Rolls-Royce is a British success story that just keeps on leaping from strength-to-strength. Just 350 staff were employed in 2003 and now the Goodwood plant just outside of Chichester boasts 1,400 busy bodies filling the Sir Nicholas Grimshaw-designed building. The products are pretty impressive too, with an average price tag of over £400,000; they are the epitome of luxury.
AOL Cars went behind the scenes on an exclusive tour of the eye-opening facility to get an idea of why it takes almost five months for a brand new Rolls-Royce to roll off the productions line.
Set in the undulating countryside of West Sussex, the Rolls-Royce plant at Westhampnett covers around 22,500 square metres in the grounds of the Earl of March's vast estate. The brainchild of Eden Project architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the building itself is both industrial and beautiful at once. It's also environmentally sustainable and home to rare species of birds and fish thanks to its 'living' grass roof and surrounding ponds. "We only have the lease to this land for 125 years," says our knowledgeable tour guide. "But try bulldozing the building when rare and endangered species have made a home here, it's almost impossible. Mr Grimshaw designed the place with longevity in mind."
The customer consultation process
Despite many luxury marques now offering a bespoke service, Rolls-Royce prides itself on being one of the first to truly meet a customer's every demand. The first port of call for any potential customer will be a design consultation session where Rolls-Royce will allow the customer to discuss plans and ideas with an expert. Walking through the factory, I notice plaques and display cases that have been erected to celebrate some of the most audacious customer specifications. One wealthy chap wanted a particular gold paintjob that required £22,300 worth of real gold dust to be added to the paint mix in order to achieve the particular hue. Another female customer brought in her beloved Red Setter and the paint department set about scanning the pooch in order to colour match its coat. Champagne fridges, gun drawers and millions of pounds worth of precious stones have all been added to customer's cars. The utterly impudent is the norm here.
The Goodwood plant receives the bare shells of each model from Germany but the comprehensive paint process begins here. Each model is first sterilised in an almost medical environment to ensure dust or other pesky particles don't cling to the bare metal. It is then taken through an airlock into a separate room where it has primer applied to it by hand. Top-coat-painting is the only robotised process in the entire plant and that's because the clever machines apply precisely the correct amount of paint. "We used to offer 38 colours to customers and now we have 46,000. A customer can bring in any object and we will match it," reveals our guide. In total, a Rolls-Royce will go through seven separate painting stages before it is polished to within an inch of its life for four hours under ultra-violet lamps. Only then will it head to the assembly line. "We have two women called the Iron Ladies working here," reveals our guide. "They'll check every car for imperfections and won't let them on the line until they're happy. They scare me to death."
The production line
Rolls-Royce went from producing just over a thousand cars a year in 2003 to 3,600 in 2013, add to that a brand new model in the Wraith and naturally, the production line has expanded in recent years. "We have two lines running now, one that caters for series two Phantoms and one that services Wraith and Ghost," explains our tour guide. Nearly every process, excluding testing and paint, is carried out by hand and three or four workers can be seen busily adding bodyparts to the bare shells as they pass along the line. "Every car is bespoke to the customer," explains our guide. "No two vehicles in this room will be the same." There is no set time limit for each production phase, it takes as long as it takes, but the workers fit complex sunroof systems in the time it would take me to tie up my shoelaces.
The engines and drivetrain
Rolls-Royce powerplants are completely bespoke to each individual model and aren't used anywhere else in the world. The Phantom boasts a naturally aspirated 6.75-litre V12 engine, while the Ghost and the Wraith feature turbocharged units. Eight speed ZF gearboxes ensure rapid yet smooth cog-swaps and allow the Wraith to complete the 0-60mph sprint in a truly amazing 4.4 seconds.
The leather room
One thing you are likely to find lots of on a Rolls-Royce is leather. In fact, it takes roughly 12 bulls to deck out a Phantom, 24 hides in total. The 18-month to two-year-old bulls are bred in high altitude farms around Europe to ensure they avoid the mosquito bites bulls in lower-lying pastures suffer. A firm that makes handbags for Italian fashion house Fendi then soaks the leather in vast vats to give it a beautiful, rich colour. Leather hides are then hand-stretched and scoured for imperfections by specialists who will trim away any unwanted sections. A computer will then beam shapes onto the hide by laser and skilled craftspeople will cut around 350 different shapes to fit a Phantom.
The woodwork area
The second material to be found in abundance in any Rolls-Royce model is wood, and it requires hours of painstaking work to bring it up to the ridiculously high standards customers expect. Craftspeople will spend up to a month shaping, lacquering and French polishing around 42 individual wooden parts that furnish the interior. The burr veneers in Phantom are bookmatched by eye in order to create a perfect mirror image. These parts are then hand-painted to ensure even the most minor imperfections are covered.
The testing process
"You'll find it hard to come across another manufacturer that tests a brand new car like Rolls-Royce does," reveals our guide. "As soon as a vehicle rolls off production line it is sent to a sealed room where it is subjected to a monsoon simulation to ensure it is completely watertight," he adds. In addition to this, every model will sit on four powerful pistons that shake the chassis to help specially trained engineers checks for rattles and squeaks. Finally, the car will be washed and polished for a final time before it is placed in a special presentation room, ready for the customer to pick up.
Take a more thorough look around the factory via the slideshow below