Pomegranate Luncheon and the Landgrave

Rolls-Royce revealed a custom-made car, the Sweptail, at Villa d’Este. What does DTW think?

2017 Rolls Royce Sweptail: source

The Sweptail draws inspiration from a 1925 car called the Phantom Round Door and takes a little from the Phantom II and has some Park Ward features (say, the 20/25 Limousine Coupé). I see a little 1971 Buick Riviera in the shape of the glasshouse but perhaps that car was also drawing on Rolls-Royce influences.

2017 Rolls Royce Sweptail: autocar.co.uk

With so much volume at their disposal, the vast scale means that RR’s designers did not need to add much by way of decoration to the body. The lower body is refreshingly simple with generously-sized and smoothly blended wheel arch lips and not much between them. There’s a doorhandle (for suicide doors) and an

1925 Rolls Royce Round Door: thetruthaboutcars.com

oblong badge just aft of the front wheel. Rolls and their client opted for very thick brightwork to frame the side-glass. It is, however, suitably thick. Less of it might have seemed frail; at the leading edge of the C-pillar the brightwork is especially broad and is paralleled by a feature line running over the door and down the forward third of the very, very deep C-pillar. It’s there to moderate what could be an excessively massive expanse of metal. The length of that panel is probably governed by the designers’ wish to have the side-glass end over the rear axle. The side-glass says coupe and adding more length would have perhaps lent the car too much fast-back (Monza) character.

Imposing: autocar.co.uk

The front and back are where the design is even more interesting. A chrome frame outlines the front-end, what looks like one piece of metal (was it milled or welded and polished?). At the centre is a plain huge Parthenon grille which was indeed milled from solid. That kind of work takes at least days  of processing if not longer, depending on the metal and the milling process. This huge piece of chromed alloy is redolent of Georgian silver-ware – not an inappropriate reference for a Roller. You are in no doubt at all that this is a Blenheim Palace of a car and please get out of my way. I might pause to wonder about the depth of the grille, how it extends back into the bonnet. They might have overdone that, along with the extension of the base into the number plate (the car’s registration is simply 08). That said, a standard licence plate would simply not work on this car. That’d be too proletarian.

The headlamps are simply round, with horizontal bars over them for indicators (I think). From dead on, the whole effect is magisterially intimidating, suggestive of bright eyes in a skull. Simultaneously, the frontal aspect is a mix of luxurious modernism (the materials and finish and the chrome frame) and also British classicism (the grille). The frame is very slightly wider at the top than the bottom. The shoulder is so deep that the side mirrors barely extend out beyond the side of the car.

Goodness me. Note the tidy sills: source

What is not there is also worth a comment: all modern cars have panel gaps. Not this one, not even under the sills or around the lower bumpers. At the rear a continuous surface flows from the upper wing and under the “bumper”. That matte metallic form enclosing the lights is there to articulate that effect. The form of the glasshouse, lower body and the lamp-surround is almost otherworldly: high-end science fiction, one might say.

Turning to the back we find that 08 again which does not even resemble a registration number; one might be excused for thinking it is car 8 or the model is the “8”. Where Rolls Royce have really pulled out the stoppers is the whole form enclosing the rear lights and part of the bumper (nobody will bump this car, not even if it was parked in Rome for a week). The rear is the least Rollsy bit; it’s space-age, and very well resolved – the boot aperture is something of a curiosity: how does it open, where precisely have they positioned the hinges? One thing is clear, golf-clubs were not dictating this boot. The world’s grandest central high-mounted stop light perches in a plate of chrome, at the apex of the triangular rear screen which is framed in yet more chrome.

Overall, I have to admit Rolls and their client have pulled off a fascinating feat, a one-off car that is as tastefully executed as a series car, one where the client’s immense wealth has not horse-dragged the concept into wilder flights of “because I can”. It’s probably foolish to talk about money but it’s a high likelihood that the car will always be worth more than was spent on it. Or maybe not? Maybe anyone with this much money to spend will just order one of their own. It’ll end up as a taxi on the Stansted run in 2028, in that case.

What are the prospects for the Sweptail’s themes? I expect the best features are simply too costly for series production and it would be bad manners to recycle them anyway. What is clear is that Rolls-Royce has garnered priceless publicity and demonstrated the elastic resilience of Rolls-Royce cues. The car is a Rolls, unmistakably, and it is a personal statement as well. For a multi-million dollar object it has also avoided the whiff of bad-taste. There is none: the more I consider it, it’s a well-executed thing of beauty.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

16 thoughts on “Pomegranate Luncheon and the Landgrave”

  1. I agree with all your comments on each design feature but I think the front end is completely detached esthetically from the rest of the car. Too square and rigid, it would have suited more a four-door project. The superlative curves of the tail just pop up from nowhere when you let your gaze travel from front to back

    1. I can see how RR got this result though. The grille forces a rectilinear form and the roof guides the tail towards softer shapes. Can we not say that the transitional forms are well handled?

