Strive for Perfection

Twenty of “the best”

Twenty of “the best”

A splendid image of a Rolls Royce soaring gracefully beneath a breathtaking cloudy sky.

As Rolls-Royce prepares for a new electric era, we celebrate the models that have emerged from Goodwood since it opened its doors 20 years ago

Phantom VII, 2003

At one minute past midnight on 1 January 2003, a hush fell over the New Year’s Eve gathering at Goodwood as the owner of the first Phantom VII was handed the keys of his new car by then chairman Tony Gott. It was a moment that signified a new era for Rolls-Royce, one that was more than four years – or perhaps that should that be some 100 years – in the making, following BMW’s acquisition of the company in July 1998.

The new Phantom would become the embodiment of the Rolls-Royce philosophy for the 21st century. Physically imposing but of exceptional elegance, the car made a resounding statement. “Our absolute priority was to create a motor car that is clearly a Rolls-Royce, even when the radiator grille is not in view,” said Ian Cameron, chief designer. “More than this, the new car has to stand apart from all others on the road.”

Cameron and team appreciated that Rolls-Royce cars shared several distinctive features: a long wheelbase with a short front overhang and a long rear overhang, a long bonnet and large wheels with a diameter of about half the height of the overall car. The roofline should increase in depth as it nears the rear of the car, where it would blend into a strong C-post. The side profile should be broad-shouldered, while a rectangular front, dominated by the classic radiator grille and mascot, would give the finishing touch to the car’s presence.

“Our absolute priority was to create a motor car that is clearly a Rolls-Royce, even when the radiator grille is not in view”

The styling of the new Goodwood model was about more than looks alone, as an internal “Project Rolls-Royce” document from the time illustrates: “Waftability defines the smooth, resolute performance of the engine and driveline. It is manifested in the design by a long, graceful line running along the sill of the Phantom. This line gently rises as your eye moves from the rear to the front, visualising a motor yacht at speed. An accent line of brightwork ties the classic Rolls-Royce radiator grille and long bonnet to the passenger cabin – like the reins of a horse to a carriage, the source of the power and the driver are connected. This brightwork serves as a discreet but dynamic element of the design, not merely ornamentation.”

A Rolls-Royce’s waftability stems from its engine, its quietness and the way in which it delivers power. The basic BMW 12-cylinder unit was not deemed suitable. The torque curve was such that the engine speed had to be relatively high to make use of the power available – not a bad feature for a sporting saloon such as a 7 series BMW, but far too fussy for a Rolls-Royce. Chief Engineer Dr Tim Leverton and his team overcame the challenges, and a new, traditionally Rolls-Royce-sized engine of 6.75 litres delivered an adequate amount of silent power in the required manner.

Variations followed, starting with the Phantom Extended Wheelbase in 2005, which provided an additional 250mm for rear passengers. Next came 2007’s Phantom Drophead Coupé, a two-door, four-seat convertible, and the following year’s sleek Phantom Coupé. The Phantom VII Series II was launched in 2013 with a range of enhancements, including an eight-speed gearbox, simplified dashboard and single piece wheels.

Ghost, 2010

Ghost was a more discreet, almost relaxed, take on the Rolls-Royce, designed to appeal to an audience that desired a vehicle that was less imposing but retained many of the characteristics of the Phantom. “It has a more informal presence and a greater emphasis on driving than the Phantom,” said Cameron. “For the first time in a hundred years the grille is less reminiscent of the Parthenon style and more like a jet intake.”

The model expanded on concepts introduced by the Goodwood Phantom but placed these within a smaller and more dynamic frame. There were the same rear-hinged doors and elevated seating position, but Ghost was even easier to drive – literally at the push of a button and press of the accelerator. It introduced a new 6.6-litre twin turbo V12 engine that delivered a peak power of 563bhp, and power was transmitted to the rear wheels via an eight-speed, shift-by-wire, automatic ZF gearbox. The car featured a treasure trove of state-of-the-art equipment, such as night vision, three cameras and a head-up display – but secreted away as if nothing should distract from the sheer pleasure of driving.

Inspired by luxury yachts and contemporary design, Ghost was built around a semi-monocoque steel platform and body shell. This allowed for a noticeably smaller – 435mm – frame than the Phantom saloon but with a similarly generous interior that included a 600-watt, ten-channel audio system with 16 speakers. This interior was as relaxed and welcoming as the rest of the car, with large expanses of soft full-grain leather, veneered wooden door trims and discreet, functional chrome detailing.

“By thinking about the materials we use, we’ve managed to hide the technology,” said Cameron. “For example, the parking sensors have a polished stainless-steel finish akin to that of the grille that helps them blend into the front, and the side cameras have been cleverly incorporated into the indicator housing. Simplicity is the hardest design principle to follow.”

The model’s extended variant followed in 2011, and ten years after the launch of Ghost, its up-to-date interpretation, the new Ghost, was unveiled to the world.

Wraith, 2013

Wraith was the next step for Rolls-Royce, a two-door model that refined the innovations represented by the Ghost. It was designed for those who wanted a car for daily use that was as informal as Ghost but as powerful as the Phantom, while retaining the contemporary touches that defined the Goodwood experience.

