Goodwood, England – I’m not one to cry at weddings, but this marriage nearly brought a tear to my eye.
While taking a Rolls-Royce factory tour in Goodwood, I was fortunate enough to witness the “marriage” of the drivetrain assembly (which includes the turbocharged V12, eight-speed ZF gearbox, driveshaft and rear suspension assembly) to the body of a Wraith. Apparently we were lucky. Our tour guide has only seen this about 20 times in the years she’s been showing people around this wonderful facility.
The drivetrain is assembled on a yellow-wheeled trolley (although that somewhat undersells this £1.5 million contraption), and then two blokes wheel it under the body, which is suspended from above. The rig hydraulically lifts the oily bits up to meet the immaculately painted coachwork, after which it is secured by sixteen bolts. Unlike most weddings that can drag on for hours, this ceremony is done lickety-split. Only takes a couple minutes, and then cheerio, Bob’s your uncle.
Perhaps another reason for my moist eye was the fact that within a couple of hours I’d be piloting a Wraith away from this very factory over hill and dale to Amberley Castle.
And what’s so weepy about that scenario? Simply, I was to hold the fate of a half-million dollar Roller… oh, and the fastest Rolls-Royce ever produced, over some local hedgerow-lined roads that make a Mini feel like a Peterbuilt. And then there is the minor issue of having to drive on the “wrong” side of the road.
At this point of the tour, we had just come from the paint shop… pardon, Surface Finish Centre, where I learned that robots (the only ones in the factory) apply 30 kilos of paint in one go. Followed by three layers of clearcoat. A former local sign painter, Frank Court, does all the coach lines (pin striping to you and me) by hand with brushes made from ox and squirrel hair. He is a genius, and is now training his eight-year-old son to carry on his work.
When the cars come off the assembly line they are hand polished for five hours, after which they undergo an eight-mile road test, a simulated rough road bashing for NVH, a 155 mph “run” on a rolling road in the factory, and a ten minute “monsoon” water test. They are then polished by hand for another eight hours.
Do I want to be the guy from the Colonies who scratches these pristine flanks on a bloody hedge? Uh, no.
Not long into this tour, two things becomes perfectly clear: 1) we need to thank BMW for saving this legendary marque, and 2) Rolls-Royces are expensive for a reason.
2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith marriage, dashboard, commoner Peter Bleakney. Click image to enlarge