The spirit of ecstasy that is Rolls-Royce

A Rolls-Royce is the motorcar for those occasions when traveling in anything less expensive simply won't do. Mark Phillips takes us inside the legend.

This story was originally broadcast on March 23, 2014.

You'd think this would be enough: The Spirit of Ecstasy, the "winged lady" to you and me, long the symbol of the car that claims to be the essence of motoring elegance.

But sometimes having everything means wanting more.

rolls-royce-emblem.jpg
Rolls-Royce

More than the hand-chosen leather from at least fifteen bulls that are used in the upholstery of each car. (Apparently hides from cows have stretch marks.)

More than the painstakingly-crafted, and lacquered over and over again, woodwork.

It seems that almost nobody buys a Rolls off the rack any more. For this kind of money, you want to stamp your own identity on it, in addition to that of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce.

If you're spending more than $300,000 or $400,000 for a car, you not only want something special, you want something different -- different from all those other guys spending $300,000 or $400,000 for a car.

Buying a Rolls-Royce has never been an exercise in inconspicuous consumption. There was always a "Look at me!" factor, and often the people who had them were worth looking at.

Now, any schmo can drive a Rolls, even those pretending to own one.

"I have to tell you: the whims and wishes, the desires of the wealthy know no bounds," said Richard Carter. It's the job of Carter and the other Rolls bosses to fulfill those whims and wishes.

rolls-royce-bespoke.jpg
Production of the Rolls-Royce Ghost.
Courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Underneath, Rolls-Royces (you're not supposed to call them Rollers) are pretty much the same. Big, powerful engines driving big, comfortable cars. Lots of doo-dads.

But people also want, for example, a fiber-optic representation of the night sky worked into the headlining. And not just any night sky, but the sky the night they were born (or the car was born).

One Middle Eastern businessmen thought a gold-trimmed and armored car would be nice, upping the price by about $8 million.

Others wanted their car's teak deck to match their yacht's.

Once a Rolls was supposed to be about understated elegance. Not any more.

If it was good enough for John Lennon and his "Sgt. Pepper's" Rolls, it's good enough for the rest of the Lonely Hearts Club Rolls-Royce Band -- as is the diamond-studded interior, or the jewelry case, or the picnic basket trunk.

The more they want, the more they spend.

It's Richard Collar's job to guide buyers through the customization (what they call here, the bespoke) process.

"By the time your customer finishes futzing with it, what percentage, how much extra can you add to the cost of the car?" Phillips asked.

"Well, we have some cars which double in price," said Collar.

Mr. Chen Ann Ger, driving a green Rolls-Royce ("Green is my lucky color. It'll bring me more friends and prosperity"), a property ka-zillionaire in Shanghai, China (now Rolls' biggest market), is very lucky. He's bought three Rolls Royces.

By the time Mr. Chen was through customizing one car, it cost $1.8 million.

Here they'll spend anything, and here they'll make anything, to keep the Spirit of Ecstasy flying.

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