From dream to production: CAR’s Rolls-Royce Ghost design is built for real | CAR Magazine

From dream to production: CAR’s Rolls-Royce Ghost design is built for real

Published: 06 April 2023 Updated: 06 April 2023

► We design our own Rolls-Royce Ghost
► Jake acts as a new client…
► …and ‘our’ car is built for real

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, one of the oldest and most luxurious car brands on the planet, is an extremely exclusive club to be a part of.

You don’t design your car or build it on a configurator, it’s commissioned. Your new car isn’t (entirely) screwed together by robots by the thousands, it’s (mostly) hand-built to your exacting specifications at the brand’s Goodwood HQ.

This is your chance to peek behind the veil of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. We’ve had the extremely rare opportunity to see inside its Mayfair showroom, its Goodwood headquarters and even get the chance to build our own car for real. Yes, for real.

Here, we’ll take you through every step of the process only the One Per Cent ever get the opportunity to indulge in. Let’s get started, shall we?

Step one: visit the showroom

Clients will always get the best assistance and experience if they go direct to one of Rolls-Royce’s showrooms. We visited the UK’s flagship in Mayfair – a glitzy affair based on Berkeley Street, which is just a stone’s throw away from the birthplace of Charles Rolls.

As you’d expect, Rolls-Royce has paid incredible attention to detail. Alongside the showroom’s physical placement in London being close to key locations of the brand’s founding fathers, the doors into the building are designed to look like the Pantheon grille.

The brand says the London showroom has taken significant design inspiration from the one in Shanghai. It’s clean, with a lot of white marble used inside and large screens. At the time of our visit, the screens were displaying the brand’s first NFT collaboration and the testing programme of the new, all-electric Spectre due in 2023. As well as show cars available for you to poke around – when we visited, there was a Cullinan, Wraith, Ghost Black Badge and Phantom on display – there’s a ‘speakeasy’ bar area for clients to chill out, a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ that included books, wood veneer cuts and other bits and bobs designed to ‘spark ideas.’

Step two: free your imagination

But if you really want a spark of inspiration, the Rolls-Royce team are there to help cater to any request. Clients can bring in materials, colours, images or their own inspiration to get a feel for the colour palette, upholstery choices and bespoke elements they want in their own car and Rolls-Royce will do its best to incorporate it. Some of Rolls’ models even enable you to design something bespoke. The Phantom, for example, features its own ‘gallery’ that allows clients to commission their own artwork to fit.

CAR drives the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

Elliott Trousdale, sales executive at Rolls-Royce London and our guide through the process of building our own car, told us he’s had commissions incorporating all the colours of the Sri Lankan flag, for example. A Cullinan was designed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates, which was all white save for a coachline with red and green detailing and a big ’50th’ motif painted onto the bodywork. Elsewhere, car collector Michael Fux has taken delivery of a Cullinan and Dawn in dazzling hues including in his own trademark ‘Fux Fucshia.’

Step three: commission your own car

The main part of the showroom is the atelier room. This is where you get to design your own car, and where clients come for vehicle handovers, where Rolls-Royce gifts the client flowers, a bottle of champagne and an individually commissioned artwork of their new car to take home.

The atelier room is dominated by a large central table allowing clients to pull out paint colour swatches and rolls of leather, and allows clients get up close to details like the brand’s Starlight Headliner. Quotes from the founders are dotted around the walls, and you can even see examples of the Phantom’s ‘gallery’ front panel.

Every one of the cars Rolls-Royce builds is designed to be one-off creations – there’s no such thing as an ‘off the rack’ Roller, even if the brand’s showrooms may have cars in stock to buy instantly, they’re always designed from the ground up.

CAR drives the Rolls-Royce Ghost

The process in the atelier is usually reserved to an initial hour-long appointment, with the ability to return at a time in the future to refine the details. ‘It’s this part, the interior and exterior colours, that takes the most time,’ Elliott tells us; ‘it’ll be 50 minutes out of the hour appointment.’

