Rolls Royce Sweptail: The $18m modern coach build
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AFerrari 250 GTO may hold records as the most expensive carsold privately and, until recently, at auction too; $38 million, however, buys you only one Ferrari 250 GTO. There are another 38 out there.
This is the Rolls-Royce Sweptail. There will never be another. And it’s the most expensive new car ever commissioned.
Last night, its owner (it is a man, though we don’t know much more than that for now) hosted a party on the shores of Lake Como to show his friends the result of two years’ work with Rolls-Royce at its Goodwood HQ.
Today the car makes its public debut on the lawns of Como’s Villa d’Este, where it will no doubt be the star of the hotel’s annual Concorso d’Eleganza, a swimsuit parade of the world’s most physically perfect motor cars.
There will be other one-offs at the Villa d’Este, but they hail from another era, close to a century ago when carmakers created only rolling chassis (frame, enormous engine and rudimentary transmission) to sell to customers who would then commission a coachbuilder to create bodies in which to envelop them.
There have, recently, been occasional examples of cars created in a similar manner, but not usually by manufacturers (beyond this Rolls, only Ferrari allows very special customers to mess with the bella figura of its cars) and never to this extent, or indeed at this price.
Rolls-Royce is nothing if not discreet, so simply will not comment on the price. A figure as high as £10 million (NZ$18.2 million), however, has been mentioned outside of Rolls-Royce, based on an understanding of what is required to hand make in aluminium an entire car, save the bonnet, which could not be changed for legal reasons from a more ‘standard’ Rolls-Royce.
The Sweptail started modestly as part of Rolls-Royce’s bespoke programme, which ensures nearly 90 per cent of the cars that leave Goodwood have some form of personalisation: an exclusive colour, or trim; or maybe woodwork that would not embarrass the cabinetmakers of Augsburg.
Rolls-Royce Phantoms (list price around $730,000) regularly leave the factory along with a bill for more than $1.8 million.
The original idea for the Sweptail was a glass-roofed version of the now defunct Phantom MK VII Coupé, itself hardly unimpressive. With cooperation from Giles Taylor, design director at Rolls-Royce, and a team of craftsmen, the ambition of the project grew. And grew.
The Sweptail is, at around 20ft, longer even than a Phantom Coupé, though it remains a two-seater, albeit one with the most beautiful parcel/hat shelf in the world, fashioned in macassar ebony and open-pore paldao, and illuminated with a crystal light bar. On the outside, the graphically modern nose has a simply enormous Rolls-Royce Pantheon grille, milled from a single billet of aluminium.
The distinctive tail – teardrop in both profile and plan – was inspired by the client’s love and knowledge of classic Rolls-Royce Phantoms, with glorious names: the 1925 Phantom I Round Door by coachbuilders Jonckheere; the 1934 Phantom II Streamline Saloon by Park Ward… There are others with coachwork as beautiful as their names and a singular identity.
Are singular, coach-built cars on the way back? Rolls – you might have guessed – won’t say, but instead steers you towards its 103RX concept, shown last year and designed for the year 2050.
That too was a one-off ‘enabled’ by manufacturing processes, like 3D printing, that the company imagines will be commonplace in 30 years’ time. Rich folks aren’t getting any poorer and whether the Sweptail did cost £10 million (NZ$18.2 million) or less, it’s still a tiny amount in comparison with motor yacht commissions.
You can draw your own conclusions from that.