Earlier this month, in the grounds of the Mandarin Oriental hotel on the picturesque shores of Lake Como in northern Italy, Rolls-Royce revealed its second Boat Tail. Finished in a chameleon-esque paintwork that shifts from near-white to deep bronze depending on how the sun hits it, this is the second of only three to ever exist.
Commissioned by a Rolls-Royce client who has worked closely with the company for four years, the car shares its platform and overall look with the first Boat Tail, revealed in 2021, but is otherwise a total one-off – right down to the rose gold cutlery and carbon fiber folding stools that form its al fresco dining set.
The car is inspired both by racing yachts of the early 20th century and the Rolls-Royce Phantom II Boattail from 1932, which one contemporary Boat Tail customer also owns. This particular example was commissioned by a loyal Rolls-Royce customer based in the Middle East, and whose family business in the pearling industry has led to four pearl shells used to form certain elements of the interior, as well as providing inspiration for the exterior color.
It’s a color that is actually quite difficult to describe, since it changes so much in the shifting lakeside light. Rolls-Royce says the foundation is “a shimmering blend of oyster and soft rose, with large white and bronze mica flakes adding a unique pearlescent quality that changes subtly under different light conditions.”
How that paintwork reacts to sunlight differs depending on the country it’s in, Rolls-Royce says. And to ensure the client knew what to expect, Rolls-Royce shipped entire body panels out to them, just to see how they looked in the local sunshine. This is only a part of the Rolls-Royce coachbuilding process, something only the brand’s most loyal customers get to experience.
Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös explains: “It was the clients’ idea to do this, harking back to the  Boattail, which one of the clients owns and this is how the whole idea developed…Our clients, we call them luminaries, there are around 100 worldwide and they know each other, I would call this a super elite club…The idea was developed between them. The idea of al fresco dining in the back came from them.”
The dining set, which is completely unique for each Boat Tail, includes cutlery and crockery, as well as temperature-controlled storage for wine, plus a parasol and a pair of folding carbon fiber stools. Press a button on the key fob and the wood-paneled rear deck opens like a butterfly’s wings, revealing the dining set which raises upwards for easy access. The Royal Walnut paneling, complete with inlaid rose gold pinstripes, was chosen by the owner because it will age and transition in color over time to complement the cognac leather of the interior.
Up front, the iconic pantheon grille was milled from a single, giant piece of aluminum and, unlike any other Rolls-Royce, does without a triangular aluminum top. Above that sits the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot, made from rose gold.
Getting access to Rolls-Royce’s coachbuilding division is not easy, and certainly not a case of throwing a blank check at the CEO. Müller-Ötvös continues: “We could sell many, many, many coachbuilt projects, but by its very nature we wanted to limit it. Our intention is to go every second year, but maybe every year now in the future. It is a firm establishment in our company and we are already booked for many, many years to come with projects.
“It is something where clients come to us, or to me and say ‘Thorsten I want to do this’. Then we put you on the list and many of them already come with ideas of what they want to do and how it should look…It is a requirement [that clients visit Rolls-Royce HQ in Goodwood, England six or seven times during the project]; you can’t send your chauffeur to do this, it’s impossible. You need to be committed, to be fully involved.”
Although Rolls-Royce describes itself primarily as a luxury company, not a car manufacturer, clients embarking on a coachbuilt project like Boat Tail need to understand how vehicles are designed and built; that there are certain limitations when it comes to engineering and legislation. “It’s a four-year journey, and from time to time it might also be a complicated journey,” the CEO adds. “It’s not always plain sailing…I need a client who understands technically what’s possible and what isn’t; someone that understands that certain details can change through the engineering process. These clients are car aficionados.”
As well as receiving a unique car at the end of the four-year process, Boat Tail buyers (and customers of future coachbuilt projects) are written into the history of Rolls-Royce. Referring to the owner of the rose gold Boat Tail, Müller-Ötvös says emphatically: “With this car the gentleman who commissioned it is forever – forever, I really say forever – a part of the history of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars…and he is written into the company archives. This is super compelling, it is something money can’t buy.”
Speaking of money, Rolls-Royce is tight-lipped on what its Boat Tail commissions cost. The previous example, said to have been commissioned by Beyonce and Jay-Z, reportedly cost in the region of $30m. Müller-Ötvös says: “For the clients it is not about price. We never have any discussions about ‘oh, what is this? What will you charge me for that?’. This is not what we are in for. The clients tell us what they want and we never talk about price. The price is the price.”
That figure can escalate quickly when one-off commissions are concerned. I ask Müller-Ötvös about the rose gold cutlery and he smiles, then shakes his head in disbelief. “[The dining set] is not ours. It is done by other high-end luxury houses, for porcelain and cutlery. The clients love to be involved even in these little details. The cutlery is rose gold, pure rose gold and it’s brilliant. It’s expensive but it’s their choice. I’m a big rose gold fan, but you can imagine what it means to have rose gold cutlery. Every little thing is rose gold or very expensive glass.”
Can another Rolls-Royce customer order a set of cutlery or the carbon and leather stools for themselves? “No way. No chance.”
Rolls-Royce and its 100-strong team working in the coachbuilding division now have a third Boat Tail to complete, but whether that client wants to show the car off publicly hasn’t yet been decided. After that, a fourth coachbuilt project has been commissioned, but “that’s a very different car,” Müller-Ötvös says.