I chose a Ghost Black Badge, imagining that I’d be the kind of billionaire that would like to drive as well as be driven in my Rolls-Royce in equal parts. Given the slightly sportier nature of the Black Badge branding (a variant that now comprises around 30 per cent of Rolls-Royce’s yearly sales and has a younger average age buyer than Mini) and the implications that the name suggests, certain elements are set in stone. The Pantheon grille and Spirit of Ecstasy, for example, are a darker chrome than your average Ghost, and the wheel design is set to the one you see pictured. Inside, wood veneers are replaced by carbonfibre panelling.

As for the overall colour scheme, I took inspiration from my enormous collection of trainers. Most of them are usually dark in colour (blues, greys, blacks etc) but feature a flash of bright colour (lime green, orange, yellow etc.) for a bit of impact. Splitting the palette in two, the main colour is Black Sapphire (a deep navy blue) topped with Gunmetal (a highly metallic grey). Something that was introduced with the Black Badge variants included the ability to paint details like the brake calipers in a specific colour, too. So, as suggested by Elliott to bring a flash of brightness, the brakes and coachline are in Forge Yellow, a colour Elliott has ‘really come to love’ recently. I like it, too.

Inside, I wanted to continue the tri-colour theme, but flipped the grey and navy blue around so the grey was much more in the forefront. Yellow piping and stitching gives the interior a bit of extra oomph and the black dashboard panel is illuminated

I also couldn’t resist specifying the Starlight Headliner – a real party piece for Rolls-Royce. Elliott tells us it’s as customisable as any other big element, too. ‘With Starlight, you can have your initials marked out, or your signature or a company logo – our clients would send us a design and we’d do it through the factory,’ he says. And you can even have shooting stars included in the design; ‘at the factory, they set tracks through the starlight, and you can set the shooting stars to be blue, green, yellow… and so on.’

Then it gets down to the minutiae. Monogrammed headrest stitching, pressed Spirit of Ecstasy motifs in the doors and customised, illuminated treadplates. I’m told that Rolls-Royce Cars CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, has ‘CEO’ on his plates. ‘I have sold his cars later down the line and we give the option to take those treadplates off or keep them on,’ adds Elliott, ‘because of what it is and the provenance of that car, it makes it massively desirable.’

Mine, with all of the toys and customised details, would set non-existent-wealthy-me back £439,810. ‘Just under £440,000!’ says Elliott, ‘for reference, the car we have in the window is comes in at £427k, so you’ve outdone that! It would be a stunning car, though, we’re big fans of all of those colours.’

Step four: visit Goodwood HQ

Clients can arrange to visit Rolls-Royce’s headquarters in Goodwood any time they like, and they’re usually invited to visit upon the completion of their new car. The brand’s headquarters have been based at Goodwood since its modern-day revival in 2003 and is an impeccably manicured set of buildings, designed to interrupt the local landscape as little as possible. The facility even has its own beehives.

As well as grand pieces of artwork in the foyer, the real attention to detail lies deep within the bowels of the facility. One of Rolls-Royce’s obsessions is with paint; colour is, rather obviously, the first detail that will set any car apart. So, naturally, Rolls-Royce can emulate or create any colour you desire. Tobias Sicheneder, general manager for the exterior surface centre, tells us that Rolls-Royce has around 44,000 base colours to start from, and they can be enhanced with crystals crushed into the paint mix.

Exacting standards within the paint shop ensure absolute purity. There are airlocks between each entrance to the exterior surface centre that have extractor fans and sticky floors; ‘they’re there to pick up the dirt from the soles of our shoes as we walk through – it’s always about keeping the paint shop as clean as possible,’ says Sicheneder. So much so that pretty much all deodorants are banned due to the use of aluminium and silicone in them that are then emitted when workers sweat. ‘Basically, if you wanted to stop this paint shop, bring in a cartridge of silicone,’ Sicheneder laughs. But, really, he’s serious and explains the lengths Rolls-Royce has gone to: ‘we bought every single normal deodorant available in stores and tested them in our lab for paint compatibility. Only one was compatible – Rexona [a.k.a Sure] – not the best in terms of performance or smell, but it’s paint compatible.’

