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