Royal Treatment: The Anything-Goes World of Bespoke Luxury Automobiles

By Auto Marketing InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Royal Treatment: The Anything-Goes World of Bespoke Luxury Automobiles

In most cases, if you hang a $1.5 million Pagani Zonda R race car vertically on the wall of your oceanfront condo in Miami, it will leak oil all over the expensive carpeting. But not if no expenses are spared and you hire high-end general contractors Finish My Condo and a team from Pagani to remove the engine and figure out the engineering logistics, which include interfacing with the city's building department and the county to make sure the whole thing is legal. At one point during the process, 25 people were on site.

The rich get what the rich want, and the Pagani is in place today, hanging from an aluminum and carbon fiber stand.

Similarly, when an unnamed customer wanted Lamborghini to build the "most extreme open version of a road-legal V12 supercar," the company didn't hesitate. The result is the one-of-a-kind SC20, only the second car built by Lamborghini's racing division, Squadra Corse.

Rolls-Royce has 44,000 standard colors, but if you bring in a scrap of fabric and say, "Match this," the reply is going to be, "But of course, sir." Gerry Spahn, Rolls-Royce's North American spokesman, confirmed the 44,000 colors on file, and said, "We've had customers ask us to match lipsticks, flower petals, once even a woman's sarong." He added that car collector Michael Fuchs has 10 colors -- including "Fuxia" -- reserved just for him. "He used it on his McLaren, too," Spahn said.

"We too have a paint-matching service that means any color imaginable can be commissioned," said Bentley spokesman Mike Sayer. "It's an infinite spectrum. In the past, we have matched to sequins from ball gowns, nail polish, and even the body of a customer's favorite food blender. We've also matched to samples of colors from years gone by, recreating the shade of a vintage Bentley a customer has seen."

Welcome to the wonderful world of bespoke marketing, where no request is too extreme -- as long as the customer's checks don't bounce. A customer who wanted alligator seating for his Chinese Bugatti Chiron (pictured below) was only dissuaded when convinced the material would crack as soon as he sat on it. The alligator skin went on the dashboard instead. The same thing happened when a Rolls-Royce customer wanted ostrich. But football player Odell Beckham, Jr. was able to replace his Rolls' Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament with one depicting a famous catch.

Stefan Brungs, a member of Bugatti's marketing board, told Top Gear, "In terms of color and trim, you can do everything." Getting buried with your Ferrari may seem extreme, but it's been done already.

I recently tested a 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost (pictured below,) the company's newest model. From a base of $332,500, the bottom line soared to $440,225 with such extras as $4,800 for an up-lit Spirit of Ecstasy and $1,275 for "wheel centers matched to the wheels." Still, it was a pleasure to sink into the $10,425 "immersive seating."

As a special order for a "world-famous celebrity," Bentley built a Christmas-themed Flying Spur V-8, and commissioned it from Mulliner, the company's venerable bespoke division. Mulliner was a coach builder for Bentley until it was acquired by the company in 1959.

"Mulliner exists to respond to the requirements of Bentley's most discerning customers," the company says now. "In the world of Mulliner, anything is possible. From requests as simple as monogrammed upholstery to the kind of elaborate tailored body modifications that can only be undertaken with the proven expertise of a truly established coachbuilder, the highly skilled and dedicated Mulliner craftsmen deliver luxury on a new level; rarity on a different scale."

The Christmas Bentley (pictured below) has a reindeer hood ornament, a stylized North Pole winter scene on the sides, gold ornamentation, and the owner's name stitched on the driver's seat. "It takes 18 hours for an elf or craftsperson to complete the 11,100 hand-sewn stitches throughout the cabin," Mulliner said.

Buying bespoke cars is an experience. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös told me there's pretty much no limit to the lengths his company will go to cater to the whims of its exclusive clientele. We were on the company stand at a Chinese auto show at the time, and he showed me -- exclusive to the Chinese market -- a divider window that could be clear or opaque at the push of a button.

These are customers who often own multiple supercars and wouldn't hesitate to buy another one. Many buyers of the nearly $3 million Bugatti Chiron own more than 40 other cars, plus planes, yachts, art collections and global real estate, the company said. Deals are sealed on the same day limited-edition models are announced.

The Sultan of Brunei, the world's richest royal with more than $20 billion, has a car collection with more than 5,000 exotics, including many rare and limited editions. There are separate wings for Ferrari Koenigsegg, McLaren and Porsche. He has more than 600 Rolls-Royces, and is said to have been a vital financial lifeline for many high-end automakers.

You say you want a Bentley Continental GT? Gear Patrol took readers through the process, which begins with a visit to the facility in Crewe, northwest England. The tour takes in the stitching station, the wood room and the factory where 64 stations hand-build the car. From there it's on to the heritage collection, which displays a once-lost 3.5-liter Derby Bentley that turned up in an American barn, an S1 Continental Flying Spur, and a 4.5-liter "Blower" Bentley with an impressive racing history from 1929.

The company wants customers to enthusiastically embrace the history, and Mulliner recently completed "Car Zero," the first of 12 painstakingly handcrafted copies of Sir Tim Birkin's 1929 "Blower" Bentley. All the buyers were pre-qualified and pre-sold, though a Bugatti spokesman noted that when a buyer's wealth is very well established the pre-qualification phase is over very quickly.

Buy a 217-mph Pagani Zonda like the one that customer recently hung on his wall and the chances are good that you can meet Horacio Pagani himself (as I did in New York).

Not to be left out, Ferrari has its own Personalization Programme, and the company points out that such efforts are rooted in history. "In the early days, owners had huge freedom of choice in terms of the fabrics, leathers, woods, colors and finishes of their cars, resulting in genuinely one-off creations tailored minutely to their individual desires and tastes," Ferrari said. "Nowadays Ferrari offers its customers a range of programs that enable every last detail of their car to be tailored according to personal taste."

That's undoubtedly true. In the 1950s and '60s, owners could choose from a range of Italian coachbuilders to create unique examples of particular models. And in the 1920s and '30s, coachbuilding to a customer's specifications reached a high art for buyers of Packards, Duesenbergs, Rolls-Royces and V-16 Cadillacs.

The rich are getting richer, even in a pandemic, and automakers are willing to bend over backwards to persuade them to add an extra wing to the garage.

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