What Makes The Rolls-Royce Arcadia Droptail So Expensive?
What Makes This Rolls-Royce The Most Luxurious Car In The World?

It takes a village to build the world’s most (allegedly) expensive car 

It feels strange to stand in front of something that hasn’t existed before, nor will it ever again. A rather perfect moment in time and space, where the noises disappear and you’re hyperfocused on what’s glimmering ahead of you, in pearl white, under the crescent light of Singapore’s Flower Dome. It is the Rolls-Royce Arcadia Droptail, the third Coachbuild Droptail commission. In their lifetime, more people will claim to have spotted Nessie at Loch Ness than the Arcadia on the road


After the initial awe of encountering this one-of-a-kind creation subsides, an interesting aspect of the Roadster becomes apparent. Its name and design ethos, evoking the concept of 'heaven on earth,' suggest a haute couture vision reminiscent of the avant-garde style of Rei Kawakubo. However, the execution mirrors that of a finely tailored Saville Row suit, featuring a perfectly proportioned silhouette without any hint of front- or rear-heaviness. One cannot help but notice how the rear section, particularly where the roof retracts, bears a resemblance to the collar of a suit jacket, if you will. The roof itself, can be left as is for formal occasions or retracted to allow the wind to tousle one's hair. But that’s barely scratching the surface. 


240229_Rolls Royce Media_314.jpgThe one-off Rolls-Royce Arcadia Droptail is rumoured to cost around $20 million to $30 million  


Like most haute couture collections, the devil here, or rather the Phantom (pun), is in the details. “The significance of the Rolls-Royce Arcadia Droptail lies in its subtlety," says Alex Innes, Head of Coachbuild Design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “The conception of a Coachbuild motor car begins with a single line on paper. From there, we design a masterpiece free of time constraints or limitations,” melding the vision of their clients to custom-fit their needs. 


This workmanship is ever so evident in the Arcadia Droptail’s interior woodwork, commissioned as a “personal reflection of the client’s individual aesthetic, reflective of the style they have curated in their residences and business spaces around the world.” As expected, only the finest Santos Straight Grain was selected for its rich texture and visual appearance, derived from its unique, interlocking grain pattern. However, using a high-density hardwood on Droptail’s interior posed its own set of challenges, as Santos Straight Grain has one of the finest grain types of all wood species. If not handled correctly, it easily tears when machined and can develop ‘checks’ (cracks that appear parallel to the grain) during the drying process. This issue is exacerbated when considering where the Arcadia Droptail will be driven, a roadster meant to be used internationally, including in tropical climates. 


Image-2.jpgA total of 8,000 hours was spent perfecting the woodwork 


To address this, a protection system was developed and subjected to a rigorous testing process. While coatings used on superyachts were initially considered, they were rejected due to the need for regular servicing and re-application. Instead, a bespoke lacquer was developed that requires just one application for a lifetime. In fact, Rolls-Royce specialists devised a testing protocol wherein veneer pieces were subjected to global weather extremes, simulated inside a specialised machine. This involved intermittently spraying sample wood pieces with water, allowing them to dry in darkness, and exposing them to heat and bright light. This process was repeated for 1,000 hours on 18 different samples before the endurance of the pieces reached satisfactory levels. In total, the whole operation required more than 8,000 hours of development. 


The finer wood also had to be applied to the curves of the Droptail’s interiors, namely the dashboard, door linings, and central cantilevered ‘plinth’ armrest, which had to be “incredibly rigid” according to the marque. Ingenious solutions were needed and found in the unlikeliest of places. Rolls-Royce engineers used unique carbon fibre layering techniques, primarily used in Formula One cars, to develop a stiffer base on top of which the wood could be applied, ensuring it remained secured even if the unknown buyer felt like putting the Arcadia through its paces. Still, it remains perhaps the second most intricate detail of the Arcadia Droptail’s interiors. Transitioning from haute couture to haute horlogerie, the fine veneer of the Santos Straight Grain also features what the company calls “the most complex Rolls-Royce clock face ever created,” where the assembly alone took five months, after more than two years of development. 


Image-3.jpgA life-size clay model is created for every coachbuilt creation, sculpted using carbon-fiber tools. 


According to Rolls-Royce, the timepiece comes with a geometric guilloché pattern in raw metal with 119 facets, a nod to Rolls-Royce's 119th anniversary in late 2023, when the client first saw a preview of the car. The clock face then had to undergo testing and validation, in accordance with standards “higher than those of the watch world,” which included a ceramic coating instead of anodizing the timepiece’s minute marker. Small areas of the coating were laser-etched away to showcase the mirror finish of the aluminium beneath it. And just like every part within the timepiece, including the bespoke ‘double R’ monogram, they were individually machined from solid stainless steel billets and polished by hand before assembly. 


