GOODWOOD 24.2.2015


In the Rolls–Royce factory, the client even has their own room with a bathroom. “Our clients do not buy cars. They buy emotions. We do not discuss their preferences. If they want a yellow car, they will get the best yellow colour in the world.” In Goodwood, “client” is the keyword.
A business class flight. A ride in a chauffeur-driven Rolls–Royce car. And a night in a small, Victorian style hotel, where president Ronald Reagan or Princess Diana once stayed, too (maybe they even slept in the same bed?). Etiquette at every turn. Such is the beginning of an “ordinary” visit of Design Alive in the extraordinary Rolls–Royce factory in Goodwood, UK.
Everybody knows the Rolls–Royce brand and immediately associates it with incomparable luxury. I first got to know it better two years ago during an automotive industry trade show in Frankfurt am Main. Two things from that event got stuck in my memory: the vacuum cleaner which the charlady used right after I left the limousine (let me add that she did it after every guest) and the star-like ceiling liner in the Phantom model (1,300 LEDs lighting the space above the passenger).

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This encounter is different. “How are you, sir?” It is Colin, my personal chauffeur, who welcomes me in the airport. “Perfect! Still, I can see that the weather is not going to spoil us this time, either, my dear friend,” I start the conversation. “Yes, sir. Mist and drizzle again. But we are used to it, are we not?” he replies and closes the door behind me with majesty that truly becomes the chauffeur. Rolls–Royce Phantom sets off for Goodwood (south of London) smoothly and quietly.

Last year marked the 110th anniversary of the construction of the first Rolls–Royce. Interestingly, the company was established two years later, in the years 1905–1906, in Manchester by Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. The two men simply wanted to create the best cars in the world. And they did. Not just the best, but among the most expensive, too.

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The factory has already changed its location five times; the last change took place in 2003, when the plant was acquired by BMW. It is currently located in Goodwood, West Sussex. The picturesque town is also famous for its circuit and car races.

The factory does not actually look like one, whether you view it from the distance or come closer. It is surrounded by vast woods and idyllic meadows framed by low stone walls. Sheep are grazing around, while pheasants fly out of the mist-covered woods every now and then. The pheasants are favourite birds of the local community, whose main hobby is hunting. This location was chosen on purpose: multimillionaires who come here to order their cars and watch them being constructed should be delighted all the time, hunting, playing golf and polo, drinking whisky and smoking cigars.

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The factory itself was created by Nicholas Grimshaw’s famous design studio. Steel and huge windows make the outside of the building resemble a mobile automotive industry museum. Inside, this impression stays with the visitor, too – even near the production lines, which are cleaner than a flat maintained by the Perfect Housewife.

The factory currently produces three car models, mainly on request: Phantom and Ghost (limousines) and Wraith (a sports car). The latter has completely changed the image of the fossilized brand: this enormous car (acceleration 0-100km/h: 4.6 s, weight: up to three tons) started to be ordered by young wealthy men. In the year of Rolls–Royce’s acquisition by BMW, only 300 cars were sold, while last year – as many as 3,630. Still, the brand does not aim at a continuous increase of the number of sold cars; its priority is the value of individual cars. Thus, the most important part of the factory in Goodwood is the department of special orders, which panders to the clients’ weirdest whims, such as decorating the interior of the car with diamonds. Yes, they have had such a client. A sheik, of course.

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“Since it is the clients who come to us with their ideas of a unique car, our situation is exceptional: we do not have to do market research. They tell us what they need,” argues Gavin Hartley, head of Bespoke Design department in Goodwood. “We do not discuss the clients’ preferences. The ordered colour may seem weird to us in our geographical location, but when the car is taken to Abu Dhabi, it suddenly turns out that the colour perfectly matches the modern architecture and the desert. Thus, if a client wants a yellow car, they will get the best yellow colour in the world. Our possibilities are virtually unlimited. Our palette includes 44,000 possible colours, but we can always produce that unique one for a special client. We once made a gold paint with an addition of real gold. 30 litres cost 23,000 pounds. Sometimes we also have to reproduce the colour, as we did for one client who was so busy that she had no time to visit us, but she sent us her favourite Chanel lipstick with a letter in which she wrote that it was the precise colour she wanted. Another client requested for a dashboard made of the wood of the tree growing in his garden. Of course, he got his wish. This is what we are for.”

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The production line looks like a sterile ophthalmic factory. Plates reading “Do not touch” are everywhere. At one moment I was careless enough to lean against the body of a Phantom car. A security employee suddenly appeared from nowhere and... yelled at me, calling me a frivolous ignorant because that car would cost some 300,000 pounds and if only its owner learned that someone had leaned against it...

The period from the order to the collection of the ready car usually lasts a half of the year. Most of it is consumed by creating and obtaining elements made on special request, which are delivered by external suppliers. Special wooden and leather elements are the only ones manufactured in the factory. Upholstery for one car requires eight to eleven calf skins, while the star-like ceiling liner is made manually for 30 hours using 1,300 LEDs. The very assembly of the car takes about 30 hours, depending on the model. Phantom, for instance, stops 16 times on a production line, each time for 49 minutes. Oh those precise Germans from BMW! This is enough for the employees from the respective departments to assemble the appropriate elements. Wraith, in turn, has 11 stops 2.5 hours each. Nobody is too hasty by the production line; they work concentrated, in complete silence. The paint shop is even more sterile: the employees are not even allowed to grow beards. It takes 30 litres of paint to coat one car. This is done three times within six days and then the vehicle is polished manually. Now you know why security employees reproach journalists for careless leaning against the body...

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Clients of the Rolls–Royce factory include millionaires, kings, sheiks, actors and musicians. Some buy its products for comfort, others – for fame. The limousines are exported mainly to the Middle East and China. “Our clients do not buy cars. They buy emotions,” says Frank Tiemann, Rolls–Royce’s spokesman. Many clients order the car planning to keep it forever. One such enthusiast lives in Sakhalin, an island on the Pacific near the Russian coast. The brand’s maintenance employees fly there once a year (one-way distance: 8,000 km) for three days. Another “fanatic” bought a huge Antonov plane to be able to take his car to the service centre in Kiev. The most famous client of the British brand, however, is Michael Fux from the USA, who buys one limousine a year: he drives it for one year and then puts it in his private museum. The biggest single order in Goodwood was placed by Stephen Hung, who bought 30 red Phantom cars for his hotels and casinos in China, and paid 20 million dollars for them. Each of these cars is five centimetres shorter than the European version so as to prevent Chinese chauffeurs from the necessity of obtaining a bus driving licence.

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The Rolls–Royce plant is a factory of dreams. Here, millionaires make their dreams come true, while the automotive industry enthusiasts such as I come here to dream. And they usually leave with dreams, too.

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