ve created. The kind of brand that sends you an itinerary for your day, calls the driver to speak to you and check you’re en route and you’re comfortable, hosts you for a lovely lunch and then lets you choose which car you’d like to be driven home in.
Inside the facility is as exactly as you’d imagine. Elegant and pristine. Customers are welcomed in a reception showroom before a private tour, followed by a trip to the bespoke studio to work with a team of designers to spec their vehicle. Access to the assembly line is via the cafeteria, and it’s not uncommon for workers to see the ‘who’s who’ of the rich and famous, from David Beckham to Rowan Atkinson.
What is fascinating, once on the assembly line, is the age and balance of sexes working on the various stations. Rolls-Royce pride themselves on their apprenticeship program, which brings young males and females from around the world, to start their careers in various specialty areas, at Goodwood. There is an amazing energy in the plant, people smiling and laughing, greeting you, appearing to be immensely proud of their work, and most importantly, enjoying their work.
After you’ve processed young attractive people putting the cars together, it’s time to geek out on the various departments. Over in the paint shop, you can select any combination of 44,000 colours to cover your various parts of your pride and joy. If you can’t find a colour you like, they’ll create one for you. If you have a favourite colour tie, bag or lipstick, they’ll match it, create it, and then name it after you.
The star headliner has got to be one of the most impressive options, with staff individually feeding 1340 LED fibres into holes that make up any pattern the customer wants, from his or hers pet’s face, to the stars the night they were born. I can only imagine how stressful choosing the interior for your new Rolls-Royce is, with endless leather, embroidery and piping options, as well as hundreds of wooden veneers on offer, handpicked and matched from the veneer humidor. Once the trim is finished, it’s checked, checked again, and not surprisingly, checked again. Any inconsistency, (whether the untrained eye can see it or not) goes back to the previous step to be fixed.
Customers looking to take their car to the next level, whether that be a custom made clock with a Tanzanite dial from your own Tanzanite mine, a retractable vanity mirror, or a chilled display cabinet for your vintage champagne collection, are welcomed by the bespoke team. If you can imagine it, Rolls-Royce can create it.
After the tour, there’s a new found appreciation for the product. I think only once you’ve seen the process that goes into these vehicles, can you really be in awe of them. Sitting in the drivers seat of the Phantom that afternoon, feeling its power, and admiring the many components I’d just witnessed being put together, created a new desire for the brand.
What’s so amazing about Rolls-Royce cars, especially the Phantom, is that you’re so taken by how grand and significant a machine it is, you almost disregard how delicate it is on the road. And it is. So smooth and so graceful.
Henry Royce had a vision to create the best motorcar in the world, and I can confidently say that Rolls-Royce do exactly that.
Images by: Ciaran McCrickard / Mindworks