There’s something surreal about the first time you get to sit in a super-luxury car like a Rolls-Royce. It feels like you’ve just crossed over into a different plane of existence. A place where luxury defies normal perception. The leather is so thick, so supple and so soft. The wood is warm and lavish. The metals are flawlessly polished and are cold and heavy to the touch. The carpet is so thick it feels irresponsible to set foot on it without one of Royal Life Saving’s finest nearby.
When is Luxury Forgetting Itself?
I was watching Doug DeMuro’s Bentley Supersport video earlier this week. What really struck me was how much these beautiful, rich materials are being usurped by the modern upstart, carbon fibre.
Carbon fibre can be a beautiful material. It’s beautiful for its properties, though. Rigid, super light weight, the ultimate in high performance. There is absolutely nothing beautiful about its ambiance or feel. What it really feels like is fairly low-rent plastic. Good-looking plastic, but plastic nonetheless.
There’s nothing luxurious about carbon fibre. It is a means to an end. Sure, the weave can be pretty but that is a reminder of super light weight. Not opulence. So carbon fiber belongs on cars like the Koenigsegg Agera or Pagani Huayra where its purpose is an art form in itself. It does not belong on a 2,280kg (5,027lb) Bentley.
Attempting to use a few carbon bits to reduce the weight on a two-tonne car is a bit like using a bucket against a flood. You still wind up with a car that is as heavy as a Victorian country house. Instead of being tasteful, you get vulgar and pointless.
That’s the rub. Carbon fibre used pointlessly, makes the driver look like an utter tosser. If you wanted a sports car, why didn’t you buy a lightweight car like a McLaren 720S? If you wanted a luxury car, why didn’t you buy something beautiful and elegant like a Wraith? Why buy a car that’s pretending to be something it’s not? So you can look like a pretender too?
The worst bit, the carbon bits are usually garnish. A lot of the time they replace pieces that weren’t that heavy in the first place, or weren’t there at all! However little, it still adds weight.
Nowhere is Safe
Even the last bastion of true luxury, Rolls-Royce isn’t immune. The Wraith Black Badge weighs 2,440kg (5,380lb) yet is trimmed with lashings of carbon fibre. Then there’s the ‘Chicane’ Phantom Coupé. Rolls-Royce brand manager from Dubai, Mohammed EL-Arishy commissioned it in 2013. He wanted to “..create a motor car that captures the unique atmosphere and history of the Goodwood Motor Circuit.” and it features a slab of carbon instead of the traditional wood on the dashboard. Rolls-Royce says this alludes to “.. the materials used in modern racing machines”. That doesn’t make sense! The Goodwood circuit is synonymous with olde racing. It is where the Goodwood Revival and Members Meeting are held. Instead of carbon fiber, hand formed, riveted aluminium inlaid into wood would make a much more fitting tribute!
Ultimately all Mr. EL-Arishy ended up with is a Phantom Coupe with a dashboard panel like a Honda Civic. You can see it in the images. It just doesn’t look finely crafted or special like a Phantom usually does.
This fascination with carbon fibre on heavy cars needs to stop. Carbon fibre on a sports car with purpose? Oh yes please. You can keep it on your GTs and Luxury sedans. Luxury car makers should be proud of what they stand for, not trying to fall in with the buzz.