Rolls-Royce doesn’t believe in rushing itself to market. Instead, the Goodwood-based manufacturer takes pride in playing the long game. Its cars have a gravitas and power that comes with longevity – the Phantom has 92 years of history spread over seven generations.

Replacing the 13-year-old seventh edition is a tall order. For Giles Taylor, Rolls-Royce’s design director, a new Phantom offered new possibilities. Specifying a modern luxury car is increasingly akin to building a house or a yacht. There are extremes; the company recently unveiled the Sweptail, a one-off coupé built for an extremely well-heeled customer. Rolls-Royce acknowledged it was ‘probably the most expensive new car ever’.

Further studies on the movement of fabrics in water to inform the sculptural form. Photography: Lol Keegan, Jake Curtis, Based Upon

This level of personalisation isn’t practical for every Rolls. However, the new Phantom has one feature in particular that blends the company’s burgeoning patronage of the arts with its customers’ love of the bespoke. ‘When we began the conceptual start point for the fascia of the new Phantom, we realised we had an opportunity to create a dedicated gallery space,’ says Taylor. ‘It was an automotive first.’ Rolls-Royce designer Alex Innes describes it as ‘a canvas within the interior space of the car’. To showcase the possibilities, the design team approached several fellow creatives. ‘We wanted partners with a fresh perspective and no automotive experience,’ says Innes, ‘using materials and techniques not seen in a car before.’

Ian Abell, who founded London studio Based Upon with his brother Richard, was one of the pioneers. ‘Rolls-Royce approached us for ideas on how to fill the space,’ he recalls. The Gallery is mounted behind special glass in the dashboard, a ‘display case’ with sufficient depth for a true sculptural piece. Based Upon’s design draws inspiration from the Phantom’s highly refined power delivery. ‘We wanted a piece that looked like it had harnessed great energy in a mysterious way – almost as if it was alive.’ The studio created movement by drawing fabric through a tank of water. The process swapped back and forth between digital and analogue, culminating in a final form milled from a solid block of aviation-grade aluminium and polished to emphasise light and shade.

The interplay of light and reflections is all part of the Phantom experience, as is the retractable information screen that glides away to let the artwork shine. It’s all about the details. ‘In a way,’ Taylor concludes, ‘each Phantom is an art project in its own right.’ Now there’s one more thing to commission before you can get behind the wheel.

As originally featured in the September 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*222)

RELATED TOPICS: ROLLS-ROYCE, TRANSPORT, CARS