There are very few brands that are as iconic as Rolls-Royce. Its association with luxury, fame and success is unrivalled, not only in the automotive world, but in anything. Rolls-Royce is the benchmark for high quality craftsmanship, a foundation laid down by Sir Henry Royce. “Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it.” Its rich history pulses through every product with legendary stories binding every atom of every car. They are watched in awe, photographed and aspired to, but what actually goes into making a Rolls-Royce? We were granted access to the rarified space that is the Rolls-Royce facility at Goodwood.
As you approach down the long winding drive surrounded by the British countryside, you realise that this is exactly the sort of environment you expected Rolls-Royce to call home. Lush green grass and perfectly trimmed trees surround a modern structure. As you go through the main entrance a classy desk reminiscent of what you might find on an ocean liner sits before you. Surrounding it Rolls-Royce from past and present stand shoulder to shoulder. Approaching the assembly line you get a clear sense that everyone is very proud of what they do here. Art work of these cars decorates the hallways and the canteen itself overlooks the line, reminding employees of the prestigious work they do.
Our first stop was to see where the bodies of the soon to be Rolls-Royce were stored. These are stamped out in Germany, not because of German ownership, but because there simply isn’t the space at Goodwood. The facility would have to be twice as large as it is currently and the company has built as much as they can considering they are situated in a protected area of natural beauty. Each body sits like a ghostly spectre awaiting its next phase.
Down to the paint shop where you will find the only robots in the whole of Rolls-Royce. Everything else is done by hand. A car will spend at least 6 days down here and receive 30 litres of paint. Rolls-Royce have over 44,000 colours to choose from, however, if none of them are to your liking then they can colour match any object you bring to them allowing you to have something totally unique. One customer requested to have the finish of a candy apple on his car. I am told recreating the layers of sugary glazing was quite a challenge but one the brand rose to. Another customer wanted a very specific tone of gold and in order to make it Rolls-Royce needed to use 19 grams of pure gold powder. The paintwork ended up costing the new owner over £24,000 but we are told that they are exceptionally happy with the result.
Out and onto the production line and the first thing that strikes you is how quiet it is. For a space where cars are being constructed the tone of the room is so peaceful. The surroundings are exceptionally clean and large windows allow for the sun bouncing off of the surrounding countryside to enter. Each station the car stops at it takes shape a little more. Engineers “go shopping” for parts and come back with all they need to fabricate a specific element of the car. When they say “it takes 60 pairs of hands to build a Rolls-Royce” they mean literally that. These cars aren’t so much built, as composed like a fine piece of music. Wiring looms are bespoke to each car with only 9% of customers choosing not to customise their new conveyance in a unique fashion. Each Rolls-Royce as it becomes more whole only spends a finite amount of time at each station, not a minute more or less.
Elsewhere the doors are being prepared and beautiful upholstery is tailored to each car. This level of craftsmanship is incredible. The high skill and precision involved is near impossible to put into words. Perfection is what these men and women seek and even a tiny mosquito bite in the leather is not good enough. Awe inspiring woodwork of the kind worthy in famous art galleries is produced to the customers exacting specification. Palaces, vistas, animals, your wish is their command. Rolls-Royce is also moving with times offering new materials such as carbon fibre and aluminium for the interior. With the Wraith bringing the average age of the customer down dramatically, demand for less traditional materials is on the increase.
As the interior meets with its new body and the engine and gearbox are fitted, in the final stage of assembly the car literally drives off of the production line. If requested, coach lines are added, each painted by hand and by only one man. The cars are then rigorously tested for quality and subjected to water tests and a 10KM drive.
A Rolls-Royce is born, but only a couple leave the factory a day as this legendary brand is not chasing volume. These cars are objects of desire and shall remain that way with a waiting time of at least five and a half months currently.
It was a real privilege to get an inside look at how arguably this nations greatest export goes about building some of the finest machines on the planet.