The similarities and differences between Wraith and its predecessor could be seen in the engine – the same V12 6.6-litre unit but improved to offer 624bhp. There was the same eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, but a wider rear track, making it the most powerful Rolls-Royce produced to date. With its swooping fastback coupé appearance, Wraith was nimble but more powerful, like a supermiddleweight boxer who can pack the punch of a heavyweight.

“In launching Wraith, we present the boldest design, the most dramatic performance and most powerful Rolls-Royce that has ever played host to the famous Spirit of Ecstasy figurine,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. “Our new car will boldly shape the years ahead for Rolls-Royce, bringing more new customers to the marque. For Wraith is the ultimate gentleman’s gran turismo; it is the car we believe our great founding forefather and adventurer the Honourable Charles Rolls would have chosen to drive were he alive today.”


“Wraith is the ultimate gentleman’s gran turismo; it is the car we believe our great founding forefather and adventurer the Honourable Charles Rolls would have chosen to drive”

That philosophy extended to the car’s interior, which introduced natural wood finishing. Rear-hinged coach doors opened wide and could be silently closed at the touch of the button. Although the roof was lower than that of Ghost, there remained plenty of space for even the tallest driver, who could relax in decadent comfort while gripping a steering wheel that was thicker than that of other models. Simplicity and modernity sat side-by-side on the dashboard, which had a large speedometer, a smaller combined fuel and coolant temperature gauge, plus a dial showing the percentage of available power rather than a revolution counter – a pointless distraction with an automatic gearbox and an engine speed limiter. An annunciator panel could be programmed to display a choice of information.

Wraith introduced the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller, with a touch-sensitive top that could be used to summon a telephone or destination request by writing the initial letter or number. A voice activation system presented an alternative method of navigation, communication and entertainment. Safety features included infrared cameras that were used to project a thermal image on screen, highlighting warm objects and potential hazards. No surprise, then, that the Wraith would be described as “the iron fist in a velvet glove”.

Two Rolls-Royce cars, the Spectre and Rise editions, are elegantly showcased in a luxurious showroom.
Rolls-Royce's "ultimate gentleman's gran turismo"
A black Rolls Royce Spectre is parked on the side of the road.
A Wraith sedan, 2014 model

Dawn, 2016

The brief for Dawn was to create a convertible without compromise, one that would take on the challenges presented by the form in terms of rear-seat legroom, internal noise and storage. The final design met every one of these challenges with aplomb, demonstrating once again that Rolls-Royce could tread where other automobile manufacturers feared to go.

“Our new Rolls-Royce Dawn promises a striking, seductive encounter like no other Rolls-Royce to date, and begins a new age of open-top, super-luxury motoring,” said Müller-Ötvös at its launch. “Dawn is a beautiful new motor car that offers the most uncompromised open-top motoring experience in the world. It will be the most social of super-luxury drophead motor cars for those who wish to bathe in the sunlight of the world’s most exclusive social hotspots.”

Inspired by the Crewe-built Silver Dawn drophead, of which a mere 28 were built between 1950 and 1954, the Dawn offered a cool, contemporary interpretation of the four-seater super-luxury convertible. Performance was unparalleled thanks to the 563bhp twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 powertrain. There was a similar refusal to settle for second best when it came to rear legroom – a consistent issue with the 2 + 2 layout from time immemorial. This was deemed “anti-social” by the design team, anathema to the spirit of the marque.


“Dawn is a beautiful new motor car that offers the most uncompromised open-top motoring experience in the world”

A further challenge came in ensuring Dawn looked beautiful with the top down, something achieved with the creation of a profile that emphasises the impression of effortless speed, thanks in part to the elegant “boat tail” Rolls-Royce rear tapers, originally inspired by motor launches of the early 20th century.

A fabric roof – one of the largest canopies ever fitted – was preferred for reasons of aesthetics and romance, which employed a “French seam” to creates the desired flow while reducing wind noise. This roof could be retracted in 22 seconds, a technical tour de force that the team christened the “silent ballet”. This extended to the innovative way the roof was packaged, which allowed Dawn to become a genuine four-seater. Part of the secret was the use of run-flat tyre technology that eliminated the need for a spare wheel and jack.

Another novel technology was the bespoke audio system that employed a sensitive microphone to monitor ambient exterior noise and ensure the 16 speakers could automatically adjust to eliminate the impact of outside noise.

Wider than Ghost by 24mm, a shorter wheelbase delivered muscularity and strength, while the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller, Automatic Cruise Control and LED lighting were all updated and improved. “Quite simply,” summarised Müller-Ötvös, “it is the sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built.”

