Pomp and Happenstance – A Rolls-Royce Experience

As I am sure you smart people already know, Pomp is essentially a ceremony or display and Happenstance is a coincidence, on a recent visit to the UK both these words came together in spectacular fashion.

Unfortunately, like many of us, I can safely say that riding in a Rolls-Royce Motor vehicle is a very rare thing. I have personally only had the pleasure a few times and on each jaw-dropping occasion I was (of course) left wanting more. So when an invitation arose to visit the home of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in Goodwood I almost bit their hands off.

The experience began the moment I stepped over the threshold of my parents home in Swindon. You see, Rolls-Royce had sent a chauffeur-driven Phantom up to collect me. Now a Rolls-Royce in Swindon is not the most common of occurrences and certainly one arriving outside of my parent’s place, so even though it was early morning, I made sure I said goodbye to the family VERY LOUDLY. I somehow wished the engine was louder or the doors slammed shut to elicit further curtain twitching from the neighbours.

The near two hour ‘magic carpet’ ride passed by in a breeze. The Phantom was outstanding and the experience of being chauffeur driven was something I could gladly get used to – especially since my driver (Colin Ledwith) spent a lot of his time with Rolls-Royce clients and their CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos. The conversation flowed easily and I basked in the ambiance.

Arriving at the gates at Goodwood was akin to arriving at a stately manor. No guards or security boxes, just stone pillars, 420,000 trees and tall hedgerows, you’d be hard pushed to know it was there, and that was essentially the point but I’ll get to that soon. Coming to a gentle stop outside reception, it was hard not to notice the Ensign Red Wraith Black Badge parked near the entrance, a vehicle that I would have the keys to later that day – told you this was going to be quite the experience.

Once inside, I was greeted by Andrew Ball (Head of Corporate Relations) and taken to the Charles Rolls Study for coffee (in hindsight I should have gone for Earl Grey). The room is filled with an eclectic mix of memorabilia that pays tribute to one of the brand’s founders and tips its cap to the world of aviation. Andrew explained that this was a room that many a Rolls-Royce client has visited and I’m sure it would have many a story to tell. He told me that adjacent to the this was the Royce room (which unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to step into) and both are separated by an ornate doorway that pays its respects to businessman and founding MD Claude Goodman Johnson, a man deemed to be the ‘Hyphen’ in Rolls-Royce.

Very soon, Gavin Hartley (Head of Bespoke Design) joined us and proudly spoke of the essence of Rolls-Royce, its individuality. You see, like a finely tailored suit, a Rolls-Royce is created just for you and your personality. From its multiple layers of paint on the exterior to the furniture and fittings on the inside, it can be yours and yours alone. It can be as wild and out there (like the ‘psychedelic’ yellow Phantom of Lennon) to the incredibly subtle creation of a walking stick in place of the door mounted umbrella, even the instrumentation dials can be changed to suit the most particular of clientele. Consider it rolling artwork because essentially that’s what it is – handcrafted, bespoke, living art. Gavin’s love of what his team was capable of was infectious and I could have happily listened to him all day – but a gentle knock at the door told us that ‘everything was ready’.

As luck would have it, Rolls-Royce had recently released the new Phantom and I was to be given a special ‘unveiling’, a ceremony normally held for the only select set of people that purchase a Rolls-Royce – as if I didn’t feel special enough already.

The room was laid out in near cinema fashion (Gold class of course). You relax on a fine leather couch as the lights are dimmed and music begins. The curtains are slowly pulled back and ‘the show’ starts – it was epic. The Phantom spun slowly around on the giant turntable as a carefully choreographed and narrated sound and light display unveiled the new magic carpet ride to near standing ovation proportions. This ‘event’ was followed by a greater in-depth explanation by Gavin, of the vehicle and its changes, again I could have listed all day.

Next on the calendar of events was an introduction to the Wraith black badge (that I would soon be driving) by Product Manager Matt Batt followed by a tour of (I reluctantly say) production facility with Head Tour Guide James Donnelley. I have been lucky enough to drive the Wraith before, but the Black Badge is something else altogether. From its ‘reversed badging’ and Dark Chrome Spirit of Ecstasy, to its 21” Carbon Alloy Composite wheels, Mugello Red Monograms and retuned V12 (465kW/870Nm), this car is a beast.

Despite being (let’s call it) eager to get out on the South Coast roads, there was the tour to think about, bring on James and his Scottish brogue. There is very little (if anything) that James doesn’t know about RR. He explained everything, from the initial creation of the first Royce, to the introduction to Charles Rolls.The contractual anomalies that led to RR current ownership and even the reluctance and eventual embrace from the locals that surrounded the Goodwood site that we were on. He spoke of how everyone clapped when the first car was produced (a 2003 Phantom) and of the culture and pride that surrounds the entire workforce. Then came the tour.

With the Cullinan project in full flow, there was a fair amount of the facility shrouded by curtains, however, that didn’t spoil the tour one little bit. It was a privilege to watch each aspect of a Rolls-Royce being created. From the frames that commence production paint finished (to ensure respect from the start), to the way specialists handcraft facias and furnishings. The fact that leather is sourced from only the best high altitude bulls (and meticulously dyed by those that create Fendi goods and that five trees are replaced to every one used. I love that when it comes to contaminants such as Perfume or aftershave, Zero tolerance is allowed anywhere near the paintwork and the thought that very serious ‘folded arm’ women ensure that no Rolls-Royce vehicle leaves the premises without being diligently vetted. But above all else, the biggest thing I noted, was the unrushed speed at which each car was lovingly made. Parts appeared to be greeted and introduced to the car rather than simply bolted on – hard to explain but it seemed more leisurely, more of a courtship rather than just a production line but ultimately still very adroit.

Last but not least, I had the chance to sample a finished product and take the Wraith away for a few hours, my first stop being a late lunch (a bacon sandwich) at the cafe in Goodwood racetrack. Needless to say, the resulting drive that included a quick visit to Lord March’s estate was impeccable.

As I half (or more) expected, Rolls-Royce has an attention to detail extends throughout the entire facility and beyond. Everywhere you look, from the artwork on the wall, the artifacts that are perfectly (actually strategically placed) around the building, the vehicles in reception (1952 Silver Dawn and latest Drophead Dawns plus the two Goodwood soapbox vehicles), and even the environmentally embracing design of the facility itself, they all seem to belong. But in my opinion, it’s more than that. It’s the smiles on the faces and politeness of everyone working there that I really took away with me. Nothing, and I really mean nothing seems to be a problem – it’s all just part and parcel of the elegance and spirit that is; Rolls-Royce.

‘Take the best that exists and make it better’ Sir Henry Royce

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