Growing up in modest but aspirational circumstances, I became a car enthusiast at a very young age.
Upon first seeing a Rolls Royce the first time I ever visited London in 1991, its lines and caliber stood out. It was a gentleman's car. A dignified, hand-built piece of Crewe craftsmanship that appears at home wafting through Eaton Square or Beauchamp Place. The whiff of old money exuding from its matchwood and leather lined cabin.
The car in question was a 1976 Silver Shadow mark 2, which then was sixteen years old, which back then was elderly for a car, but in true Belgravia and Knightsbridge style, it was immaculate, and was being steered carefully through the elegant streets behind Harrods by a middle aged gentleman in a pinstripe suit with cufflinks. As the car stopped at a traffic light, it was possible to see the immaculately ironed crease in his shirt sleeve as it extended toward the Bakelite and chrome steering wheel.
Today, Rolls Royce Motor Cars is quite an interesting company. It has managed to maintain its absolute air of upper-class superiority, and those imposing houses with white pillars in SW1 and SW7 are still accompanied by as many Rolls Royces as they were back in 1991 in those days which sold me London as a bastion of sophistication.
However, it is now possible to see Rolls Royce cars in other places too. They do not just adorn the reserved spaces next to the private gardens of Grosvenor Square, they are now omnipresent in almost any urban area from San Francisco to Shanghai.
Rolls Royce has gone big. It has taken the rolled umbrella and bowler hat image and made it global. There are Rolls Royces in the parking garage under my apartment. Quite a few of them.
There are Rolls Royces in Manhattan, and Long Island and Queens. There are Rolls Royces in Houston and Dallas, and in Los Angeles and Chicago. There are Rolls Royces in Shanghai, and in every development town in China from the Hebei province southward.
In Hong Kong, a Rolls Royce has famously worn the license plate with a single number 8 on it for a few decades, every few years being upgraded to a newer Rolls Royce model, with the same 8 plate being retained, 8 being a very lucky number in Chinese mythology.
Equally as clever as the company's ability to retain its upper-class image, keep its loyal client base enthusiastic and ensure that its current product range is still unmistakably Rolls Royce, yet appeal to an ultra-modern, technology-orientated new customer base of, dare it even be said, nouveau-riche self-made members of global society.
Rolls Royce tried to do this before, with the aforementioned Silver Shadow in the late 1960s until the late 1970s. It was a smaller, slightly less expensive (but still expensive!) Rolls Royce, designed for people who had made their own money, and in particular for those people to drive themselves rather than to be driven by a chauffeur as was the case with previous Rolls Royce models.
At that time the establishment jeered, saying that the Silver Shadow was bought by ‘rif-raf’ such as cockney comedians, Northern-accented football team managers and shifty nightclub owners who then resorted to such garish and unwelcome tactics as installing gold badges and tinted windows.
Today’s new money is not like that at all. It is high tech innovators, crypto exchange programmers, thought leaders, media influencers and start-up geniuses who went from seed capital to public listing within a few years. In short, the leading edge of creators of tomorrow’s world.
The current range of Rolls Royce cars does not look like an overtly modernized pastiche of the traditional range. It appears svelte, classy, and enduring. Even their buckling under pressure of the SUV market's allure did not cause any crassness. The Cullinan SUV is still very much a Rolls Royce, despite its SUV credentials.
Rolls Royce stock is currently hot property. The company's stellar defence aero engine division has watertight contracts with global air forces, and the passenger aircraft engine division is doing well too.
In terms of cars, Rolls Royce sells far more cars than ever before, and yet still sticks to its principles of building them all by hand. No such machine mass production in the way that Bentley has taken up with its Continental and GT models, which are effectively platform-shared VW/Audi models made on an automated production line to keep the cost down.
Of course, mass producing cars with machinery means less error, and makes huge cost savings. Those Bentleys - of which there are tens of thousands across London, and many more in North America, the Middle East and Asia, are still very good cars, they're just not as special as a Rolls Royce Wraith or Ghost. Once they were the same car with a different badge. Today, they're two different companies with different ethos and it shows.
As Rolls Royce basks in its success and shareholders calmly count their ever-increasing earnings, the company has not rested on its laurels. The 103EX prototype is now operational, showing Rolls Royce's interest in brand new models. It is an all-electric, aerodynamic concept car which mixes the company's aeronautical prowess with its automotive engineering skills, powered purely by an electric motor, and is totally autonomous in that it drives itself.
The future of Rolls Royce is interesting indeed, as is its performance as a glowing star in the small-production premium segment of the ultra-competitive motor manufacturing industry.