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The Droptail’s leather interior comes finished in two entirely Bespoke hues - which are, of course, named after the client and reserved exclusively for their use. The main leather colour is a bespoke white hue, continuing the exterior paint theme, while the contrast leather is a bespoke tan colour, developed to complement the selected wood. 


Image-4 (Collage-2).jpgRolls-Royce craftsman working on the Arcadia Droptail 


I remember thinking how the complexity of the whole operation was way more complicated than what an average Joe at the factory could handle. The nuances barely resemble factory work. They resemble art, more like what is seen in an atelier than on an assembly line. Little to my surprise, the requirement to be a Rolls-Royce craftsman is almost similar to what we see in most design houses, much like Hermès trains its apprentices alongside artisans in its École Hermès des Savoir-Faire program. “We run an extensive apprenticeship program, bringing in around 20 apprentices annually for a four to five-year training stint aimed at honing their core craftsmanship specific to their specialization," says Jonathan Simms, General Manager Bespoke at Rolls-Royce Motorcars. "We also recruit from other sectors. For example, some of our craftsmen making detailed veneers come from bespoke furniture manufacturers experienced in functional veneers for private jets and yachts," he adds. 


And the marque has a rather clever way of retaining these craftsmanship skills within the organisation. "We've created a program for cross-training within the business to diversify craftsmanship levels. Experienced craftsmen mentor others to become master craftspeople,” says Simms. “Additionally, our workforce represents over 50 nationalities, each bringing their regional expertise. For instance, France is renowned for furniture manufacturing skills, while countries like Italy have deep-rooted expertise in textile manufacturing. We target specific countries to find these specialist skill sets," he adds. 


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Despite working with the world’s best, building a bespoke coachbuild brings its set of unique challenges, mostly unheard of in the luxury car world. As Simms explains, “One of the real challenges we often face is drawing the line between the properties of a material and Rolls-Royce's expectations because certain precious materials if mishandled, can be irreversibly damaged. We frequently discuss the balance between preserving a material's natural properties and ensuring its texture meets our standards. The most difficult materials to work with are the delicate ones, such as silk or natural grain leather, which require an open structure to showcase their texture and life. However, this openness can make them susceptible to imperfections or damage. We often find solutions to this challenge, sometimes by using delicate materials as accent pieces rather than for main components like seat upholstery. This ensures that the material is appreciated without compromising its suitability for the intended use.”  


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This level of hyper-detailing is nothing new for the brand, which creates individual life-size clay models for each of its coachbuild creations, sculpted exclusively with carbon-fibre tools, obviously. The company even boasts a palette of 44,000 colours and can replicate even more, including people’s lipstick. One such instance involves the company replicating the colour of an owner’s Irish Setter dog through DNA analysis. Similarly, the interiors of the Rose Phantom, commissioned by an unknown Swedish entrepreneur, are said to have one million stitches to create a vision of flowers inside the cabin. The most intricate and detailed pinstripe work is done by just one coachbuilder in the world - Mark Court, who speaks with a surprising yet endearing cockney accent and uses only squirrel-hair paint brushes, as conventional ones tend to leave imperfections. 


However, such attention to detail is just another day at the office in Goodwood. For Simms, who led the project for the Rolls-Royce Ghost and commutes to work on his late father’s 1953 Douglas Dragonfly motorcycle, his biggest personal challenge was working on the Black Badge Wraith Black Arrow, the model which broke the land-speed record three times and stands as one of the most powerful cars in Rolls-Royce history. 


Image-7.jpgJonathan Simms, General Manager Bespoke, Rolls-Royce Motorcars 


Simms reflects, “It's one of my favourites because, with a brand like Rolls-Royce that is 120 years old, you feel a responsibility to the past as well as the present. You know that a brand's reputation can easily be destroyed if the wrong decisions are made. So when someone comes to you and says they want a project that represents the last-ever V12 Rolls-Royce, you think, ‘This has to be good.’ You feel an extra burden of responsibility because you're marking a chapter in the history of Rolls-Royce. The design came together seamlessly with the craft, and every single one of these cars was sold via a phone call, or as part of a retirement gift for the client. The clients saw a very high-level sketch, and their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. That's why this project is one of my favourites – because of its significance, its appearance, and the fantastic reception it received from the clients.” 


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And it is this emphasis on serving the vision of its clientele, without compromising the ethos of its own that makes a Rolls-Royce, a Rolls-Royce. Take its newest coachbuild for instance. The Arcadia Droptail, which is believed to be the most expensive car in the world with a rumoured price tag of $20 million to $30 million, isn’t bright yellow or orange flashy, as you’d expect. Nor do its doors open the wrong way, which you’d also expect - a crime far too prevalent lately from most Europeans. Yet, cutting against the grain, the drop-top never begs for your attention; it commands it. It feels akin to looking at an MC Escher painting instead of a Picasso or a Birkin bag instead of a Dior. You know it when you see it. The Arcadia doesn’t scream money; it whispers wealth. 


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