It was in October 1914 that motoring enthusiast Bruce Nicholson and his cousin Colin placed an advertisement in The Light Car magazine announcing their intention to set-up “a club for the not-so-rich”. The Nicholsons hoped to attract a few like-minded drivers with cars worth around £50 each who longed to put their motors through their paces in competitive events, but who couldn’t afford to mix with the wealthy purchasers of up-to-date, thoroughbred racing machines. The pointed post-script to the advertisement added: “Rolls owners need not apply…”
The organisation in question was the Vintage Sports Car Club and it continues to thrive to this day. Few of its members, however, are Rolls-Royce owners – not because they are still unwelcome, but because Rolls-Royces have never been considered inherently sporty, being more the type of car that one is driven in rather the type that one drives.
That was the old thinking, at any rate, but since the “new generation” Rolls-Royce was established at Goodwood in 2003 following the purchase of the formerly ailing marque by BMW, Rollers have come to be regarded as rather cool and have even made it into the top 10 chart of most-mentioned cars in hip-hop lyrics. “I ain’t gonna tell you again let’s ghost in the Phantom/You can bring your friend, we can make this a tandem” – as Jay-Z so eloquently suggests in Change Clothes, for example.
Far from attempting to distance itself from thoughts of an edgier image, Rolls-Royce is positively embracing it – not least because its customer demographic has altered dramatically during the past decade to the point that a significant number of its 4,000 or so annual sales are made to buyers aged in their early 30s, with more than a few being in their 20s and barely off their tricycles (let alone tandems).
And it is with these in mind that the firm’s CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos last year announced the creation of a new strand to the Rolls-Royce offering called Black Badge, bespoke cars which would be lower, meaner, sharper and more aggressive than the traditionally “wafty” limousines on which they were based. “Black Badge appeals to people who are elusive and defiant, the risk takers who break the rules and laugh in the face of convention,” he said at the unveiling. (“Ha ha ha,” we chuckled, in a suitably maniacal way…)