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Rolls-Royce Coachbuild has hit a high in price of new cars once again with its Droptail models revealed last week

For the second, the most expensive car sold till date has been the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe at an eyewatering $143million last year

Abhijit Mitra Published 03.09.23, 04:23 PM
The Rolls-Royce La Rose Noire Droptail revealed last week is the current No. 1 at the most expensive new car stakes

The Rolls-Royce La Rose Noire Droptail revealed last week is the current No. 1 at the most expensive new car stakes Pictures: The manufactureres

Which is the most expensive car in the world? There are effectively two ways to answer that question, depending on whether one is buying new, or at an auction or resale, that is, anything other than new. For the second, the most expensive car sold till date has been the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe at an eyewatering $143million last year. Nothing else even comes anywhere near it, with No. 2, a 1962 Ferrari GTO, able to command only about a third of its price at $48.4 million.

To answer the first part of the question, prices of new ultraluxury cars have been on the rise. And the Rolls-Royce La Rose Noire Droptail, a bespoke commissioned build, has grabbed the top slot with a price tag of $32 million. The Droptails from Rolls-Royce are a series of four cars that were commissioned about four-and-a-half years ago. So far, we have seen only two of them, the La Rose Noire and the Amethyst versions, both with unique features that were specified by their super rich purchasers. The La Rose Noire Droptail took the title from another Rolls, the Boat Tail, which had raised the bar to about $28 million a couple of years ago. So, what is the Droptail all about?

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In a word, it is about ‘exclusivity’. Coachbuilders of a century ago were a legacy of the horse-carriage days. When motor cars started getting popular early in the last century, many concepts remained anchored in the ideas of the horse-drawn carriages, which were all individually built by hand by these ‘coachbuilders’, no matter how cheap or expensive they were. When the production of motor cars started, anything in the luxury segment would be sold as what was called a rolling chassis, that is a more or less flat frame fitted with wheels, the engine, the gearbox and controls to move it under its own power. This would then go to a coachbuilder, who would then build the ‘coachwork’ — effectively a carriage to sit on the frame and keep the already installed components — and bolt it onto the frame.

Over the years, it turned out that making cars with metal bodies that were integrated with the chassis was a safer and cheaper way of doing things and, hence, coachbuilers largely went out of business and most cars of one model became the same as any other car. When they were around, no two cars used to be entirely alike since they would be made to specifications given by the owner about something or the other, or the coachbuilder would make changes to maintain the exclusivity. Speaking in bespoke language, every luxury car was what we could now call ‘one-of-one’.

(Clockwise from left) The parquet work is in dark sycamore and the reds are supposed to signify rose petals; The amethyst colour palette inside the car; The rose motif appears on the speaker grilles and The colour palette of the car is derived from the Black Baccara rose.

(Clockwise from left) The parquet work is in dark sycamore and the reds are supposed to signify rose petals; The amethyst colour palette inside the car; The rose motif appears on the speaker grilles and The colour palette of the car is derived from the Black Baccara rose.

Today, as we stand at the cusp of vehicles switching to electric power trains, it is becoming harder and harder for luxury car companies to convince the customer to pay the premium they ask for. In-car electronics has ensured that providing features is largely a matter of how much software a car company is willing to put into its vehicle. The smoothness of the powertrain, which was a very tangible differentiator for luxury cars powered by the internal combustion engine, along with good performance, is gradually being taken for granted with electric motor driving cars.

Making bespoke cars for those willing and able to pay the premium for the exclusivity is one of the options before car companies and Rolls-Royce seems to have taken this up in earnest. Rolls-Royce Coachbuild is where the wealthy can go to be pampered with a car built to their fancies and the whole idea seems to be working fairly well so far. The Rolls-Royce Boat Tail, and now the Droptail are at least a cool 50 per cent more expensive than the next most expensive new vehicle, the Bugatti La Voiture Noire, which was sold for $18.7 million and of which, expectedly, there is only one.

Coming to the Droptail itself, there will be only four of them, two of which, the La Rose Noire and the Amethyst were revealed last week. Rolls-Royce makes the Phantom, Cullinan and Ghost models on one platform, but that is not what is going into the Droptail, the company has said. The Droptail is being built on a monocoque chassis specially developed for it. It is a two-seater roadster and currently there is no similar model in the Rolls portfolio. Plus, chopping the top creates its own set of complications in terms of vehicle safety and stability that need to be tackled. So, this is pretty much a new model almost ground up.

The powertrain, however, reports Autocar UK after speaking to a Rolls-Royce spokesperson, is shared with the Phantom. It is the same 6.75-litre V12 engine but has been tuned for more power and less torque and produces about 600hp and 840Nm of torque, which should be enough to propel it to 100kmph from a standing start in under five seconds. (Rolls-Royce itself hasn’t released any power or performance figures.) This car has been developed with the idea of it being used to cross continents in style and comfort and, from the looks of it, it has enough to do that.

