Every story needs an origin fable. Today, we look to a time before the light, when darkness cloaked the earth and the ground trembled beneath the wheels of the Dominator.
In the beginning the Lord created Cayenne. And the Lord saw that it was good, and he blessed it and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it”, and it was so. And lo, as the profits had foreseen, Cayenne begat Bentayga who begat Urus, who begat Cullinan. And the Lord looked upon his works, and he was pleased.
On the seventh day, the Lord was tired, and he thought; “a little nap wouldn’t kill me” And so, the Lord slept but while he slumbered, the confounded things proliferated like the seven plagues, so when the Lord awoke, he was greatly vexed and rent his garment. And the Lord wailed, “what have I done?”
Most ideas appear good in isolation. It’s only when they are tested in real world conditions that one can fully grasp their efficacy. That’s the problem with bells – they’re damnably hard to unring.
Rolls-Royce’s Giles Taylor, while attempting to dignify his new SUV confection, cited the one-off RR coachbuilt creations produced in the 1920s and ’30s for Indian Maharajahs for use on tiger hunts and such like, saying without a trace of embarrassment, “that’s the story we in the design studio set ourselves to follow”. But he really didn’t need to go back that far.
Brunei sits on the north coast of Borneo in the South China sea. This sovereign nation is ruled by his majesty, Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, a man far too busy to use his full name in light of his multiple roles of Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Finance Minister for the tiny oil-rich state.
Accused in some quarters as being something of a repressive state, the Sultan lives like the absolute monarch he is, so in addition to the wives, houses, private jets, offshore bank accounts and other trappings of the super-rich, he keeps a car collection which runs into hundreds of vehicles – many of which are believed to be bespoke creations.
The Sultan’s collection includes a notable number of Rolls Royces, but Bentleys it seems were more the Sultan’s taste – at least while they remained relatively exclusive vehicles.
Throughout the 1990s he commissioned the Crewe works to produce a myriad of one-off or short-run cars based upon pre-existing Bentley chassis’ in Coupé, saloon and in several cases, shooting brake estate body styles. In fact, it’s believed the Sultan and his family’s patronage kept the Rolls-Royce / Bentley business from folding entirely during the financially straitened pre-takeover period.
Mid-decade, he is said to have commissioned a series of Bentley SUVs at a cost which ran into $millions. Based on the platform and four wheel drive componentry of the contemporary P38A Range Rover (since RR at the time had neither the platform nor the hardware of their own), the vehicles were styled in-house to a similar theme to the much admired Project Java concept, which also inspired the 1998 Arnage model. It’s unclear as to what engine was fitted, although it’s likely the RR 6.75 litre V8 was somehow squeezed in.
In a rather startling break with Bentley naming tradition, the SUV was christened Dominator, which sounds akin to a device more likely to be enjoyed in the boudoir, but then one should never expect subtlety from a dictator. After all, Ming the Merciless wasn’t exactly noted for his love poems.
In all, six Dominators were made, shipped to Brunei in 1996, never to be seen again. They are now believed to be mouldering in storage with the hundreds of other discarded playthings the Sultan has amassed. And yet, despite his collection of automotive trinkets, he never saw fit (it seems) to commission an SUV with a Spirit of Ecstasy on its nose.
Was the Dominator a missing link in the evolution of the super-luxury SUV? There is compelling evidence to suggest it was, which makes it’s absence from the automotive genesis fable something of an omission. But perhaps the lesson here is more one of unintended consequences. Now that Rolls Royce is making an SUV, any notion of brand-exclusivity is busted – they’re just the same as everyone else.
Put that in your book of revelations.