Several layers of paint and clear coat are applied to each car, and coachlines (like the Forge Yellow line on the car we designed) are all hand-done.

Meanwhile, in the assembly hall, it’s remarkably quiet for what is a car factory. We’re not talking library-levels of hush, but the hums and whirs and beeps of machinery are remarkably subdued compared to somewhere that prides itself on much higher levels of automation.

Instead of on a train-like production line, each car is placed on an autonomous rig while it’s being assembled, which allows cars to be switched in and out of the process in case there are any bespoke commissions that need additional or different attention. Each car has a marker for the market it’s destined for, and the aim is for each ‘task’ in the production schedule to be no more than 32 minutes long. Joey Zegerius, client experience manager and our tour guide tells us that the streamlining of platforms benefitted production; ‘with the introduction of Phantom 8 in 2017, we were able integrate two lines of production into one. So even models like Wraith and Dawn, which won’t be with us for much longer, are also manufactured in one place.

‘And for me, the most mind blowing thing is that those rigs also accommodate electric drivetrains. Even with 700kg of extra batteries, the team only need a few minutes and then they can build EV drivetrains on them for Spectre,’ Zegerius adds.

Wood veneers are crafted using thin sheets of rare woods stored in a humid environment (which smells incredible) and bespoke stitching and embossing requirements for upholstery are done by hand. Zegerius even points out that Rolls-Royce installs its seats into the interior moulds before they go in the car to make sure that none of the upholstery materials creak or rub together.

All of this leads up to that final and most exciting part of the experience.

Step five: take delivery of your new Rolls-Royce

While clients can take delivery at their local dealer, or even have their car delivered directly to them, a portion take up Rolls-Royce on their invite to engage in a handover from Goodwood HQ.

Here is where Rolls-Royce surprised us nine months after we initially designed our car, to reveal our design actually made production. The atelier team at the Mayfair studio liked the design so much, it was commissioned to become a show car to be displayed in the window of the illustrious dealer. To say we were surprised was an understatement.

And, as you’d expect, Rolls-Royce built our car to exacting detail. Gunmetal over Black Sapphire, complete with the Forge Yellow brake calipers and double coachline. Inside, the contrasting upholstery blends beautifully, with each material used of exquisite quality. It’s truly fantastic to see Rolls-Royce enjoy our design so much that it built it for real.

Even the Ghost’s exterior designer, Henry Cloke, likes the end result: ‘The transitions between the colours you’ve used are quite subtle – it’s not just black outside, colour inside – you have a subtlety here where you keep noticing more details the more you look, which is really impressive.’

The handover ceremony is just as intimate and exclusive as you’d expect from Rolls-Royce. There’s an entirely separate studio for such an event, complete with your own bar and lounge area, and what feels like all the time you could need to soak in your new purchase. I personally spent far too long ogling at every possible detail of what was entirely my own creation, taking pictures of every angle and getting my mucky fingerprints all over it.

On a personal note, I just want to finish this off with gratitude. Thank you, Rolls-Royce – you’ve made a dorky car enthusiast’s year.

There’s naturally a pang of disappointment that it’s not actually ‘my’ car, but for someone who spends a lot of their spare time on car configurators designing their dream garage, this is the ultimate expression of that reality. Nothing will be able to top this experience (beyond being wealthy enough to commission my own for real).

Wherever that car goes in the future, I’ll always remember that there’s a little bit of ‘me’ in the fleet of Rolls-Royce cars out there in the world, and I feel truly honoured to have been given such a unique experience.

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, gamer, serial Lego-ist, lover of hot hatches