Is this the world's most expensive new car?
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Villa d’Este, Italy – This is not an existing Rolls-Royce model with special features added by the Bespoke division at Goodwood, nor is it a show car.
This is a unique coachbuilt two seater designed by and for a customer who also collects classic yachts and vintage aircraft (yes – he is very, very wealthy) as a modern interpretation of the flamboyant streamlined bodies fitted to Rolls-Royce chassis in the 1920s and 30s by iconic coachbuilders such as Jonckheere, Park Ward and Gurney Nutting, with more than a nod to the exquisitely fashioned boat-tailed roadsters of the day, most notably the Hispano-Suiza H6 Torpedo bodied entirely in tulipwood for liquor magnate Andre Dubonnet by the Nieuport aircraft company in 1924.
He brought his ideas to Rolls-Royce as long ago as 2013, where he and design director Giles Taylor quickly developed an understanding of what the customer was asking for – a two-seat coupé with a long, sweeping all-glass roof over a boat-tail rear deck; a contradiction in terms, if you will, but a strikingly dramatic one.
Over the next four years Taylor and his team joined in what became an intellectual journey, bringing the customer’s distinct vision to life - and the result of this one-off coachbuild project is the completely unique Rolls-Royce Sweptail.
The classic upright front treatment is centred on the largest grille on any modern-era Rolls-Royce – but instead of being fabricated by hand from nickel-silver sheet (which is why no two are ever exactly identical) the Sweptail grille was carved out of a single huge block of aluminium alloy and hand-polished to a mirror finish.
Then, in perhaps the most contentious design element on the car, a brushed-aluminium frame was added to the front treatment in place of a conventional bumper.
The rather American-looking profile echoes the ‘streamline’ sedans of the 1930s, with the most dramatically stretched but still beautifully understated C pillar we’ve ever seen - even were the rest of the care absolutely standard, that C pillar would still guarantee the Sweptail a place in any museum of design.
Instead of melding into the boot-lid edge like the roof of a Jaguar E-Type or the perfectly balanced Aston Martin DB5, the sweeping roofline extends past the edge of the body, tapering inwards at the same time to create a raked stern inspired by the iconic racing yachts of the 1920s – and the rear bodywork also curves in under the car with no visible corners or seams, again echoing the sleek perfection of a classic sailboat.
And, of course, no car crafted to this standard would be sullied by anything so crass as a number plate; the Sweptail’s registration number – 08 – is carved into the lower pedestal of the grille and exactly reproduced in two individual digits milled from solid aluminium, hand polished and mounted on the boot lid below the third brake light.
But the most dramatic feature of this care is the one specifically requested by the customer – a one-piece glass roof, one of the biggest and most complex on any car, framed by polished aluminium rails.
Travelling in style Having just two seats in a car of this size immediately places the Sweptail among the true Grand Tourers, along with the Hispano-Suiza H6, the Duesenberg SJ and the unique Delahaye 175 S bodied by French coachbuilder Saoutchik in 1949 for an extravagant English knight and later given to a 17-year-old Diana Dors.
The interior, however, is a masterpiece of minimalism, set in rare and beautiful materials; it’s finished in polished macassar ebony and open-pore paldao wood veneer, trimmed in beige and ivory leather.
As in the boat-tailed roadsters of the 1920s, the entire area behind the seats is panelled in wood, forming a mid-shelf with an illuminated glass lip, and a hat shelf with polished rails that extends right down to the end of the roofline, accessed through a separate, opening rear window.
The cockpit area is outlined by a teardrop-shaped rim called a passarelle, which is also the only place where you’ll find the car’s name.
The macassar ebony dashboard is the cleanest to date on any Rolls-Royce, with only one control, and the iconic dashboard clock. Its face is made of macassar veneer, to match the dashboard, but so thin that the hour marks can be backlit, so the only physical elements on the front of the clock are the hands, made by hand in titanium. The faces, numbers and pointers of the three handcrafted driving instruments are made the same way.
Concealed inside the body trim behind each door is a compartment containing a special leather-wrapped carbon-fibre case exactly made to measure for the customer’s own laptop, but the cherry on the top has to be the handmade mechanism inside the centre console chiller. At the touch of a button, it brings up two champagne flutes and a bottle of champagne, tilted to the perfect angle for the owner to pick it up.
The cost of this exercise in automotive perfection is estimated at around £10 million (R166 million) making it arguably the world's most expensive new car.