A Rolls-Royce has to be a work of art, not just a car, and the new Dawn is no exception as designer Giles Taylor explains to Josh Sims.
I’d be lynched by Rolls-Royce fans if I messed with it,” laughs a cautious Giles Taylor. “After all, established values are what allows the brand to thrive.” And thriving it most certainly is. Taylor is the head of design at, arguably, the most famous name in British automotive history: that bastion of tradition, of luxury, of hefty, two car-park space-taking vehicles that somehow each seem worthy of the grander name “motor car”.
But Taylor is also a designer. And he wants to try new things. “We can do as much as possible to change how the cars look and reach a wider demographic, as we are,” he says. “Besides, my mandate is to bring more expressiveness to the design, and, looking back over Rolls-Royce’s history, there actually used to be so much flamboyance. Sure, I think the perception of Rolls-Royce being stuffy has already changed, but we could still do with loosening the tie and coming out of the shell a bit.”
That is what he’s done with the marque’s latest offering, the Dawn – perhaps the closest Rolls-Royce has, in recent years, come to making an everyday car, if anything “everyday” can be said to apply to a six layer soft-top with a 122.5-inch wheelbase, 563 horsepower V12 engine and £250,000 price tag. It is, perhaps, one step closer to the “Vision Next” car-of-the-future proposed by Taylor last year – think home-from-home interiors, giant screens, canopy roof, lightweight aluminium structure and wheels and electric powerplant, all very Lady Penelope.
Certainly Taylor concedes that designing a convertible, notably one that claims to be the most rigid four-seat convertible on the market, does have its challenges, and not just structurally – which is why 80% of the Dawn’s body panels are new – but aesthetically. It has raked lines leading from the recessed grille with the roof up, and an appealingly uncluttered linearity to it with it down. Either way, it’s still – as Taylor suggests the diehards demand – very much a Rolls-Royce.
“I like to think of any Rolls Royce as being the expression of damn good manners – but in metal,” he explains. “Yet whether it’s a design brief for a Citroen or a Rolls-Royce it’s not about, say, the distinction between taste. Of course, both cars are equally expected to be useable and practical. But ultimately the difference is that at Rolls-Royce we get to do things that other brands on the automotive spectrum can’t, and that’s what makes the cars special – we get to think in terms of transforming a technical object into art. With Rolls-Royce you get more art – I think that’s what people are paying for now.”
It’s an interesting proposition, that Rolls-Royce, among a few other brands, is re-moulding the incentive to buy such a vehicle: away from expressions of status, away – most certainly – from the need to get from A to B, and more towards the pleasure in enjoying a craft object for its own sake, much as one might a painting or a piece of jewellery. That, clearly, if embraced, would represent a shift in the perception the layperson may have of Rolls-Royce too – as outsized, ostentatious and out of keeping with the times.
“But there’s a place for a socially-responsible expression of luxury, that’s an expression of the exquisite, of something that beguiles,” Taylor counters. “There are flashy motorcars for flashy people, but I feel the future of Rolls-Royce will be more a focus on that part of it that’s more discreet. I’d love to think of Rolls-Royce cars as connecting with their owners on an almost spiritual level, not them just being big toys for rich people. I think that sense of meaning is the only place in which luxury will be be able to exist in the future.
“Clearly there are now many different ideas of what you might call ‘mobility solutions’ – electric cars, car sharing, the Apple solution of keeping a car minimalistic, utilitarian, connected,” Taylor adds. “But Rolls-Royce is in the world of luxury, unashamedly, and we’re sure there will still be a place for that. The difference may be that we don’t want to be perceived as designing the kind of luxury for those fat cats who want to consume for its own sake.”
The Dawn, coincidentally or not, has a genuine subtlety to it, a sense of relaxation, especially in comparison to its imposing forebears, the Phantom, Ghost and even the Wraith coupé – of which the Dawn looks somewhat like a decapitated version. Of course, that subtlety is relative. And the Dawn is also, for its size – which is unequivocally big – remarkably drivable. It’s an easy cruiser, rather than a outright battleship, but light on its rubber feet, three tons shifting to 60mph in 4.3 seconds – even if Taylor describes the car as being for the driver more inclined to a leisurely coastal drive out to dinner rather than burning anyone up at the light, who, truth be told, likes the attention, but not too much.
It’s become a cliche among automotive companies to talk of their making “a real driver’s car” and yet here it is, albeit one that zips through its eight speed automatic transmission almost imperceptibly, albeit one that cossets amid all the usual glossy walnut and buttery leather – quite literally, since there’s some notion that the cows Rolls-Royce stretches over its interiors are fed a butter-rich diet. The build quality, inside and out, is – unimaginatively on Rolls-Royce’s part – second to none.
“Cars are private spaces and I think will increasingly give that sense of offering protection from the chaos, climate and traffic outside – the car will offer the driver some mental room, a place to stop and do some thinking,” Taylor argues. “That said, there’s definitely still a joy to be had through actual driving. While I do think there is sense in having a vehicle so intelligent that it can take over if you get into trouble, I wouldn’t want being in a car to become just a back-seat experience. I still believe in steering wheels. Why am I so sure we’ll still want to drive? It goes back to why the car was invented – the pleasure of the wind in your hair. Driving is just cool.”