Rolls-Royce’s limited-edition Phantom Coupé Aviator Collectiontells some remarkable stories
For more than a century, Rolls-Royce has been an automotive paragon, the ne plus ultra of luxury cars. So how to create a Rolls-Royce that will turn heads at Pebble Beach in California, where head-turning cars are a given? For Giles Taylor, Rolls-Royce’s design director, that challenge was met by turning to history. “It seemed very natural to us to pay homage to Charles Rolls,” he explains. One of the company’s founders, Rolls was a “gentleman playboy,” says Taylor. He was “one of the first to take up motoring in the very early days. He was an early race-car enthusiast and won races all over Europe.”
A Supermarine S6B plane taking part in the Schneider Trophy competition for the fastest seaplane
Rolls also was an early adopter of aeronautics, taking a flight with the Wright brothers and becoming the second person in Britain to hold a pilot’s license. His activities were the crucible in which the company’s aeronautical associations were forged, and by the 1920s, aero engines made up the majority of Rolls-Royce’s business. It was their R-type engine, designed for racing, that powered one of the most graceful airplanes ever to fly, the Supermarine S6B seaplane, which in 1931 won the prestigious Schneider Trophy and set a new airspeed record.
It is that beautiful aircraft that inspired this beautiful automobile. Born in the company’s bespoke workshop in Goodwood, England, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé Aviator Collection was conceived by Taylor and his design team as a tribute to Rolls and the S6B. “We love our history,” Taylor explains. “Designers can overlove their history, but when characters are involved, it’s something we have that other brands don’t.”
Painted in metallic grey and with a brushed steel radiator, hood and windshield surround, the Aviator’s exterior is a subtle silver on silver—tasteful but unremarkable. It is inside the car, though, where the car’s uniqueness becomes apparent. The trim makes much use of mahogany—the preferred wood for aircraft propellers—which is found on the doors, dashboard and floor. The aluminum door panels feature subtle raised ribs, a reference to the pronounced oil cooling channels that ran along the fuselage of the S6B. They have exposed Torx bolts that reference the plane’s surface rivets, and that feature also appears in the Phantom’s bare aluminum transmission tunnel. These are designed details for sure, but as with everything else in the car, style is always in a close relationship with substance. “All the metal parts are designed to be functional,” states Taylor, “not pastiche or appliqué. What we don’t want is a car that’s ‘themed.’”
The clock in the dashboard is made by Thommen and is the exact same model used in the Tornado GR4 jet fighter cockpit. Taylor was particularly pleased that, by complete coincidence, it fit perfectly into the standard dash clock aperture. The other dials and gauges have matte black faces and orange-tipped white needles, like those in an aircraft. Inside the leather-lined glove compartment, a chrome plaque carries an inscription that reads, “The power of flight is as a fresh gift from the Creator, the greatest treasure yet given to man,” Charles Rolls’ pronouncement after his 1908 flight with the Wright brothers.
Only 35 Phantom Coupé Aviators will be built (hence the “collection”), and Taylor is pleased to report that the entire run has presold. Rolls-Royce has not issued a price for the Aviator, but since the base Phantom Coupé is priced at $408,000, it’s safe to assume that there are houses that cost less, and quite nice houses at that. But that is beside the point. For Taylor, the Phantom Coupé Aviator is an exercise in pure storytelling. It emerges out of “a passion that we have as a design team for our heritage and an understanding of it,” he says. “This company has so many rich anecdotal histories, and we’ve tried to encapsulate the best of them here.”