Check out the latest Life on Cars column!

Check out the latest Life on Cars column!

by Danielle Thompson (October 2021)

NORMALLY it takes three or four years to develop a new car, but Rolls-Royce’s latest model is a mere 122 years in the making. And it still hasn’t finished yet. 

Not only that, but the luxury car gurus down at Goodwood are quite open about the fact they’re fulfilling an ambition laid down by one half of its founding duo a very, very long time ago. Yep, it’s finally getting around to making an all-electric model. 

Charles Rolls was surprisingly on the money when he declared in April 1900 that he’d like to see a luxury car that glides along in zero-emissions silence, bearing in mind that at the time there were fewer than 1,000 horseless carriages on Britain’s roads at the time and it’d be another four years before he and Henry Royce set up shop.  

However, he reckoned that as electric cars were “perfectly noiseless and clean, with no smell or vibration” and that they’d become a very useful commodity – when charging stations could be arranged. I suspect he didn’t think we’d have to wait another 12 decades for that to happen. 

Of course, this isn’t the least bit surprising given that the sale of new cars running internal combustion engines is set to be outlawed by the end of the decade, and Rolls-Royce has duly conceded that all of its models, just like every those of virtually every other manufacturer, will be zero-emissions by 2030. However, I reckon that there’s something ineffably right about Rolls-Royces going electric. 

There is an old cliché about the how the loudest thing on a Rolls-Royce is supposed to be the tick of its clock, but anyone who’s ever put their foot down in a Silver Shadow will know that’s never really been the case. As silky smooth as the V8s and V12s are, they still rely on pistons and valves purring away. An electric motor only has one moving part and – as the pedestrian safety lobby is forever telling us – makes virtually no noise at all. Not great for the 99 per cent of us about to cross the road, but perfect for the one per cent at the end of a long day.  

Just as importantly, Rolls-Royce could have picked just about any point over the past 122 years to bring out an electric model, but it’s waited until 300 miles on a charge and top-ups in the time it takes to enjoy a Starbucks were a reality. Not that I imagine most Rolls-Royce customers frequent Starbucks. 

I’ve no doubt that the Rolls-Royce Spectre will be awe-inspiringly accomplished when it arrives at some point in 2023, and set the benchmark for luxury electric cars in much the same way the Phantom did for petrol ones two decades ago. However, the time when most of us get to enjoy its eerily silent and silky smooth blend of ride and handling – what Rolls calls “waftability” – will be a couple of years after that. 

Wedding car companies of the North West, you might as well start saving up now… 

David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly 

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