Rolls Royce Phantom Convertible, a magnificent car that will make heads turn and hearts rise with its timeless elegance and unparalleled spectre.
The Rolls-Royce Dawn during a road test
The Rolls Royce convertible gracefully rises on a road in the forest.
Dawn presented a striking, contemporary interpretation of the luxury four-seater convertable

Phantom VIII, 2017

Some 14 years after the first Goodwood Phantom emerged from the West Sussex manufacturing plant, the Phantom VIII represented a huge technological advance for Rolls-Royce, and a game-changing opportunity for design director Giles Taylor and his team. Even the Spirit of Ecstasy had a new viewpoint, leaning forwards slightly and looking down at an aerodynamic rounded top edge. The radiator grille was taller, while the outline of the bonnet continued unbroken to surround the windscreen, lengthening the look of the car.

This was the first Rolls-Royce to be built on the company’s new Architecture of Luxury concept, which centred around the all-new aluminium spaceframe structure. It was both lighter and 30 per cent more rigid than its predecessor. To deliver the marque’s signature “magic carpet ride”, the Phantom VIII had longer, higher-volume air-springs and active torsion bars with sophisticated sensors. Revolutionary four-wheel steering enabled the Phantom VIII to reduce the turning circle dramatically, while tyres from Continental included a layer of internal foam to absorb road noise.

The model featured the 6.75-litre V12 engine but, like the ZF eight-speed gearbox, this had been retooled for the new experience with twin turbochargers boosting maximum power output to 563bhp. A spacious interior offered a choice of seating configurations, and the marque’s Starlight Headliner – a constellation of pinpoint lighting in the cabin’s roof – was present in a full-length version that could be personalised to depict the night sky on any given date, anywhere in the world.

Amid a redesigned and updated dashboard was The Gallery, which could feature any work of art specified by the owner, including bespoke pieces commissioned by Rolls-Royce. It was a feature that encapsulated the imagination and commitment that went into the marque’s new flagship model, as CEO Müller-Ötvös emphasised. “Every one of our customers – each a connoisseur of luxury in the extreme – was asking for something more individual to them, not less. We were adamant that that was what they should have.”

Additional models included the Phantom Extended Wheelbase, which was a full 220mm longer. In 2023, it was followed by the Series II, that had minor design changes such as revised headlamps and disc wheels.

A silver Rolls-Royce Spectre parked in front of a building.
The marque's triumph of style and innovation, the Phantom VIII

Cullinan, 2018

A new adventure for Rolls-Royce begat a new naming convention. Cullinan was named after the largest rough-cut gem-quality diamond ever unearthed, but there was nothing rough about this gem of a vehicle. It was Rolls-Royce’s first all-terrain, all-season SUV, which grafted Rolls-Royce quality and standards of luxury into the robust framework of a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

“From the very beginning the design team treated this brand new Rolls-Royce as a unique, high bodied car,” said Giles Taylor. “With global customer expectations in mind, our aim was two-fold – realise a presence to match the magnificent capability of Cullinan, while setting sector- defining standards for luxury and elegance. We know that many of our luxury patrons pursue sports or leisure hobbies that require precisely this type of go-anywhere vehicle – Cullinan’s design gesture had to possess an immediate sense of effortless accomplishment.”

Testing took two years, including in conditions that were designed to challenge the limits of its off-road capability. Cullinan was trialled in some of the most extreme places on the planet, including mountains and deserts, and passed every challenge with flying colours, covering three continents and 12,000 miles of the world’s toughest terrain in the process.

“Luxury is no longer an urban concept. More and more it is about embracing and experiencing the wider world”

Powered by a twin-turbocharged 6.7-litre V12 engine that packs 563bhp, the new model was built around Rolls-Royce’s unique aluminium spaceframe, which was complemented by new chassis technology. Self-levelling air suspension was employed to enable the car to glide across the toughest surfaces, proactively adjusting for acceleration, steering cues and camera intelligence – a system that the marque named Flagbearer.

In off-road mode, the all-wheel drive actively engages, providing uninterrupted torque to all four wheels for precise, reliable performance on dry, wet, snowy or icy surfaces, while the suspension raises 40mm to offer additional ground clearance. It can even drive through water of up to 50cm. The setting can be tailored for optimum performance on any terrain, gradient or surface quality.

Inside, two leather seats and a cocktail table – dubbed the Bespoke Viewing Suite – are concealed inside the luggage compartment, and can be summoned at the touch of a button. Partition glass separates passengers in the rear from the luggage compartment, creating a private retreat, and the tilting, retractable sunroof offers a commanding view of the landscape.

Built for comfort and adventure, Cullinan represented yet another innovation in the Rolls-Royce range. “The super-luxury lifestyle is evolving and Rolls-Royce is in the lead,” said Müller-Ötvös. “Luxury is no longer an urban concept. More and more it is about embracing and experiencing the wider world. Our customers expect to go everywhere in luxury, effortlessly and without compromise, conquering the most challenging terrain to enjoy life’s most enriching experiences, wherever they may be.”

The Rolls Royce Phantom dazzles with its radiant orange interior, reminiscent of a captivating spectre or the graceful rise of the sun.
The interior of the modern Rolls-Royce Cullinan car
A Rolls Royce Phantom gracefully maneuvering through the spectre of a mountain road.
Rolls-Royce drove into new territory with the launch of Cullinan