It’s been a while since I’ve been to an unveiling and gone away with both a burning desire for the car to succeed and a personal desire to own one (however remote the latter may seem).
As friends and colleagues headed off for Geneva on Monday, I quietly checked into a hotel just off the A3. Them heading for the bright lights and debauchery of the 2013 Salon Auto, whilst I, with a six-week-old daughter, was just thankful to get a good night’s sleep.
The following morning I checked out of said hotel and headed for Goodwood, a name synonymous with the heritage and splendour of British motor sport. I wasn’t heading to the circuit though but a place just a little further down the same road and home to another bastion of British motoring. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
As I tucked into a hearty English breakfast, courtesy of my hosts, I suspect somewhere, in one of many Swiss halls, colleagues jostled for position amidst plumes of token dry ice, listening to forgetful soundtracks and staring at a signature drape that preserved the final moments of solitude for this much awaited car.
And whilst I imagine their launch event was full of dazzle and distraction, the only drama at the unveiling I attended was that created by the car itself.
At the kind invitation of Rolls-Royce, I attended a low key unveiling at their Goodwood HQ, deep within the heart of their manufacturing plant. No dry ice or thumping soundtracks, no sea of outstretched arms hoping to get a good shot of the unveiled motor and, more importantly, no barriers between myself and the car.
The first observation was that of the test cars, parked alongside each other outside the room in which the unveiled Wraith sat waiting. Immediately the size of the car was apparent, looking more like the makings of a 7 Series GT than a car with the certainty and presence of a Rolls-Royce. Dressed in their camera confusing cloaks of invisibility, their alloys were clearly blackened with fresh brake dust from the morning run.
Bonnets raised, umbilical cords dropped from the ceiling to ensure each of the four test cars had ample sustenance. Even though the covers were soon to be lifted on the Wraith, I expect their work is far from over as Rolls Royce begin the pursuit of engineering perfection ahead of it going on sale in Autumn.
Into the room and Andrew Ball, Corporate Communications Manager, alongside Jörg Bause, Manufacturing Director for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, outlined the purpose of Wraith, its relevance to the marque and their devotion to the cause in creating the pinnacle of automotive excellence.
Without any pretentious fanfare, Jörg and Andrew themselves pulled back the two plain screened doors of their analysis centre, to reveal a car that has the capacity to not only move four people at a comfortable rate of knots, but a car that will surely move the minds and spirits of generations to come.
Void of its secretive shield of swirls and stripes, the car is instantly Rolls-Royce; majestically poised and true to the principles, proportions and promise that have fuelled the recent renaissance of the marque and made it the success story it is today.
As with every Rolls-Royce, the proportions are what make the Wraith. The characteristic long bonnet, some two inches longer than that of the Ghost, signifies the cars potential to propel the occupants of the opulent 2+2 with ease, confirming its position as the most powerful Rolls-Royce that has ever been. With a clearly shortened wheelbase, the signature stance, short front overhang and long rear, is maintained; and the fastback design itself ensures that the dominant C-pillar design of Rolls-Royce is also upheld.
Where the design team has been really clever however is in moving the traditional focus of a Rolls-Royce from the driven to the driver. Whilst the Wraith will definitely convey four adults in complete comfort and luxury, it’s not designed for the chauffeur, more the connoisseur.
No longer up and into, the Wraith sits low and inviting, it’s seats cosseting you in a cabin that can only be described as understated abundance. The attention to detail and refinement in this car make clear the fine line between class and crass, a fate that has befallen many of the mass manufacturers of luxury cars in recent years.
I’ve yet to find out how many cliff top bulls are recycled to make the interior of a Wraith, which shares its interior level trim with that of the range-topping Phantom. I know the average Phantom (if there could ever be such a thing as an average Phantom) uses around 11 hides, each hand checked and hand stitched to ensure its conformity with the rigorous demand for perfection. But regardless of this number, or all the other breathtaking numbers that hide beneath the surface of a Rolls-Royce, the cabin is just right, in every respect.
Other aspects of the Wraith’s design that need no emblem in order to identify its marque are the coach doors and Pantheon grille. The prominent shoulder line is also maintained, with the Wraith offering a discreet channel that will make for a cleaner break in two-tone body colours; another increasingly symbolic feature that distinguishes the marque.
Unfortunately, as yet, we’re not allowed to drive the Wraith, but compared with the Phantom and Ghost it’s clearly a new direction for the company. The fact the usual fine-feel steering wheel has been cast aside, the fact the interior focus has been placed on the driver, and indeed the fact that the emphasis on occupants and opulence has been overtaken with a daring sense of power and performance, suggest that things are moving in the right direction. I’d like to hope it’s not as detached to drive as the Phantom and that they at least engineer the option to introduce a bit of audible speed into the cabin, but I’m confident that these are all things in hand within the confines of the centre of excellence that adorns the Goodwood hillside.
It’ll be interesting to see who buys the ultimate Gentleman’s Gran Turismo, a question I think even Rolls-Royce themselves have no complete answer on as yet. It’s not hard to see the Wraith making the long drive to the Cote d’Azur a more enjoyable occasion, nor will its price tag prevent it being parked in the players area of stadiums across the UK, but I’m not sure if the car will see the recent success of its siblings in markets such as the Far East.
And I kind of got the feeling that Rolls-Royce knows this; they made it quite clear they’ll never be a mass manufacturer of luxury cars, regardless of their German owners, for them it’s still as much about exclusivity as it is about EBITDA.
Wraith is a bold new shape for Rolls-Royce and the car that will undoubtedly shape the next chapter in the company’s history, blending the pursuit of perfection instilled by Sir Henry Royce, which is evident in the Phantom and Ghost, with the passion for speed of his co-founder Charles Rolls.
The price? As with all things at this level, if you have to ask…
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