Black is a unique color and somewhat associated with luxury cars but Roll-Royce has embraced it with its line-up of “Black Badge cars“. Introduced in 2016, the Black Badge line-up brought in a different kind of Rolls-Royce and has been immensely successful with its unique black-based styling and performance enhancements. However, Black Badge is not something new for Rolls-Royce as this color has been a prominent fixture in terms of bespoke cars which have gone to become famous. Here are three motor cars in Rolls-Royce history that are all about signifying why black remains a powerful color choice in cars.
It all started with the 1933 – Phantom II Continental (94MY). In 1930, at the personal request of Henry Royce, designer Ivan Evernden designed an experimental Phantom II Continental, called 26EX, designed specifically for long-distance Continental touring. It had a short chassis and close-coupled four-seat saloon body, with the two spare wheels mounted vertically behind the luggage compartment for optimum weight distribution. The coachwork by Barker & Co sat on a sub-frame designed to cope with sustained high speeds and powerful braking forces.
On its first outing, Evernden and Don Carlos de Salamanca drove the car to a concours d’elegance in Biarritz, where it won the Grand Prix d’Honneur. Following this victory, Rolls‑Royce decided to launch a ‘series’ model with the same mechanical attributes and overall coachwork dimensions as 26EX, giving coachbuilders and owners scope to accommodate their own taste in design.
The first such car, 94MY, built-in 1933 for a Mr. Samuel Coxhill, has bodywork known as an ‘Owen Fixed Head Coupé’, a specialism of London coachbuilder Gurney Nutting. The adjustable front bucket seats, twin windscreen wipers, and flush-fitting direction indicators behind the side windows were all unusual for the period and intended to make long-distance Continental touring more relaxed.
At that time, the vast majority of Rolls-Royce coachwork was finished in either black, or shades of maroon or blue, so dark as to almost seem black. 94MY was ordered in black with “special brown leather, piped in light brown, carpets and headlining to tone, and woodwork to be highly polished veneers”.
The other car was the 1960 – Phantom V (5AT30) which was launched in 1959 to replace the Silver Wraith. A much larger car, it was intended primarily for chauffeur-driven use. Most were finished in black though. One exception was 5AT30. Delivered in September 1960, its owner was HRH, The Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V and Queen Mary, and the uncle of HM Queen Elizabeth II. The body was based on coachbuilder James Young’s PV15 design, today regarded as among the most elegant on the Phantom V chassis.
The paint combination of matte black to the horizontal surfaces and gloss black on the vertical planes is distinctive. Other Bespoke items include a much smaller-than-standard backlight, large fog lamps, door-mounted driving mirrors, sliding shutters to the rear windows, and two Stephane Grebel spotlights. The front of the car is dominated by Lucas R100 headlamps, in place of the usual faired-in headlights.
The Spirit of Ecstasy mascot, though supplied, was not fitted, her place taken by the Duke’s own mascot of an eagle in flight. And perhaps for the first time in the marque’s history, the chassis card states that the car was supplied with ‘an umbrella in holder’ – a standard feature on today’s Rolls-Royce motor cars.
Finally, it is a car which was made famous thanks to its celebrity owner and the unique commission that was ordered. We are talking about the 1965 – Phantom V (5VD73) and it was a John Lennon’s gift to himself along with a unique specification of black everywhere. The car, built by Mulliner Park Ward, was duly supplied with all-black gloss paintwork, including the wheel discs and bumpers. Only the Pantheon grille and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot had its chrome finish, at the marque’s insistence it should be said!
It was also one of the first cars in Britain to have blacked-out windows, made from darkened, reflective Triplex Deeplight glass, 3/16” thick in the rear doors and 3/4” in the rear quarter lights, backlit and division glass – but not, as one might suppose, solely for reasons of privacy. “People think they’ve got black windows to hide. It’s partly that, but it’s also for when you’re coming home late,” Lennon told a Rolling Stone interviewer in 1965. “If it’s daylight when you’re coming home, it’s still dark inside the car – you just shut all the windows and you’re still in the club.”
The interior featured black Bedford cord cloth and black nylon rugs in the rear compartment, and black leather in the front. There were electrical aerials for a radio and a Perdio Portarma television set, and a seven-piece set of black fitted luggage. Legend has it that the car also had a record player, radiotelephone, fridge, writing table, and red mood-lighting: this remains unproven, but could easily have been later additions; likewise, a rear seat that, according to many accounts, could be converted into a pull-out bed.
Of course later, the car was repainted in a psychedelic electric yellow, dotted with flowers, Romany scrolls, and signs of the zodiac but then it has become one of the most iconic and recognizable cars in the world.