Richard Collar is a “yes” man. Raised in the leafy Glasgow suburb of Milngavie, he’s now a smartly-dressed executive with Rolls-Royce and, from what I gather, he likes to say “yes” to almost every question he’s asked. I also suspect it’s not that difficult for him to give that answer… and the only follow-up questions he has to deal with after that are “when?” and “how much?”.
Richard is head of bespoke sales and marketing for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, based at the BMW-owned company’s HQ at Goodwood in West Sussex. Does it get any better? In the automotive industry I suspect not.
After working his way up, via Rover and BMW, to Rolls-Royce, it’s clear Richard enjoys his job. Every day he deals with people who are, to put it mildly, not short of a bob or two and are happy to pay for their cars to be finished in whatever manner they want, such as one customer who, after a storm felled some trees on his estate, wanted the wood from them to be used in the interior trim of his new Roller.
Then there was the woman who loved the car but wasn’t sure about the rectangular analogue clock on the dash. Could it be round instead? “Yes, of course” was the answer she got and, after the team at Goodwood worked on creating a new dash, she got exactly what she wanted… and a bill for many thousands of pounds on top of the price tag. A Chinese customer wanted the interior of his new car to match the colour of his priceless jade necklace, so he handed it over for the Goodwood guys to do their stuff. An American customer at Palm Beach wasn’t sure about the paintjob he wanted for his new pride and joy. “This is it,” he said, jumping out of the car and plucking the head of a flower nearby. A few months later, his car was delivered in exactly the same colour.
Richard’s job is to make sure those and such as those who are buying Rolls-Royces get precisely what they want and while sometimes that may be challenging, they are usually happy to pay whatever that costs. I had a good chat with Richard at a very rare occasion – the launch of a brand new Rolls-Royce, in this case the much-awaited Wraith in the seductive Austrian capital of Vienna, an appropriate location for a car which I heard several times being referred to as having power, style and drama with “a touch of the noir”. Certainly the folks at Rolls-Royce believe the new Wraith maintains the brand’s reputation as the best car in the world.
The Rolls-Royce story itself is quite remarkable, going back to when it was formed in 1906 by Charles Rolls and Henry Royce in Manchester. The company forged its reputation building prestigious luxury cars and world-class aircraft engines. Things all went wrong in the early 1970s when it went bust, was nationalised and then later sold off again. The troubles continued until 1998 when BMW stepped in and bought the rights to the RR brand name and logo, the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy figure and the classic grille shape. But that was all.
Since then, the company has created a brand new Rolls-Royce Motor Cars company and purpose-built production facility at Goodwood in West Sussex employing 1,400 workers and turning out a small but desirable range of Phantoms, Ghosts and now the Wraith which is the most powerful RR to date.
The new car’s name is a tribute to the original Wraith built by the first Rolls-Royce company from 1938 to 1939 but it can be traced back even further than that – to 1784 in fact when Robert Burns used it in Ballad on the American War.
It is a stunning piece of kit with a massive 6.6-litre V12 engine turning out 624 bhp of power and delivering it through an eight-speed gearbox to produce breathtaking acceleration to power the almost two-and-a-half- tonnes from 0-62mph in only four and a half seconds.
The head of the Wraith project, Nils Griffel, describes the driving characteristics as a magic carpet ride – which of course is what you’d expect at this price. Everything on the car is in the last word in luxury, from deep lambswool carpets to fine leather and real wood inlays, coupled with the latest technology including satellite-aided transmission. Using GPS data, the car can assess the challenges lying on the road ahead along with the driving style of the person behind the wheel and sets up all the technology to offer the best handling and responses for corners, motorways or single-track roads.
The Wraith is based on the four-door Ghost but has a shorter wheelbase and is lower to give a more involving driving experience. The styling is dramatic – a fastback coupe which harks back to the classic Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn of 1951 – with a strong shoulder line running from the Flying Lady atop the recessed grille to the tail lights. The most distinctive features, though, are the two rearward opening coach doors which at 1.3 metres long and weighing 60 kilos with a 90-degree opening are in themselves quite an engineering achievement.
There are some dramatic paintjobs too, with a heavy emphasis on two-tone schemes in colours you wouldn’t automatically associate with Rolls-Royce. But then, as Richard Collar would say, if you can afford a Wraith you can have it in any colour you want, with any interior, with any quirky features… for a price.
CAR Rolls-Royce Wraith
PRICE £237,483 (£298,016 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 155 mph (limited); 0-62 mph 4.6 secs
MPG (combined) 20mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 327g/km