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Goodwood’s dream factory

April 15, 2024
3 min

It’s just short of 20 years since the first Rolls-Royce came off the production line at Goodwood, handed over to its customer a minute after midnight just as a trade mark constraint finally expired. The brand has boomed ever since.

That’s to the great credit of BMW’s management, as the business started with nothing but the name – and even that came with strings attached. The right to make Rolls-Royce motor cars pretty much fell into BMW’s lap in 1998 following a defence and aerospace industry re-alignment between the Rolls-Royce PLC and Vickers, BMW having had a close relationship via a joint venture to produce jet engines.

Disentangling the various rights involved was complex, but came with a near five year run-up to design the car, design and build a factory, recruit and train a workforce, find suppliers and then customers. It’s fair to say that when the plans to move to Goodwood were first unveiled, the locals were less than impressed, but the sensitivity of the Nicholas Grimshaw-designed factory and the careful management of the site (even down to the times staff arrive and leave) has won the locals, while the cars that have emerged are finding buyers in ever larger numbers. So much so expansion is next.

Photograph © James Harris for QP Magazine UK

It’s that bespoke element that really shines through at Goodwood though. The engines and drive trains and the body parts come in from elsewhere to be transformed through the exacting applications of craft and effort. At every station, in every department, there are tales to be told of the extreme lengths that Rolls-Royce is prepared to go to in meeting client needs. That might entail anything from recreating the design scheme of the owner’s private jet to matching a flower from someone’s garden. The company will even recreate any colour visible to a human eye (and if the colour you chose hasn’t been used before, they’ll make it ‘yours’).

Veneers, meanwhile, are made from any wood the client wants and meticulously matched and fitted to create the dashboards, while leathers come in every shade imaginable. It should be said that Rolls-Royce don’t want to be their customer’s taste-police, though they do admit to the occasional helpful suggestion and often enough that leads to the price rising as another customisation possibility comes up.

And then there are the headliners sown with tiny LED lit fibre-optic strands to replicate the stars above any location you care to choose or indeed any other pattern – an option that around half of the customers take up. And that’s where the Rolls-Royce brand is so hard to pin down – if every car is bespoke, there’s no brand character. Seeing a production line of wildly varying colour schemes is not to see the maker in the best light though – then again, these are not meant for motorcades. These are cars that turn heads even without Lady Penelope-pink bodywork – no other car creates quite the sensation a Rolls-Royce does even in a Mayfair jammed with supercars.

Rolls-Royce Boat Tail

Going bespoke has been goodfor Rolls-Royce though and they’re doubling down the service hence the expansion plans. Currently orders take around nine months to fulfil, but the likes of the £20m-plus Boat Tail unveiled last year obviously means a radical shake up of the way the factory works, the Boat Tail being essentially hand-built from the drive-train up. As a project that may seem like an extreme, you can be sure there are plenty of potential customers prepared to spend seven figures for a definitively personal car.

Last word to Müller-Ötvös though who said recently, “Rolls-Royce is not, never has been and never will be a volume-driven business. We are no longer simply an automotive manufacturer. We have transited into becoming a true luxury house focused on creating the very best and most precious luxury products in the world.”