The Droptails come with a removable carbon fibre hard top of the same swoopy design as the rest of the car but with yacht themes such as the overhang over the rear windshield. It can be opaque to transparent and anything in between and adds to the car’s sporting looks. It’s a dark, low-slung piece that, in conjunction with the fin-like pieces on either side of the rear deck, creates a look that’s very different from that of the roadster.

(From left) A Vacheron Constantin timepiece is the car clock in the Amethyst Droptail, Unlike the traditional black on white, the instruments get the amethyst theme as wel

(From left) A Vacheron Constantin timepiece is the car clock in the Amethyst Droptail, Unlike the traditional black on white, the instruments get the amethyst theme as wel

Also, the dropping line of the car has necessitated contouring of the wood on the boot lid to create a spoiler effect and improve the downforce on the vehicle even though the car rides on broad 22-inch wheels that should offer oodles of grip. Still, nothing has been done by halves and all the aerodynamic aids are in place, both front and rear.

Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, says: “Rolls-Royce La Rose Noire Droptail is a love story, thoughtfully captured and stunningly projected onto the canvas of a Rolls-Royce motor car. It is an expression of the deep and passionate partnership between a husband and wife who are the heads of a prominent international family — to be part of their remarkable story is a privilege. In every detail of this historic commission, there are echoes of both Rolls-Royce’s rich heritage and the commissioning clients’ character, from its captivating yet formidable form to its flawless and elegant romantic gestures.”

According to Alex Innes, head of Coachbuild Design, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars: “Rolls-Royce La Rose Noire Droptail is glamour distilled. The guiding inspiration for this dark, bold and powerful commission was the Black Baccara rose, which was a significant point of affection for the client and a source of fascination for the design team. Its rich and complex character informed our creative exploration, influencing the palette, composition, and intricate detailing of the motor car. It led us to blend radically modern design concepts with age-old exquisite craft techniques.”

To put it briefly, the La Rose Noire is the first of four unique Rolls-Royce Droptail commissions and is inspired by romance and the allure of the Black Baccara rose. It incorporates most complex expression of parquetry in Rolls-Royce’s history with 1,603 wood pieces of black sycamore and red signifying rose petals hand-finished and hand-placed over almost a two-year period. The exterior paint process required 150 iterations to perfect and shows different colours depending on the light, similar to the rose that it is themed on and which gives the car its colour palette. A matching champagne chest was commissioned to stage client’s exclusive vintage. There is also a wearable Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept timepiece on the dash. When taken out, the slot gets covered with a metal cover with a rose on it.

The Amethyst Droptail, also revealed last week and priced a shade lower than the La Rose Noire, is fundamentally similar to the La Rose Noire, but is trimmed differently and according to the commissioning family’s requirements. Here the rear deck and the wood wrapped around the passenger compartment are of a totally different design but no less painstakingly constructed matching things piece by piece although it looks like a single piece at first glance.

This coachbuilt project is inspired by the birthstone of the patron’s son The veneer aft deck is the largest wood surface ever produced by Rolls-Royce and the rear section is the only aerodynamically functional wood surface on a new motor car. Precious amethyst gems are incorporated into interior and exterior. And, for the first time, both brushed and polished finish have been applied to Pantheon grille, a finish inspired by haute horlogerie, referencing the client’s Vacheron Constantin timepiece that comes in this Droptail in place of the Audemars Piguet timepiece in the other one.

The details of how the paint or the interior has been created by Coachbuild are stories in themselves. But the problem is to pick any one. Still, the fairly large area of precise woodwork seems to be the most interesting thing apart from the focus on keeping the whole look as uncluttered as possible.

Rolls-Royce seems to be taking the whole bespoke thing into a different orbit altogether with first the Boat Tail (of which there will be three) and now the Droptail (of which there will be four). It’s turning the clock back a hundred years almost in spirit at least. And the ruboff on the rest of the portfolio cannot be half-bad.

(Clockwise from left) The car clock is a wearable Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. There is a metal cover with a rose carving for when the watch is taken out of the car

A ‘brow’ created by the grille along with the headlamps emphasises the width of the roadster.

The car clock is a wearable Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. There is a metal cover with a rose carving for when the watch is taken out of the car

The Amethyst Droptail, also revealed last week and priced a shade lower than the La Rose Noire, is fundamentally similar to the La Rose Noire, but is trimmed differently and according to the commissioning family’s requirements. Here the rear deck and the wood wrapped around the passenger compartment are of a totally different design but no less

(Top row from left) Rolls-Royce Boat Tail 2021; $28 million, Bugatti La Voiture Noire 2019; $18.7 million and Mercedes Maybach Excelero (2004); $8 million

(Middle row from left) Lamborghini Veneno (2013); $4.5 million, Bugatti Centodieci (2020); $9 million and Bugatti Divo (2019); $5.8 million

(Bottom row from left) Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300 (2021); $3.9 million, Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita (2010); $4.8 million and Lamborghini Sian (2020); $3.6 million

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