    2. I can see how they might have aimed for this, but I would need a hint of this coming, already on the face of the car. Maybe the rhythm of the horizontal shiny metal of the back, transferred at the front

  2. At 12.8 million dollars, this car will always have cost more than it is worth. It’s the price of commission, not the worth of the car. And yes, it is terrifying in its sheer presence and the panel gaps are non existant and all that. But I can not escape the thought this is what it felt like before the French revolution. Or the Russian. Or really any revolution that comes from the utter disdain these people have for the masses. This is conspicuous consumtion in its ugliest form.

    1. If I put on my political glasses, then yes. This is simultaneously a beautiful object and a monstrous one. I manage my cognitive dissonance by separating my politics from my interest in design. In the political sphere I am not a very big friend of the ultra-rich nor even the middling rich who prop them up with their votes. The owner of this car is probably one of these. But here is the car and the money, likely as not, could just as easily been blown on a house or a painting we would never see.
      Generally: yes, we do seem to be living in a cleaner re-run of 1788 or 1912. I will now desist from socio-political comments.

    2. Sorry for bringing politics into this, and I will not take it any further. I just can’t separate the issues like you do. In cases like this, it gets intertwined.

    3. Don’t apologise – none is necessary. I think we’re probably on the same page politically and I think it’s entirely okay to occasionally mention the elephant in the room.
      For me, I might ask myself how I reconcile my dislike of inequality with my admiration for the pre-Modern architecture it supported. And from another angle, how do I deal with the apparent fact that the most democratic architecture is dreadful, mostly. In marked contrast, industrial design has produced excellent and democratic private (affordable) and public transport. No, I like your question and the point you raised.

  3. First timer here and was blown away with your writing and over-flown imaginative descriptions. I am still curious about the interior though on such a piece.

  4. I’m usually a big fan of BMW-era Royces (as can be seen here: http://bit.ly/rollsroyceDHC ) but this one truly feels like an exercise in unmitigated, unpleasant ostentation. I don’t mind a bit of decadence, I certainly don’t mind luxury, but there’s an obnoxiousness to this thing I find very unappealing.

    It reminds me of a Mitsuoka without that cheeky Japanese sense of irony, or – more appropriately – the Maybach Exelero. All previous BMW-era RRs struck a fine balance between the gargantuan and the delicate, but this is the first time the scales have tipped in the wrong direction.

    Given this effort is the first proper calling card of Giles Taylor’s work at Rolls-Royce, I’m beginning to feel rather worried about that RR SUV and the next Phantom. Very worried indeed, actually.

    1. Ah: dissent. Well have to discuss this further. The car doesn’t seem any more wasteful than the standard car. It’s still big. It’s pleasingly resolved. I find any recent Ferrari far worse.

  5. I will be a voice of dissent and say that I really don’t like it: a boat tail appended on an ungainly bulk grain carrier. Yes, great craft is employed here, but little art. And what is going on at each end? No, no, and again, no.

    1. You’re not alone. I think it’s hideous. I find it genuinely offensive in profile – from the side, the front end reminds of FAB 1, and I think everything rearward of the B-pillar amounts to a gross caricature of what should be a graceful bodystyle.

    2. If dissent is differing from the general opinion, the tables are now turned. I can’t argue with that. However, it is possible that the car splits opinion. Problematically, those who expressed favourable views have been journalists who probably would tend to want to be generous. So far the only independent commentator who has liked the car has been one at this site, namely me.

      The best case against is moral, a case made by Ingvar. My difficulty with that argument is that it can be too powerful. If the Sweptail is a gross symbol of consumption why isn’t a Venetian palace and all the nice stones left to us by aristocrats?
      The aesthetic case is, as ever, trickier. I like the transition from front to back and the proportions. What might be making it hard to judge is unfamiliarity.

  6. A truly hideous bloated thing that proves money can’t buy taste. I was thinking along similar lines to Kris – it’s like a Mitsuoka built with no budget limit.

    Perhaps the brief was misread? It ended up being “bloat” inspired rather than “boat” inspired.

    Maybe it could be hidden away in some barn, and sealed up….

  7. Not a bad modern interpretation of the 1949 Pontiac Torpedo. So a Harley Earl Posthumous Two Thumbs Up, and secondary kudos to the 1969 AMC Marlin.

    The second photo panel sideview shows a Jag XJS in terminal obesity, while the grille reminds one of a 1970 Range Rover spoiled by a large fake radiator stuck obdurately in the middle. Overall, an impressive melding of disparate past styling cues, with an original rear and superb finish.

    A pity the overall effect is one of rapine wealth. Will this one stop when surrounded by the paparazzi or demonstrators? Or merely trample them with disdain like a police horseman of old?

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