If you think the new Rolls-Royce Phantom – the eighth model to wear a nameplate that stretches back to 1925 – is merely a car, it’s time to think again. For starters, Rolls-Royce prefers to call it a motor car (a subtle distinction, agreed), but goes on to liken it to a piece of modern art.
At its recent launch in London (the car goes on sale next year), Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce, said: “The new Phantom points the way forward for the global luxury industry. It is a creation of great beauty and power, a dominant symbol of wealth and human achievement. It is an icon and an artwork that embraces the personal desires of each of our individual customers.”
The launch material introducing the car is unlike anything you’ll find for another automobile. Sure, it talks about the new all-aluminium structure that’s lighter and stiffer than before, and it mentions the 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12… but describes them not as the platform or the engine, rather as the “architecture of luxury” and “the silently beating heart of the new Phantom”.
The interior is not an interior but “a suite”, while you don’t so much as close the doors as become enveloped in their “embrace”. While it is easy to scoff at such pretentious waffle, there is little doubt that the Phantom does take the art of motor car manufacture to another level. And that, according to the CEO, is because it is more than a mere car. “Every one of our customers – each a connoisseur of luxury in the extreme – was asking for something more individual to them.”
The new Rolls-Royce Phantom transforms its dashboard into an art gallery
And nowhere is that more obvious than the dashboard. Or as Rolls-Royce prefers to call it, ‘The Gallery’. “Art is at the heart of the conception of the new Phantom’s interior,” says Giles Taylor, director of design. “We know that a huge number of our clients are patrons of art and, indeed, have their own private collections. Art is a binding factor for many of them.”
So Taylor has taken the dashboard – an area that “served little purpose but to hide airbags and componentry” and has given it another purpose. All the elements within ‘The Gallery’ are enclosed in an uninterrupted swathe of toughened glass that runs the full width of the dash area. Within it, the digital dials and analogue clock are framed with chrome, adding a degree of shine and continuity throughout the front of the interior.
A 12.3-inch TFT colour display with LED backlighting communicates all driver information, with the displays themselves designed with clear virtual needles and lettering. The remainder of the dashboard becomes a space where bespoke works of art can be displayed, protected by the glass – hence ‘The Gallery’.
“In the 18th century, miniatures were highly fashionable and valuable items of art that allowed their owners to carry images of their loved ones with them whenever they travelled. I really loved that idea of taking your art with you when travelling, and so I acted on it. Now our clients will be able to do the same,” said Taylor.
Rolls-Royce has commissioned a series of artists to produce bespoke works to be displayed inside the car. Among these is an oil painting inspired by the South Downs, not so far from Rolls-Royce’s home in Goodwood, by Chinese fine artist Liang Yuanwei; while controversial German product designer Thorsten Franck has created a gold-plated 3D-printed map of an owner’s DNA.
One of the more beautiful pieces is a fine porcelain English rose made by German experts Nymphenburg, based on the flower grown exclusively for the project by Harkness Roses. For this ‘Rolls-Rose’, a new formula was developed to create porcelain as fine as the petal of the rose itself. The artwork shows the rose in the various stages of its life, from bud to blossom to bloom, but in contemporary black and white porcelain rather than red or pink.
Rolls-Royce has commissioned a series of artists to produce bespoke works to be displayed inside the car
According to Nymphenburg, this was no mean feat. In the past, the processing of white and black porcelain paste has been strictly separated during production as even the smallest residue of black paste on a tool, invisible to the naked eye, leads to impurities that only become visible after firing. Therefore, a new type of black paste had to be developed that remained as malleable as the white, while the finished roses were fired in a single process for the first time.
“Nature is simply perfect and imitating it is a challenge. I wanted to feel the tension of each individual blossom,” said master porcelain maker Anton Hörl.
Another bespoke commission is British artist Helen Amy Murray’s reinterpretation of Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament as a sculpted silk appliqué. Exploring the original line drawings of the bronze statue The Whisper by sculptor Charles Sykes – the inspiration for the Spirit of Ecstasy – Murray said: “I was inspired by the ethereal quality of the illustrations. They led me to incorporate the female form into my work; I wanted my gallery commissions to look soft and organic. The subtle spacing of lines brings the draped figure into perspective.”
Precious stones and metals were chosen by British designer and goldsmith Richard Fox for his offering. Using diamonds and platinum, solid silver and pear-cut amethysts, Fox created Astrum, a constellation artwork inspired by explosions and skyscapes, sea urchins and plants.
Nature Squared, a Swiss-based design company, turned – unsurprisingly – to nature for its contribution, choosing items that until now have been impossible to incorporate into a motor car: feathers. More than 3,000 tail feathers were selected from a sustainable species of bird with rich dense plumages. They were chosen for their iridescence and were individually shaped to accentuate their sheen and rich hue before being hand-sewn onto an open pore fabric.
“The inky iridescence and sumptuous texture of the feathers provide a sense of true luxury. The Phantom’s clock has been softly cossetted by feathers, their fragility protected by The Gallery’s glass fascia,” said Martin Ehrath, Nature Squared’s head of research and development.
Of course, creating individual pieces of artwork for a Phantom is not the matter of a moment. For those not prepared to wait, Rolls-Royce designers have a ready-prepared collection of treatments using silk, wood, metal and leather.
Whichever way you look at it, ‘The Gallery’ really does add a new dimension to automotive luxury. It’s just a shame the artwork is in the front of the car when the owner is likely to be in the back, but at least the chauffeur will enjoy the experience.
- Car: Rolls-Royce Phantom
- Price: from around £400,000
- Engine: Front-mounted, 6,749cc, twin turbo V12 petrol
- Power: 563hp Performance: 155mph max, 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds
- Drive: Rear-wheel, eight-speed automatic transmission