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In pictures: Rolls-Royce's luxury factory

A walk along the assembly line of dreams and desires

This week, I visited the home of legendary car company Rolls-Royce in the south of England. Over the course of its 110-year history, the Rolls-Royce name has come to define what luxury means, both in the world of automobiles and beyond. If you haven't already, go and read my full report on how the recently resurrected Rolls-Royce is carrying on its fine tradition and legacy, and then come back here for all the eye candy from my tour of the factory floor. There are plenty of fun factoids scattered throughout as well, such as how the Starlight Headliner is made (and what it actually is) plus the reasons why Rolls-Royce has an anechoic test chamber and refuses to use anything other than Scandinavian bull hides for its leather upholstery.

1923 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster | Last year, this 91-year-old car completed the Rolls-Royce Centenary Alpine Trial — an 1,820-mile endurance test through inhospitable mountain terrain — and today it stands parked next to the company’s reception. It has a valid MOT sticker, meaning it’s still roadworthy and can be driven off at any time. It’s a piece of concrete evidence that Rolls-Royce can always point to when asserting its reputation for quality and excellence.
One customer really liked this eagle image, so he had it embroidered into the headrests of his car.
Rolls-Royce Phantom | Sat just behind the reception area are all the cars of Rolls-Royce’s recent history, headlined by the grandiose motorized carriage that is the Phantom.
The Pantheon grille is almost as iconic as the Spirit of Ecstasy ornament perched above it.
These tree-like support structures are a recurring element in the design of the 7-acre Goodwood facility that Rolls-Royce calls home. Complemented by the circular skylight, they are a visually striking way to introduce yet more light into an already airy and open space.
Ghost and Wraith assembly line | Instead of a conveyor belt, cars are transported around on these yellow trolleys, building up gradually as they pass through each assembly team’s area.
The attendees of Rolls-Royce’s PR1DE+ Strategy management conference signalled their commitment to the company by signing their names on this commemorative hood.
The body shells are manufactured in the Bavarian town of Dingolfing and shipped in for surface finishing and final assembly in the UK.
You can literally have any color you like. This is just a small selection of the ones Rolls-Royce has matched to its customers’ specifications. Each has a custom name, such as the Debora Pink that was matched to the lipstick framed in the middle of the display. In spite of all of this variety, 80 percent of Rolls-Royce orders ask for a classic black, white, or silver paint job.
Robots are used to apply the base coat of paint on each Rolls-Royce body, but most of the spraying, finishing, polishing, and waxing is done manually. Here’s an example of the dashing outfits that Rolls-Royce’s workers wear while spiffing up the latest luxury car.
Once they are polished to a fine sheen, the car shells make their way to the assembly line where mechanics start attaching the extra components to their steel-and-aluminum structures.
The cars begin their tour through the factory as little more than a metal skeleton.
Supplies are queued up on each side of the assembly line, anticipating the next cars in line with suitably painted parts.
Like in an Amazon warehouse, each worker receives a list of necessary parts and collects them from Rolls-Royce’s “supermarket” area.
Rolls-Royce uses a just-in-time system that makes sure parts and tools are in place as they are needed. That requires constant motion throughout the assembly plant, but there’s zero sense of hurry. The place is almost tranquil, with the most jarring noises coming when the car horns are being tested.
A mechanic pops her head out from a car’s engine compartment.
Axles and engines sit in preparation to be attached to the next Ghost shell coming up the line.
At this stage, the cars get hoisted up and the engine and axle are slid in on a platform underneath them. Rolls-Royce refers to the process of attaching them into one unified whole as “the marriage,” which is apparently the most popular process for visiting customers to see.
An engine undergoes final checks before being attached to its future home.
Rolls-Royce Starlight Headliner | One of the subtler extras that Rolls-Royce offers is to line the ceiling of your car with an illuminated star pattern. If you’re demanding enough, the company will even plot out a particular alignment of the night sky and recreate it in the car. This is done using fiber optic strands that are threaded into the leather and connected to LED lights at the periphery. It’s a painstaking process done entirely by hand.
The path outlined in yellow on the left is for pedestrians and visitors while the main walkway is reserved for the transportation of parts and machinery.
Both the leather embroidery and the finely lacquered wood paneling on this Ghost door are done by hand at Rolls-Royce’s in-house woodworking and leather shops.
Fastidiousness is the number one job skill required by Rolls-Royce and the company’s inspection processes run through the entire assembly line.
The cars that require greater customization come decorated with an appropriately extensive set of paperwork.
There’s an endless choice of finishes and varieties you can choose from, and where the thing you want doesn’t exist, Rolls-Royce has the resources and skilled craftspeople to just make it.
This is Rolls-Royce’s customization area where the few things that can’t be done on the general assembly line are taken care of. This way the company can maintain its reputation for a perfectly bespoke design for each car while still getting the benefits of serialized production.
The 6.75L V12 engine inside the limited edition Phantom Waterspeed. The engine is painted in the same Maggiore Blue as the car, and similar blue accents can be found on the wheels and throughout the car’s interior. Only 35 of these cars have been made to celebrate Sir Malcolm Campbell’s pursuit of the world speed record for traveling on water.
A phantom spreads its wings.
The inside of the Rolls-Royce Phantom is so vast and spacious that it really feels like a modern-day carriage.
What could be more bespoke than making everything in and out of the car a canary yellow? Rolls-Royce diplomatically refers to these design choices as “interesting.”
Rolls-Royce uses solid tulip wood for most of its paneling before applying a veneer of the customer’s choice. And there is a lot of choice.
Each of the different colors in the leaves is a separate piece of wood. The painstaking process of assembling them all into one piece of interior Rolls-Royce decoration is as labor-intensive as the hand-stitched personalized motifs that are woven into the cars’ leather upholstery.
Rolls-Royce Phantom powertrain | This is the first edition of the Rolls-Royce Phantom powertrain, which has since been superseded by a newer model.
Another angle of the enormous beast that’s required to push the two-ton Phantoms around.
The nearly completed cars undergo final validation and testing procedures.
There’s even an anechoic chamber where noise inside the cabin is carefully measured while going over simulated bumps in the road. If the ride is deemed too noisy, the car is sent back for improvement.
In a sea of austere black Ghosts, the red Wraith stands out dramatically. This is what I’d imagine an Audi TT made by Rolls-Royce would look like.
Every set of seats and doors is made especially for the car ordered. Even in its recent record years, Rolls-Royce keeps to an extremely low volume of sales, with last year reaching 3,630 cars delivered.
You can buy a Spirit of Ecstasy for your desk, but don’t expect to find the Rolls-Royce name strewn across random memorabilia made by other companies. If it has the RR initials on it, it’s made here in the Goodwood home of the company.
Rolls-Royce only uses bull hides from Scandinavia. This is because they don’t get the stretch marks associated with pregnancy and there are fewer bugs to bite them and spoil the uniform look.
This car costs more than my home.
Rolls-Royce describes the Ghost as the car for those who want to be chauffeured around five days a week and then actually drive their luxury vehicle on the weekend. Inside, everything is covered in solid wood and hand-stitched leather.
The steering wheel opts for the “more is more” philosophy with a full complement of chromed-out buttons and toggles.
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