It was a very different era, a time when a luxury car was defined not by the long list of features but by its uniqueness. In the decades leading up to the Second World War, upscale buyers would routinely opt for custom-built cars, taking platforms from brands as diverse as Bentley, Cadillac, Delahaye and Packard to custom coachbuilders like Chapron, Darren, Saoutchik and Figoni and Falaschi.
In an unusual move, a collector of rare cars commissioned Rolls-Royce to craft another one-off, the first custom body for production the British marque has created in something like seven decades. And it is more than just some fancy sheet metal on a Phantom platform.
The British maker isn’t saying much about who commissioned the Sweptail, though it appears to be someone especially fond of the brand who lives a life of extreme elegance, with yachts, aircraft and plenty of high-line automobiles. The Sweptail takes that up a notch.
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Rolls has, of course, come up with a number of concept vehicles in recent years, including the Vision 100, its take on what a fully driverless ultra-premium sedan might look like. But the Sweptail project allowed it to actually put something unique on the road.
“We were very eagerly but quietly waiting for somebody like this to come along,” global director of communications Richard Carter told Automobile magazine. “We’ve worked for the last four years to realize this particular vision with a fully coach-built Rolls-Royce.”
The one-off Rolls-Royce Sweptail brings to mind some of the most elegant cars of the coachbuilding Golden Age — such as the boattail Auburn Speedster, or the 1933 Delage DB8 S deVillars that won the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2010 – or even the iconic Buick Riviera, with its own swept-back tail.
“Sweptail is the automotive equivalent of Haute Couture,” said Giles Taylor, Director of Design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, ahead of the car’s debut at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. “It is a Rolls-Royce designed and hand-tailored to fit a specific customer. This customer came to the House of Rolls-Royce with an idea, shared in the creative process where we advised him on his cloth, and then we tailored that cloth to him. You might say we cut the cloth for the suit of clothes that he will be judged by.”
Like another classic coach-built Rolls, the one-off 1947 Labourdette, the enormous new Sweptail is a two-seat coupe. An all-glass roof brings plenty of sunlight into the cabin, the better to illuminate the wood and glass rear shelves that replace what would have been the rear seat. There is a seemingly must-have chiller to hold champagne – from the year the owner was born, it turns out – with fine crystal flutes to serve it in.
The Phantom’s suicide doors remain, but, Rolls notes, “Concealed in the outboard walls on either side of the motor car, behind the opening of the coach doors, are two identical panniers. Each pannier, when activated, deploys forward to present the owner’s bespoke made attaché case which has been carefully packaged to exactly house his personal laptop device.
Those attache cases, by the way, are made of carbon fiber and, of course, finished in leather, with aluminum and titanium hinges and clasps.
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The four-year project involved continuous communications with the unidentified buyer and involved as many as 40 designers, engineers and other members of the Rolls team to pull together. Completing the sculptural design involved some distinctly modern technologies allowing the automaker to use only five body panels, minimizing the number of cut lines. The lower grille was produced by 3D printing. Surprisingly, the vehicle reportedly did not require crash testing because it retained key “hard points,” such as the wheel locations.
The word going around Villa d’Este was that the Sweptail cost about $13 million to bring to fruition, a figure that helps cement Rolls’ reputation as the car of choice for those with endless zeroes on the summary of their bank accounts.
But who commissioned the car? That question had everyone playing a guessing game at the annual Concorso, rumor having it that the owner had joined the crowd during the Sweptail’s debut – only to quietly pack up his attache case and drive off as the afternoon came to an end.
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