Remember the one-of-one Rolls-Royce Sweptail, from back in 2017? Or the baby-blue Boat Tail that stirred up a media storm after it was said to have been commissioned by Jay-Z and Beyoncé in 2021? What links both cars is not their owner’s considerably deep pockets but their belonging to Rolls-Royce’s rather special Coachbuilt club, which creates cars from scratch, taking into account every whim and fancy. What started with Sweptail six years ago has snowballed, first with three highly individual Boat Tails and, now, the all-new roadster-bodied Droptail. See a theme in the names?
The first of four Droptails to be produced – ‘La Rose Noire’, a moniker that reflects the commissioning couple’s wish to create a car inspired by the Black Baccara rose – was revealed to the world this past weekend, during Monterey Car Week, in California.
Lucky enough to get up close to the car while it was still in the polishing stages at Rolls’s home at Goodwood, UK, we spoke to Alex Innes, Head of Coachbuild Design, about the marque’s latest entirely custom creation.
“There was a point in the USA, in the 1920s, when the idea for a Rolls-Royce Roadster was born,” says Innes, explaining where the initial inspiration for the project came from. “The notion that the owner would actually pilot and drive the Rolls-Royce themselves was depicted in The Great Gatsby, with Gatsby himself driving this car back and forth to parties and hosting people. It’s that sense of fun – that spirit of conviviality – that we wanted to reimagine with this modern design study.”
With the concept of a modern Rolls-Royce Roadster established, Innes and his design team got to work with the owners to ensure the ‘Rose Noire’ theme was accurately – and tastefully – incorporated.
Aside from the obvious deep-red colouring that’s made up of two bespoke shades of red – ‘true love’ and ‘mystery’ – there are more subtle rose-related references, mainly inside the cabin. Peer in and you’ll see a painstakingly detailed, curved piece of parquetry that combines 1,603 individual pieces of wood, 533 of which are painted red to represent scattered rose petals. Made by just one of Rolls’s expert joiners, the single piece took over two weeks to complete (by hand, of course). “This is the most complex and – to my mind – the most artistic practice of woodwork that has ever been produced at Rolls-Royce,” insists Innes.
Metal roses are also embossed into the centre of the car speakers, and it is around this area in which the owners requested one particularly tricky solution to storing their matching Audemars Piguet timepiece when driving. Sunk into the red-leather dashboard is an entirely custom watch holder, created with Audemars Piguet, to house and present the owners’ Royal Oak.
When driving, the watch becomes the car’s clock, and, when leaving the car, it gradually pulls away from the dash in one slick movement, presenting the timepiece to be worn.
Outside, Innes and his team made the radical decision to move away from the marque’s ‘sacrosanct’ upright pantheon grille and, for the first time, add a slight rake to it, giving the car a more sporty appearance.
“Motivated by the notion that this is the only contemporary interpretation of a roadster Rolls-Royce, we felt liberated, as a team, to play with the crown jewels,” he admits. “Compelled by the uniqueness of what we were experimenting with, we felt liberated to do something quite different, and, so, the car has a strong overhang at the front, which creates this deep shadow line running left to right, exaggerating its horizontal proportion, which is quite unusual for Rolls-Royce.”
Around the back, the sloping deck behind the back seats and rounded rear give the car a yacht-like quality – a nod to the nautical-inspired cars that went before the Droptail. With a bespoke roof section that can be dropped and locked on top, the Roadster takes on another personality when the cockpit is enclosed. “With the canopy in place, you can see this open-top roadster is transformed into a dramatic- and compelling-looking low-slung coupe,” says Innes.
Under its aluminium, steel and carbonfibre construction sits Rolls’s classic 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 – no signs of Spectre’s all-electric powertrain just yet. Not quite satisfied with the power output, Rolls upped it by an extra 30bhp for La Rose Noire, giving it a total output of more than 600bhp.
Although its new owners are unlikely to take it down to the local racetrack, it’s reassuring to know there’s enough power to head to lunch at pace if needed. As with all of Rolls-Royce’s Coachbuilt projects, price is not something the British carmaker is prepared to disclose – nor the identity of the owners, for that matter. But, given the Droptail project has been in progress since before the pandemic, the $30m-mark rumoured to have been paid for the Boat Tail that went before it might not be so unrealistic for such a car.
After all, as the marque’s CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös once said, “our motor can serve as a canvas on which clients reflect their personal tastes, express ambitions, and often define legacies.”
Indeed, though La Rose Noire is certainly a canvas for creativity, it will likely follow in its ancestor’s footsteps and reappear infrequently at the world’s most prestigious Concours events.
As a piece of automotive artwork, it is unique and – so far – unrivalled, but with three more Droptails yet to emerge, time will tell if La Rose Noire will be the Rolls-Royce roadster to be remembered.
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