20 Cars For 20 Years: The Evolution Of Rolls-Royce, 2003-2023
When Rolls-Royce Motor Cars began full-scale manufacturing at Goodwood, it produced just a single model: the original, seventh-generation Phantom. The first completed motor car was handed over to its new owner in a special ceremony at one minute past midnight on 1 January 2003.
Since that historic moment, no fewer than 20 different models and variants have been created and handmade at Goodwood – equivalent to one for every year. Today’s Rolls-Royce model family reflects two decades of continuous innovation and progress in design, technology, materials and methods, as the marque seeks to satisfy its clients’ ever-changing needs, tastes and desires.
Phantom, and its siblings Phantom Drophead Coupé and Phantom Coupé, were followed by the more approachable Ghost, which went on to become the best-selling model the marque has ever produced since its foundation in 1904. The product family grew further with Wraith (2013) and Dawn (2016), respectively the most powerful and seductive models in the marque’s portfolio; they were joined in 2018 by Cullinan, the ‘Rolls-Royce of SUVs’, which is now ranked among the world’s most desirable and in-demand luxury products.
With the exception of Phantom, all models in the current product family are available as Black Badge variants. Created for a new breed of client who desired a more subversive, rebellious expression of the Rolls-Royce brand, this permanent Bespoke series now accounts for more than a third of the marque’s total output.
Since 2003, the Home of Rolls-Royce’s design and engineering teams have produced a number of experimental motor cars. In keeping with tradition, these were given the ‘EX’ designation, used until the 1950s by Rolls-Royce engineers to maintain secrecy during testing and development, and the distinctive red-on-silver ‘RR’ badge. Never intended for series production, they were fundamental to the process of creating some of the most technically significant and commercially successful products in the marque’s history.
Two Coach build masterpieces that represent the ultimate expression of Rolls-Royce‘s Bespoke capabilities also grace the list. Individually commissioned and entirely hand-built, they echo the coach building traditions of the marque’s early years, while employing the very latest in contemporary design, engineering, manufacturing and craft techniques to create true works of art.
The first 20 years at Goodwood have culminated in the launch of Spectre. The first all-electric Rolls-Royce in history, this landmark motor car also marks the beginning of a new technological era, in which every new Rolls-Royce model will be fully electric from 2030 onwards. With series production yet to begin, Spectre is not strictly among the 20 cars produced between 2003 and 2023, so does not appear in the list that follows. However, it is both the next evolutionary step in the model family’s development, and the technical and philosophical foundation for all that will follow in future.
This remarkable period in the marque’s history has seen the creation of a countless deeply personal, complex and beautiful expressions of the marque’s motor cars. While it is nearly impossible to edit a selection of the best of the last twenty years, here are some truly exemplary examples:
20 CARS FOR 20 YEARS
- Phantom, 2003
The original ‘Goodwood Phantom’ was the seventh generation to wear what is now the longest-established nameplate in automotive history. With its marriage of technology, comfort, performance and the signature ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, it set a new standard for every model that has followed.
- 100EX, 2004
Produced to mark the centenary of the first meeting between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, this was the first Experimental Car produced by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars under BMW Group ownership. Powered by an extraordinary 9-litre V16 engine, it was never intended for production, but was the direct forebear for what would become the celebrated Phantom Drophead Coupé.
- Phantom Extended, 2005
Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2005, Phantom Extended was 250 mm (9.8 in) longer than the ‘standard’ Phantom. This created additional legroom in the rear cabin, making this model especially popular with clients who prefer to be chauffeur-driven.
- 101EX, 2006
Like 100EX, this experimental prototype was built on a shortened version of Phantom’s aluminium space frame, with the body panels constructed in carbon-fibre composite. It would find enduring life and global fame in its eventual production guise as Phantom Coupé, powered by the iconic 6.75-litre V12 engine.
- Phantom Drophead Coupé, 2007
One of the most sought-after models ever produced at Goodwood, the Phantom Drophead Coupé stunned the world on its debut. With distinctive styling derived from 100EX (see above), its defining feature is the interior wood veneering that flows around the cabin into the teak tonneau cover, inspired by a racing yacht deck.
- Phantom Coupé, 2008
With its pillarless construction, this was a true hardtop two-door coupé – the first Rolls-Royce of its type to be produced in more than two decades. Like its drophead sibling, Phantom Coupé incorporated many of the design features and construction techniques developed on the experimental 101EX.
- 200EX, 2009
Presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2009, 200EX was the experimental car that responded to client feedback for a more approachable and driver-orientated Rolls-Royce.
