These are the first photographs of the £20 million Rolls-Royce Boat Tail – the most expensive production car in history. Believed to have been built for an America pop star couple, the roofless 2+2 is based on the aluminium Phantom platform and is deck out like no Rolls ever seen before.
The highly-personalised one-off has a tapered rear end that harks back to the legendary boat tail designs of the 1920s and 30s. In its infancy, the styling involved taking the hull of a boat and simply welding the structure on a rolling car chassis. Later classic examples include the Bentley Speed Six Boat-Tail and Rolls-Royce Phantom VII.
However, this new flamboyant version takes the concept to a whole new level. Coach-built by skilled craftsmen at Rolls-Royce headquarters in West Sussex, the 6.75-litre V12 is a glorious homage to modern excess, reeking of ostentatiousness from every hand-beaten body panel.
Boat Tail is itself the result of a one-off design revealed in 2017 at the exclusive Concorso d’Elganza historic car show, held at Villa d’Este, Italy. The Rolls-Royce Sweptail was commissioned by a mystery millionaire and featured a system that deployed a bottle of champagne at the touch of a button.
At the time, Rolls hinted that the £10 million Sweptail could herald the dawn of a new era of luxury, coach-built cars, created for super-rich clients with limitless supplies of cash and willing to pay anything for their own, bespoke limo.
Boat Tail is extravagant proof of that. Today I’ve been driven to a secret location in Bedfordshire to see the results of their very expensive labours. A warehouse in Leighton Buzzard is hardly the most glamorous location to reveal the ultimate in excess but before the client is ceremoniously handed the keys, Rolls has set up a very secure photoshoot. I’m 5ft 10 ins and the car dwarfs me!
There are more than a dozen staff fussing round the car, including the statuesque Oliver, charged with disabling the camera on my iPhone and ensuring I don’t accidentally drop my voice recorder on the bodywork, which apparently took 12 months to gently caress into shape.
Rolls-Royce is notoriously coy about revealing the cost of anything – unless you’re buying of course – but it’s easy to see how the Boat Tail price-tag could top £20 million. The devil is in the detail and valued around the same as 55 new Phantom limos, this car has plenty to offer.
Alex Innes, head of coachbuild design, explains: “Sweptail created a wave of publicity and alerted people to the scope of Rolls-Royce’s ambition to fulfil unique commissions. With Boat Tail the pressure was on us to work in a completely different way. Instead of guiding the client through a pre-determined list of options, the customer was leading the designers.”
Innes explained there will actually be three Boat Tails, all sharing the same body style but otherwise completely different, utilising 1,813 new parts. “We made that clear from the start, there will only ever be three. The owner of this particular car is happy for an occasion like today but the other two are more discreet.”
The fun part of Innes’ job must have been liaising with the customer and his wife. “He invited us to soak up the atmosphere of the incredible world they surround themselves in, to try and understand how we could characterise that in Boat Tail.
“He was heavily involved in the build process at every stage, via the Whispers app (Rolls-Royce’s equivalent of Whatsapp), direct messaging or meetings at the factory. He expected that level of interaction with us.”
Apart from the retro rear end, the most striking feature of this remarkable car is the Azur blue bonnet, hand-painted and graduating down to a lighter shade. A painted Rolls-Royce pantheon grille replaces the traditional, polished stainless steel for the first time.
At the rear of this 5.9-metre behemoth, twin compartment covers are hinged in the middle and open like butterfly wings, revealing an Aladdin’s cave of goodies. On the nearside, twin champagne fridges and glass flute set designed to fit the owner’s favourite Armand de Brignac vintages.
On the other, crockery by Christofle of Paris specially designed with matching salt and pepper grinders, all engraved with the car’s name. Caviar is kept cool in a proper fridge rather than a chiller, with various other food compartments tested in the car at temperatures between 80C and -20C – just to ensure the dessert doesn’t melt.
The crowning glory, however is a ‘beautiful and whimsical’ parasol that slots into the rear of the Boat Tail to provide extra shade. With a stainless steel shaft and aluminium coupling, the high tensile fabric is stretched over carbon-fibre stays. And just to be sure, it was tested in a wind tunnel too.
Rolls worked with Swiss-based House of Bovet to create reversible ‘his and hers’ watches for the couple who own the car. The centrepiece of the minimalist dashboard is a slot to insert one of the watches, doubling up as the Boat Tail clock.
One side of the man’s watch is said to show the celestial pattern above his birthplace. A titanium drawer beneath the ‘clock’ slot is designed to carry another wrist watch, particularly important in a Rolls, as Innes explained.
“One of the great characteristics of piloting a Rolls-Royce is the light steering and thin steering wheel. This particular client likes to remove his wristwatch when driving and hated the idea that it would be stowed of sight.”
And there’s a lightweight portable hoist too. Boat Tail comes with an emergency tonneau but there is a carbon fibre solid roof that turns the Rolls into a breath-taking coupe as well. The aluminium hoist and roof presumably have to follow discreetly behind in the footman’s van…