As its names suggests, the latest Rolls-Royce automobile to grace the world’s highways and byways – the Dawn – offers the quintessential British automaker a new horizon of opportunity in a market that is becoming increasingly younger and more bespoke oriented. BERNIE HELLBERG discovered the automotive elegance that is the Dawn during the car’s international introduction in the Stellenbosch Winelands.
Bespoke is not merely a way of doing, it is a way of living that is enshrined into the very fibre of the Rolls-Royce Motor Car company. Undisputed as the world’s leading luxury brand, Rolls-Royce does not merely make a new car, it carefully considers the wants and needs of its elite customers, and creates masterpieces of engineering that effortlessly preserve the gravitas of the brand, while bringing joy to a world of mass-produced luxury.
However, Rolls-Royce is not immune to the pressure of a growing market – albeit muted – and even the company that personifies the concept of bespoke, must yield to some market forces. The trick, for the brand, was to deliver a vehicle that remains true to the Rolls-Royce heritage, while bringing to market something fresh, exciting, and truly luxurious.
Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes, Chief Executive Officer of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars said it best when he proclaimed that: “The name ‘Dawn’ perfectly suggests the fresh opportunities that every new day holds – an awakening, an opening up of one’s senses and a burst of sunshine. In its tentative, inchoate, anticipatory state, dawn is the world coming to light from the ethereal dark of the night. The early-day chill of dawn provides an erotic tingle on the skin, awakening the senses and passions as the day begins.”
In equal measure, Dawn suggests fresh opportunities for the brand as it does for its customers, but that does not mean Rolls-Royce would ever compromise any of its core values when creating a motor car for a fresh audience. Guided by the long-held maxim to “accept nothing nearly right or good enough, the Goodwood engineers set themselves a goal to create a truly four-seater super luxury drophead that looks as stunning with the roof up, as it does with the top down.
Inspired by the original Silver Dawn – the first example of which was finished and delivered by coachbuilders Park Ward to its first customer, Colonel W.A. Phillips in Canada in 1952 – the new Dawn is a modern interpretation of a true classic. Just as the new car takes fresh stock of a changing world, so the original Silver Dawn represented a new beginning for Rolls-Royce at the time.
In 1952, as the world was finally emerging from a period of economic austerity following protracted war, the world looked forward in hope as the world’s first passenger jet, the British deHavilland Comet, made its first commercial flight; the Big Bang Theory of the creation of the Universe was first propounded, and Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne of the United Kingdom.
The original Silver Dawn was the first Rolls-Royce to be offered with a factory-built body, however, the drophead Rolls-Royces that carried the name Silver Dawn continued to be coach-built for individual customers, ensuring their uniqueness and rarity, and embodied the optimism of the age as the world aimed to once more pursue La Dolce Vita.
Dawn once again represents that feeling and celebrates Rolls-Royce’s engineering prowess with a car that stands apart from its stable mates, featuring 80% unique body panels and putting paid to the idea that it is just a drophead version of the Wraith.
Indeed, Rolls-Royce has paid such great attention to ensuring that Dawn stands independent and proud, that even the tyres that connect the new Rolls-Royce Dawn to the roads it will glide over have been specially developed to deliver the signature ‘magic carpet’ ride expected of every Rolls-Royce that leaves The Home of Rolls-Royce at Goodwood.
LIFTING THE LID ON THE WORLD
Particular engineering and manufacturing attention was also paid to another key feature of the Dawn, its roof. Silent and graceful, the Dawn’s roof represents much more than a means of closing the car to the elements. It is an integral part of Dawn’s signature design, and a tailored feature that is meant to enhance the social space that is the Dawn’s interior, whether enjoying open-top driving or coupé motoring. Unheard of anywhere in the modern motor industry until now, the roof of the Rolls-Royce Dawn delivers the silence of a Wraith when up, and operates in almost complete silence in just over 20 seconds at a cruising speed of up to 50 km/h.
Experiencing this exceptional silence of the roof was one of the highlights during our launch drive of the Dawn in the Western Cape. Besides being the quietest open top car I have ever driven, Rolls-Royce boldly claims it to be “the quietest ever made”.
Frankly, Rolls-Royce simply would not accept anything less than the best where such a key element of this car is concerned. From its easy operation – described by the Rolls-Royce engineers as “The Silent Ballet” – to the uncompromising way that the roof delivers the exceptionally quiet driving experience associated with all Rolls-Royces, the roof is Dawn’s most significant signature.
Two key techniques were employed to ensure the roof not only appears beautiful and sensuous in its form, but also contributes to the silence of the car in its function. A perfectly smooth surface, combined with an innovative tailored ‘French Seam’ ensures that the airflow over the car with the roof up creates no noticeable wind noise.
While new techniques in design and execution are the order of the day for Dawn, its exterior design remains true to classic Rolls-Royce principles – 2:1 wheel height to body height, a long bonnet, short front overhang, a long rear overhang, an elegant tapering rear graphic and a high shoulder line.
Dawn’s graceful proportions look equal parts classic drophead, and athletic sports car. Latent acceleration and tension in the surfaces have the car appearing taught and ready to leap, conspiring to produce a powerful silhouette which hints at the covert power that awaits you on your drive.
Developed with a more social, more uncompromising audience in mind, Dawn’s interior leaves nothing to be desired. Four separate bucket seats greet you upon opening the rearward-hinged coach doors, as a sumptuous “slingshot” of wood and leather invite you in. The seats, designed to help emphasise the car’s energetic, yet elegant intent, are some of the most cossetting I have experienced, with no compromise in space or comfort for rear passengers. The upper seat back houses the seat belt harness, which together with the pillarless bodywork enhances and emphasises the slingshot of wood or leather with no breaks in the flow-lines.
THE HEART OF DAWN
The uncompromising heart and inimitable soul of any Rolls-Royce is the acclaimed 6.6-litre V12 twin-turbo powertrain that grace every motor car that rolls of the assembly line at Goodwood – except for the Phantom, which still employs a normally-aspirated 6.7-litre engine. Delivering a power output of 420 kW at 5,250 r/min and a torque rating of 780 Nm, the experience of piloting Dawn is simply exhilarating.
Ready and able to deliver its power to the road, the Dawn maintains the typical feedback-rich driving characteristics so entrenched in the Rolls-Royce DNA. The ride is forgiving without being soft, athletic without being rigid, and graceful without the stereotypical largesse with which one is tempted to associate this kind of car. There is no doubt that, while managing Rolls-Royce at an arms length, the BMW Group’s extensive experience in the discipline of dynamic performance was engaged when developing the chassis system for the Dawn.
Combining these elements into a final drive experience deserving of its astute customer base, must have been one of the most significant challenges that the Rolls-Royce engineers had to face. Yet, it is another area where they have indeed excelled.
True to its heritage, the Rolls-Royce Dawn presents the pinnacle of automotive design and technology, and will carve yet another niche for the brand among an elite group of customers. It presents drivers and passengers alike with a suite of discreet technologies, uncompromising power, and a sophisticated and super-luxurious motoring experience. It may not be for the indistinct, but it represents in true Rolls-Royce fashion, the essence of motoring joy, the unbridled spirit of ecstasy.
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © ROLLS-ROYCE MOTOR CARS