- Ghost, 2010
Designed for a new generation of ascendent Rolls-Royce clients, Ghost immediately won praise for its simple, contemporary design and effortless, dynamic performance. To date it is the most commercially successful model in Rolls-Royce history.
- 102EX, 2011
Known as the Phantom Experimental Electric (EE), this one-off electric prototype version of Phantom began Rolls-Royce’s exploration into suitable technology to power future generations of its motor cars. The world’s first super-luxury battery electric vehicle, it toured the world gauging reactions from clients, enthusiasts, the media and the wider public.
- Ghost Extended, 2011
Responding to feedback from clients who prefer to be chauffeur-driven, Rolls-Royce introduced an Extended version of Ghost, offering additional space and comfort for rear-seat passengers while maintaining the motor car’s more focussed driving characteristics.
- Wraith, 2013
The fastback Wraith was intended as the ultimate gran turismo; a car that embodied the bold, pioneering spirit, sense of adventure and love of speed that inspired the marque’s co-founder, The Hon Charles Stewart Rolls.
- Dawn, 2016
The definitive super-luxury four-seater convertible, Dawn was designed to enable four adults to travel sociably together in complete comfort. The roof is a design and engineering masterpiece: dubbed ‘the Silent Ballet’ the mechanism operates in complete silence in just 22 seconds, and at cruising speeds of up to 50km/h; with the roof closed, the interior is as silent as a Rolls-Royce Wraith.
- Black Badge Wraith and Black Badge Ghost, 2016
The Black Badge family introduced the world to the marque’s enfants terribles, subverting perceptions of what a Rolls-Royce ‘should’ be. These variants are more powerful and specifically engineered to deliver an even more direct, engaging driving experience, while still offering near-limitless opportunities for Bespoke personalisation. In Black Badge guise, both Wraith and Ghost received additional torque, unique air-suspension set-up and drive shafts, Intuitive Throttle Response and crisper, more urgent 8-speed automatic transmission. The result was an even more agile and involving motoring experience, without compromising the intrinsic elements of the effortless Rolls-Royce ‘Magic Carpet Ride’.
- 103EX, 2016
Perhaps the most radical experimental car ever produced at Goodwood, Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100, codenamed 103EX, presented the marque’s uncompromised view of the future of luxury mobility. Fully electric, with a completely autonomous drive and enhanced artificial intelligence, it made an unequivocal statement about Rolls-Royce’s future direction, both in terms of electric power and effortless, highly personalised travel.
- ‘Sweptail’, 2017
Rolls-Royce revived the art of coachbuilding with the magnificent ‘Sweptail’, described at the time as ‘automotive Haute Couture’. Inspired by coachbuilt Rolls-Royces and racing yachts of the 1920s and 30s, this unique two-seat coupé featured a panoramic glass roof and a pair of attaché cases concealed behind the coach doors.
- Phantom 8, 2017
No nameplate occupies a more revered place in the pantheon of great cars and indeed, luxury goods as Phantom. The task to re-invent it for a bold, new era was therefore approached with exquisite care. The result was a Phantom that responded to the changing sensibilities of a new generation whilst maintaining the iconic presence that ensures its ongoing status as the “Best Car in the World”.
- Cullinan, 2018
Cullinan is truly the ‘Rolls-Royce of SUVs’, designed and built to take younger, successful high-net-worth individuals to the ends of the Earth in ultimate comfort. With its ‘effortless, everywhere’ capabilities, endless Bespoke possibilities and unique lifestyle features – including the Recreation Module – it has become one of the most desirable luxury goods on the planet.
- Black Badge Cullinan, 2019
Cullinan revelled in its new, darker persona, which included a more powerful 6.7-litre V12 engine, black 22-inch forged alloy wheels, Pantheon grille and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot, plus the first painted brake callipers ever fitted to a factory-delivered Rolls-Royce.
- New Ghost, 2020
When it came to present a new Ghost, Rolls-Royce responded to the requirement from a new ascendent generation of successful women and men for a motor car, perfectly aligned with new codes of luxury. The result is an aesthetic that prioritises minimalist design and celebrates material substance. The motor car was also engineered to possess an engaging and dynamic character with no compromise to the serenity and comfort in the rear suite.
- Boat Tail, 2021
The Boat Tail commissions took Rolls-Royce Coachbuild into new realms of complexity and audacity, in a demanding technical and creative project that lasted almost four years. A genuine objet d’art, this entirely handcrafted motor car demonstrated the marque’s commitment to coachbuilding as a central part of its future direction and strategy.