Total Production: 531 1975 - 1986
The Italian design house Pininfarina was commissioned to produce the Camargue body, to be based on the Silver Shadow floor pan. Work began at Mulliner Park Ward in 1971 on this top-of-the range coupe.
Only available as a two-door hard top, the Camargue was the first Rolls-Royce designed to metric dimensions, and had a number of advanced features such as split-level air conditioning.
Launched in 1975, the Camargue was the first modern Rolls-Royce to have its body designed by another company. It was priced at 29,250 European pounds, nearly double the cost of a Silver Shadow.Source - Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd.
Thirty-five years after the first Camargues were produced, Rolls-Royce's two-door personal luxury yacht no longer offers the same visual impact it had at its inception. It's big and staid with that hulking, dignified grille. It has the proportions of the RMS Titanic, and the apparent heft of Donald Trump's wallet, but no jarring lines or offensive flourishes are apparent. It might look a bit tacky and outdated to the untrained eye, but what fine 1970's vintage corduroy blazer doesn't? At least the Rolls-Royce has enough aromatic leather to cover up the mothballs' scent. The Camargue looks today, plain and simple, like an old Rolls. Right now, with Rolls-Royce offering a convertible with cartoonish gun slit headlights and gimmicky suicide doors, nobody in their right mind would venture to claim the Camargue as risky, loud, or controversial.
But that's just what the Camargue was at its release to a skeptical market in 1975. Its styling prompted confusion, anger, and panic among those accustomed to their Mulliner Park Ward-bodied, Grey Poupon-trayed dinosaurs. The good ladies and gentlemen at Rolls-Royce were at the time incapable of designing a car with a pulse, so to create an auto with a fresh and lively image they looked to Italy for help. This strategy, predictably, confused and alienated the traditional-to-a-fault Rolls regulars.
Italy? Why Italy? Leave the nouveau riche to futz around in their finicky Ferraris and morose Maseratis—real automobiles are styled by the Queen's people. Not everyone responded with such snobbery, though. The most expensive car in the world at the time of its introduction, most working human beings were in such awe of the Camargue's price tag that they hardly noticed anything surprising about its design.
So why all the commotion over the Camargue? To understand the reaction of contemporary Rolls-Royce faithful to the auto's arrival, there is a basic fact of Rolls-Royce history that must be remembered. When the Camargue was released in 1975, the product development folks at Rolls operated at the approximate speed of early bipedal evolution, averaging a new model every few hundred thousand years. With new car releases so infrequent, any small alterations to the Rolls-Royce design formula were sure to incite riots. Such was the case of the Camargue.
Pininfarina was responsible for the new Roller's visual heresy. For the bland standards of the 1970's, they did a very good job. The car's glass area was surprisingly airy for a large luxury cruiser, and the lightly tapered deck lid and clean tail exuded typical Rolls-Royce class. The car was superbly proportioned. Its design was big enough to swallow the bulky bumpers mandated by U.S. legislative party-poopers for the Camargue's birth year. One detail, though, turned pure class into panicked controversy—the grille.
Yes, it was big. Yes, it was tall. It even had the proper shape, the proper sheen, and the proper Spirit of Ecstasy to entice neighborhood thieves. But it wasn't perfectly vertical. Rolls-Royce motorcars were expected to have a proud and dignified face with perfect posture provided by a grille positioned precisely perpendicular to the street below. Pininfarina, in a (successful) effort to give the Camargue a more imposing and dramatic face, tilted the car's grille forward four degrees.
Italian styling notwithstanding, the Camargue was a very British car. Its interior held enough leather and wood to anger even the most reserved naturalist, and its haughty attitude was unmistakable through its foreign suit. This came as no surprise, as the Camargue was based upon current Rolls-Royce products. It was built on the platform of the Silver Shadow, which had been introduced in 1965. Its motivation was provided by the venerable 6.75-liter, all-alloy V8, with a three-speed automatic as the only choice of transmission . Disc brakes and independent suspension were used at all four wheels. The rear suspension had a hydraulic self-leveling feature that, in honor of British tradition, was sure to work occasionally and leak constantly.
The Camargue was positioned as the flagship of the Rolls-Royce model line, so customers expected much of it. One of the luxury features employed to properly cosset buyers was an advanced and innovative air-conditioning system. It was fully automatic, and allowed temperatures of the upper and lower levels of the interior to be set individually. The split-level system took eight years to develop and was part of the reason for the astronomical price of the car in which it was housed. Also contributing to a therapeutic driving experience, the severe wallet shrinkage induced by the purchase of a Camargue afforded excellent seat cushion comfort.
The Rolls-Royce Camargue was not a car for everyone, but that was not important. Potential Camargue buyers, after all, could take their money elsewhere and buy literally any new car in the world they desired, so the expensive Roller never really had a chance at mass appeal anyway. With only 525 of these cars produced from 1975 to 1986, it was apparent that Rolls-Royce's subtle changes to their ancient formula produced a recipe not for success, but for excess.Sources:
Roßfeldt, K.-J. 'Rolls-Royce Camargue.' rrab.com (2008): n. pag. Web. 2 Jan 2010. .
Wood, Jonathan. Great Marques: Rolls-Royce. London: Octopus Books Limited, 1982. 76-77. Print.By Evan Acuña