A pretty parasol, matching double-sided watches and a lightweight portable hoist – what might these random items have in common with a Rolls-Royce thought to be the most expensive production car ever built?
Unlikely as it might seem, all are bespoke accessories for a new model that took four years to create and is believed to have cost a mind-boggling £20m. Boat Tail is an open-roof car based on the aluminium Phantom platform but otherwise decked out like no Rolls-Royce ever seen before.
The highly-personalised 2+2 has a tapered rear end that harks back to the legendary boat tail designs of the 1920s and 1930s. In its infancy, the styling involved taking the hull of a boat and simply welding the structure on a rolling car chassis. Later classic examples include the Bentley Speed Six Boat-Tail and Rolls-Royce Phantom VII.
However, this new flamboyant version takes the concept to a whole new level. Coach-built by skilled craftsmen at Rolls-Royce headquarters in West Sussex, the 6.75-litre V12 is a glorious homage to modern excess, reeking of ostentatiousness from every hand-beaten body panel.
Boat Tail is itself the result of a one-off design revealed in 2017 at the exclusive Concorso d’Elganza historic car show, held at Villa d’Este, Italy. The Rolls-Royce Sweptail was commissioned by a then-mystery millionaire and featured a system that deployed a bottle of champagne at the touch of a button.
At the time, Rolls hinted that the £10 million Sweptail could herald the dawn of a new era of luxury, coach-built cars, created for super-rich clients with limitless supplies of cash and willing to pay anything for their own, bespoke limo.
Boat Tail is extravagant proof of that. Today I’ve been driven to a secret location in Bedfordshire to see the results of their very expensive labours. A warehouse in Leighton Buzzard is hardly the most glamorous location to reveal the ultimate in automotive excess but before the client is ceremoniously handed the keys, Rolls has set up a very secure photoshoot for Square Mile.
There are more than a dozen staff fussing round the car, including the statuesque Oliver, charged with disabling the camera on my iPhone and ensuring I don’t accidentally drop my voice recorder on the bodywork, which apparently took 12 months to gently caress and massage into shape.
Rolls-Royce is notoriously coy about revealing the cost of anything – unless you’re buying it of course – but it’s easy to see how the Boat Tail price-tag could top £20 million. The devil is in the detail – and valued at around the same as 55 new Phantoms, this car has plenty to offer.
Alex Innes, head of coachbuild design, explains: “Sweptail created a wave of publicity and alerted people to the scope of Rolls-Royce’s ambition to fulfil unique commissions. With Boat Tail the pressure was on us to work in a completely different way. Instead of guiding the client through a pre-determined list of options, the customer was leading the designers.”
Innes explained there will actually be three Boat Tails, all sharing the same body style but otherwise completely different, utilising 1,813 new parts. “We made that clear from the start, there will only ever be three. The owner of this particular car is happy for an occasion like today but the other two are more discreet.”
The fun part of Innes’ job must have been liaising with the customer and his wife – both believed to be American and in the music industry. “He invited us to soak up the atmosphere of the incredible world they surround themselves in, to try and understand how we could characterise that in Boat Tail.
Based on the Phantom platform, The Boat Tail is decked out like no Rolls ever seen
“He was heavily involved in the build process at every stage, via the Whispers app (Rolls-Royce’s equivalent of WhatsApp), direct messaging or meetings at the factory. He expected that level of interaction with us.”
Apart from the retro rear end, the most striking feature of this remarkable car is the Azur blue bonnet, hand-painted and graduating down to a lighter shade.
A painted Rolls-Royce pantheon grille replaces the traditional, polished stainless steel for the first time, or as Rolls gush in a 4,000-word press release: ‘A hand-painted, gradated bonnet rises from a comparatively subdued deeper blue which cascades onto the grille, providing a progressive but informal aesthetic and a solidity of overall volume from a frontal perspective’. Yeah, what he said.
At the rear of this 5.9-metre behemoth, twin compartment covers are hinged in the middle and open like butterfly wings, revealing an Aladdin’s cave of goodies. On the nearside, twin champagne fridges and glass flute set designed to fit the owner’s favourite Armand de Brignac vintages.
On the other, crockery by Christofle of Paris specially designed with matching salt and pepper grinders, all engraved with the car’s name – as one would expect.
Caviar is kept cool in a proper fridge rather than a chiller, with various other food compartments tested in the car at temperatures between 80C and -20C – just to ensure the dessert doesn’t melt.
“I enjoyed many meetings with the owner and his wife at their home – they were wonderfully welcoming,” said Innes.
“They like to serve food in the mezze style, so we talked about the sense of hosting and grandeur which had to be part of this car. We have even road tested everything at 155mph to ensure there are no rattles from the rear.”
The crowning glory, however is a ‘beautiful and whimsical’ parasol that slots into the rear of the Boat Tail to provide extra shade. With a stainless steel shaft and aluminium coupling, the high tensile fabric is stretched over carbon-fibre stays. And just to be sure, it was tested in a wind tunnel too.
Rolls worked with Swiss-based House of Bovet to create reversible ‘his and hers’ watches for the couple who own the car. The centrepiece of the minimalist dashboard is a slot to insert one of the watches, doubling up as the Boat Tail clock.
One side of the man’s watch is said to show the celestial pattern above his birthplace. A titanium drawer beneath the ‘clock’ slot is designed to carry another wrist watch, particularly important in a Rolls, as Innes explained.
“One of the great characteristics of piloting a Rolls-Royce is the light steering and thin steering wheel. This client likes to remove his wristwatch when driving and hated the idea that it would be stowed out of sight.”
And the lightweight portable hoist? Boat Tail comes with an emergency tonneau but there is a carbon fibre solid roof that turns the Rolls into a coupé too. The aluminium hoist and roof presumably have to follow discreetly behind in the footman’s van…
For more, see rolls-roycemotorcars.com