Coachbuilding never was the cheap option. Rolls-Royce specialised in it from the start, more than 100 years ago. But there was nothing unique about it then: putting bespoke bodywork on a pre-assembled chassis was how all the best cars were made. You’d go to your local RR dealer, choose your rolling chassis and have it delivered to your favourite coachbuilder who would create a body to your own design out of a wooden or metal frame clad by aluminium or steel panels.
Mass production and the arrival of the monocoque body meant the art more or less died out, but Rolls-Royce kept it alive… right until 1965 when the separate-chassis Silver Cloud made way for the unitary construction Silver Shadow. Rolls-Royces, and others at the luxury end of the market, may have bigged up their bespoke offerings since then but only very rarely have we seen a new car that’s coachbuilt in the truest sense of the word.
Until now and the totally mad, but also beautiful and exquisitely engineered, Boat Tail. It’s a one-off that is meant to kickstart a new coachbuilt future for Rolls-Royce, one dedicated to bringing to life the wildest automotive dreams of the world’s ultra-high net worth individuals.
The resurgence has been made possible by Rolls-Royce’s move away from BMW-derived platforms to the new scalable aluminium spaceframe structure that forms the basis of its newest models. With something more akin to a traditional rolling chassis, Rolls-Royce says it has reacquired the freedom to construct almost any body shape its patrons can imagine – as long as it’s all topped off by a Sprit of Ecstasy mascot, that is.
A new dawn for a century-old tradition? Money no object, what would you have Rolls-Royce coachbuild for you? Here are some ideas from five coachbuilt Rolls-Royces of the past…