Can a car that costs as much as a house be worth the price tag? That’s the question prospective buyers of Rolls-Royce automobiles must ask themselves, and it’s not hyperbolic. The starting price for the British marque’s lineup is just north of $300,000, about the same as the median home price in the U.S.
Writers Simon Van Booy and Harvey Briggs didn’t set out to answer this question with their new book Rolls-Royce Motor Cars: Making a Legend. Instead, they wanted to invite the world into the halls of the first-name in vehicular opulence — and they succeeded, providing an exclusive look at the company’s home in Goodwood, never-before-seen archival materials, interviews with the artisans and engineers, and profiles of some of the most decadent vehicles to ever bear the Spirit of Ecstasy.
However, we posed that question to Van Booy and Briggs after they embedded themselves with the Rolls-Royce team, and they explained — from the paint to the engine to the “magic carpet ride” — why these cars are, in fact, worth the price of entry.
“As I learned more about the bespoke car-building process, I wasn’t surprised that Rolls-Royce offered paint matching, or will send out potential colors to the locations where the cars will be driven, so clients can see how they work in the light before fully committing. However, I was shocked by how a vehicle can receive around 30 layers of paint while not exceeding half-a-millimeter in thickness, and that if anything is found in the paint, such as an eyelash, the process has to start again.” — Simon Van Booy
“I was surprised by how the hand-painting is handled largely by one person, which means that every Rolls-Royce vehicle with coachlines has passed through Mark Court’s area at the Goodwood facility.” — Van Booy
“Before writing this book, Rolls-Royce let me borrow a Black Badge Dawn. Even though that vehicle has been tuned for a sophisticated fierceness, I still felt what’s called the ‘magic carpet ride,’ which if you’ve never experienced it is like floating naked in a fast river of warm butter. I’ve driven many luxury vehicles and have to say, in all fairness, no one beats Rolls-Royce when it comes to ride. How a machine that big can feel so light and nimble is something I still don’t understand.” — Van Booy
“Harvey and I spent a good deal of time in the Woodshop, and even visited the humidors where the woods are stored. What I found interesting was the grain matching, where the wood from a single tree is matched to give a mirror effect. The fact that wood changes shape with its environment is also taken into consideration. In my opinion, many modern cars I test drive seem plastic and cheap — even on some models from traditionally expensive brands. I think it’s a nice contrast to see beautifully worked wood and the latest automotive technology in the same cabin. Not many car manufacturers combine performance with old-world elegance.” — Van Booy
“This is my daughter’s favorite part of the vehicle (she helped proofread the pages), especially now with shooting stars as a possibility, though I don’t think I’d have the patience to thread up to 1,600 fiber-optic cables, one at a time, through pre-made holes on a template. There’s something quite romantic about this part of the process, in how a client can have the night sky recreated in the Starlight Headliner from any date they wish. But it’s details like this which made me realize that a Rolls-Royce can represent something quite personal for the owner. In that way, it’s not just a tool, but rather an extension of one’s own experience, and something that’s kept for life, then passed on.” — Van Booy
“What amazed me about this stage was how often a client’s request results in some new embroidering technique being invented. I liked how the people in this department care what other professional embroiderers think of their work. In that way, each part of the process feels like it’s handled by a different guild of craftspeople, with enormous pride in what they do. Talking to the people who make these cars, it was very clear early on that although they are engineers and designers, they see themselves as artisans pursuing a vocation.” — Van Booy
Chassis and Drivetrain
“Walk onto the assembly floor and the first thing you notice is how quiet it is. I worked in GM factories when I was in college and was required to wear hearing protection. At Rolls-Royce there are no robots on the assembly floor, all the work is done by hand, even tightening the bolts that connect the body to the chassis. This hand work is quiet and precise. The people who work at these stations have the mentality of the craftspeople who work in leather, wood and paint. They are also obsessed with perfection.” — Harvey Briggs
“I once heard someone define luxury as ‘more than enough.’ That’s a perfect description of the hand-assembled 6.75-liter, twin turbocharged V12 engine that’s in every Rolls-Royce. Specifically tuned for use in each vehicle, the engine is the main reason the company describes the performance of its cars as effortless. What struck me as I saw this behemoth of an engine outside the car was just how artistically put together it is.” — Briggs
“Quality wasn’t always a strong point of Rolls-Royce cars. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the lack of it is one of the factors that nearly drove the company into the ground. One of the big indicators for me that this had really changed is the Preuf Cube, a million-dollar, life-sized replica of the car that’s milled from a single block of pure aluminum. It’s used to test every part of the car before it goes into production and check parts when problems crop up in production. Between that and the lasers they use to measure in the testing center, I was really surprised at the sophistication of testing equipment deployed to ensure every car is as close to perfect as possible.” — Briggs
“Customers expect their new Rolls-Royce to be quiet, but they probably don’t realize how much work goes into making sure that’s the case. It turns out it’s more than just adding sound insulation to the car. In fact, when road and engine noise is reduced it makes the job harder because the small squeaks and rattles are more easily heard — so they have to track down even smaller issues. One of the most interesting things I learned was it’s not just about removing noise, but tuning the sound that’s left over. In the new Ghost, they call it the ‘Ghost Note,’ and it’s a very specific frequency of sound to be more pleasing.” — Briggs
“Like seemingly everything in the Rolls-Royce manufacturing center, the water testing chamber is custom made to simulate all different types of rainfall, from gentle spring showers to the monsoons that regularly strike South Asia. Watching the Cullinan go through this process I started thinking about all the water that’s used and was pleased to discover they recycle it all, regularly testing its pH and treating it before the cycle begins again.” — Briggs
Spirit of Ecstasy
“While the Rolls-Royce manufacturing center at Goodwood is the very picture of a modern industrialism, the foundry where the Spirit of Ecstasy is made feels like stepping back in time. Watching them pour molten steel into the molds and feeling the heat from the 1,500-degree ovens, you gain a great appreciation for the history of the technique which dates back thousands of years. After she’s cast, but before she’s polished, the Spirit of Ecstasy is a beautiful matte gray with a feeling of raw silk. I only wish I would have been allowed to bring one home with me.” — Briggs