Bespoke cars: building your own Rolls-Royce

A bespoke Rolls-Royce is the ultimate in personalisation, so we see how one is created

You may think your smart new hatchback with its contrasting roof colour, large alloy wheels and stripes on the bonnet is a truly bespoke car. You may think there’s not another one like it and your shiny new motor is a true expression of your lifestyle. But it isn’t – for a bespoke car you need to head to West Sussex.

Nestled in the heart of the South Downs lies Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Ever since BMW took control in the early 2000s, Britain’s most famous luxury brand has been building cars for a new generation of the rich and famous at its home in Goodwood.

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With BMW’s name over the door, nine new cars have been added to the family dynasty, alongside a raft of special, one-off commissions. However, times are changing and Rolls-Royce is heading into a new space – that of the totally bespoke motor car.

It all starts with the new Phantom. It’s the eighth car to wear the historic name and unlike the previous model, the new Phantom VIII is being positioned as a car that is totally bespoke to each customer. While it’s a cliché, the new Phantom and Phantom Extended Wheelbase are touted as being like suits from Saville Row. The basic product is the same for every customer, but the construction, tailoring and every little detail is individual, with no two cars being the same.

Features such as ‘The Gallery’ are a prime example of how unique the Phantom can be. Positioned behind a sheet of glass on the dashboard, the Gallery is a three-dimensional space where owners can choose from a variety of materials to give a certain look and feel to the interior. But it can also be used to display your Renoir, if you have one, or certain exotic tastes, too. A team of artists can create artworks and commissions have included a 24-carat gold panel by German designer Thorsten Franck and ceramic roses created by Bavarian manufacturer Nymphenburg. One customer even has their own DNA in their Gallery.

I’m not looking to put my DNA into Auto Express’ Phantom, but it will have my stamp written all over it. To see just how bespoke the Phantom can be, we had the chance to design our very own car.

Our experience was identical to that of a genuine customer’s. Most buyers visit their R-R retailer and can use the extensive online configurator to build their Ghost, Dawn, Wraith or new Phantom. But for those after something more bespoke, Rolls-Royce will invite them to the factory, and this is where we’ve headed.

There’s a quiet elegance to Rolls-Royce Goodwood. Three sides of the rectangle compound are surrounded by understated buildings; two are home to the factory and assembly halls, the other is the headquarters. In the HQ’s reception, there’s an original Silver Dawn Drophead Coupé sitting opposite the new Phantom, and waiting nearby is Gavin Hartley, Rolls-Royce’s Bespoke Design Manager. 

After (probably) arriving by your helicopter, you’re shown to the Rolls-Royce Private Office and your experience starts in the Goodwood Studio. There’s a lounge-like feel in here with its gloss black fixtures and antique wood flooring. This is where the journey starts, but it’s also where the story finishes; and it’s only then when this room makes a greater impression.

Rolls-Royce: back from the dead

We’re then shown through a marble-floored corridor with black and white photos of famous Rolls-Royce owners to the next room. This is the Rolls Study. “Charles Rolls is always the more forgotten one of the Rolls and Royce partnership,” says Hartley. “We wanted to try and put that right with this room.” He jabs a finger to the rotating aircraft propeller that’s silently turning on the ceiling and adds: “Rolls was rather more interested in aircraft than cars.” And it’s in this eloquent room where the real work starts.

Over coffee Hartley’s craft is on show. He asks questions about lifestyle, hobbies and taste in order to determine the theme of the commission. “It’s like psychology at this stage,” he says. “We don’t talk about colours yet; it’s all about working out the customer and how the commission will reflect their life. It’s supposed to be as casual as possible.”

While there’s an air of informality, you can tell Hartley’s brain is in overdrive as he works out how my Phantom should look. All I tell him is that I want my Rolls-Royce to be elegant and not too flamboyant, and that I want to drive it myself from time to time. They’re only small details, but they’re enough for Hartley.

An unassuming door leads into the Royce Atelier, a long room dominated by a counter that’s chock full of samples, books and Rolls-Royce paraphernalia. “This is a working space, nothing is here for show,” says Hartley. “This is where your Rolls-Royce is created.”

He isn’t joking; there’s a smart kitchen feel to the room, but there isn’t time to take in the details because Hartley is talking through the Phantom’s elements that are ripe for customisation. “With everything you said, perhaps a blue theme would work for your Phantom? It would work perfectly with the elegant image you want,” he suggests.

Yet I don’t want any old blue you’d find on a Fiesta, but a special hue that matches my favourite trousers. It’s all in the name of science; this is a perfect test of how to make a Rolls-Royce as unique as possible.

At the far end of the Atelier lies the colour wall. On it are just some of the 44,000 known hues Rolls-Royce can paint a car, but any shade can be created and named as you wish. Go for this option and Rolls-Royce has to seek your permission to paint another car in your colour. Instead, I go for two colours already on the books and opt for a two-tone combination of Silverlake II for the main body colour (an elegant, pale metallic blue) with contrasting Black Sapphire (a dark navy blue). The two choices are as near as possible to my two favourite pairs of blue chinos.

Next it’s the interior and the choice on offer borders on the overwhelming. You can have four seats with an occasional seat or two airline-style rear seats. You can have a fridge or a drinks cabinet; a division or nodivision. I go for something slightly classic, mahogany veneers with Fleet Blue, Navy Blue and Black leather for the upholstery, but also add a little modern flair with a Starlight headliner and the Rear Theatre Configuration (the veneered picnic tables lower to make way for large cinema screens). Umbrellas in the doors are matched to the Black Sapphire upper body colour and I go for a simple ‘Gallery’ of Cascade Steel.

“Your combination is a very tasteful one,” remarks Hartley. “Perhaps it’s too tasteful? You must find yourself holding your tongue with some of the commissions you receive?” I ask. “We’re not the fashion police here. It’s my job to work with you and help you create your car; it’s not my job to pass comment on what you want,” says Hartley. So if you want a lime green Wraith with a silk interior and copper wheels, Hartley will make sure it’s done.

With my bespoke Phantom created, the build process is started. Five months later the car is ready and it’s back to Goodwood for the handover. But, unsurprisingly, it’s not like your normal reveal.

Hartley again greets me in the Goodwood Studio. A large curtain divides half of the room and I’m invited to take a seat. Within seconds the room is in darkness and the curtains divide to reveal the Phantom with its distinctive daytime running lights shining forth. A dramatic visual and audio display describes the importance of Phantom to the motoring world and how my car is the next chapter in this illustrious line.

Display over it’s time to meet my car – I’m led into the large paved courtyard, and there, silently purring, is my Phantom. Or should that be Auto Express’s Phantom? I’m certainly prepared to take part in an office jousting match to win the keys.

Click here for our in-depth review of the Rolls-Royce Phantom...

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