The Rolls-Royce Camargue
A Car that Impressed and Expressed: a history to celebrate the 35th anniversary 1975 - 2010
By Tony Flood
Forty one years ago, during the spring of 1969, Rolls-Royce decided to complement its range of motor cars. The design brief was for a new two door saloon that looked totally different from the existing Silver Shadow two door saloon car - the initial thoughts being to replace it altogether. However, following Company developments that are referred to later, the decision was revised, keeping the existing two door car in production and adding the new one to the range.
Rather than use the Crewe Styling Studio, after much deliberation the Car Division Board of Directors decided to entrust the styling for this proposed new car to the Italian company Pininfarina based in Turin. This took place in October 1969 with the instruction that all design sketches were to be submitted to Crewe for evaluation and approval by the early part of 1970. The view at the time was that this new car should be produced in 1972 and launched in early 1973.
Several proposed designs were submitted and once Crewe had decided which one they preferred, then all development work began in earnest and the car became known within the Company as “Delta”, following on the tradition that was being used in the Company at the time of using letters of the Greek alphabet for experimental projects and cars (the previous letter “Gamma” had been used for Corniche that had replaced the Silver Shadow two door saloon and convertible). However, it soon became clear that the new code name was starting to be used outside the Company as the “new car” and as a consequence instructions were given to all personnel to use the reference when discussing this new car as purely DY20 – ‘D’ signifying Delta, ‘Y’ signifying it was based on the SY (Silver Shadow) platform, and '20' shortened from 120 which was the car’s wheelbase of 120 inches.
Unfortunately, fate was to intervene and force a radical review of the initial launch date of the new car. The Rolls-Royce Ltd bankruptcy of 4 February 1971 placed in jeopardy the whole of the Motor Car Division whose future now rested in the hands of the Official Receiver who was appointed to look closely at all aspects of the business. Following a critical assessment, the Receiver decided to form a new company called Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd, which was split from the bankrupt Rolls-Royce Ltd as a stand alone business with the ultimate plan of either selling it to another organisation, or to float it on the stock market as an independent company - the latter resulting. During this time the DY20 project was closely scrutinised and the Receiver gave the go-ahead to commence the project, but following a critical review of the engineering specification for the car, a decision was taken to delay the launch date until 1975.
It was decided that the body would be manufactured by HJ Mulliner Park Ward (MPW) in the London factory. The first prototype body, when assembled to the running gear, resulted in the first finished prototype car, which was known purely as D1. This first prototype was running during the summer of 1972. It looked very futuristic for the time and, although having several Silver Shadow mechanical features, the biggest difference apart from the body was the very sophisticated bi-level automatic air conditioning system that at that time was the very first car in the world to have such a unit fitted. It was stated that this feature was more expensive than the cost of a British Leyland Mini of the time! The other main feature that was incorporated was an instrument board that would not have looked out of place in a Jumbo Jet. A second prototype was built known as D2 but after assembly it was only used for crash testing purposes and never ran on the road. Although both D1 and D2 bodies were manufactured by MPW in the London factory, an enormous amount of assistance was given to the MPW staff to this project by the Crewe engineering staff and experimental workshop who assisted with some of the assembly work and certainly the rigorous testing that followed.
December 1972 saw the arrival at Crewe of the third body produced by MPW and, although it was referred to as D3, it was actually given an official chassis number - JRH14674. On the 18 January 1973 the body was attached to the front and rear sub frame assemblies on the normal Silver Shadow production line with maximum security in place and, following the production line assembly, the car was delivered to the experimental department to begin a period of intensive development work. A further car referred to as D4, but also given an official chassis number JRH16298, was also built on the production line to give the operatives experience in advance of the main production commencing.
This car after production assembly was also delivered to the experimental department to complement the development work being carried out on ‘D3’.
From May 1973 and all through 1974 production increased but still subject to extreme security. The production sequence was shared between MPW and Crewe. Once the body had been produced in the London factory and despatched to Crewe it was ‘finished painted’, attached to the front and rear sub frames and sent in a part built state back to MPW for all trim, general finishing and testing to take place at Hythe Road.
The car was launched to the world’s press in January 1975 and the location chosen was Catania in Sicily. The name of Camargue had been chosen which is from an area situated in the delta of the River Rhône in France. It is ironic that the subject of a delta should be used in the naming of the new car, as it appears either a genuine or planned coincidence and as such adds to the many Rolls-Royce myths and speculations. Shortly after the launch it was decided that the Camargue should have more power than the Silver Shadow, so modifications were made to the engine to improve performance, which included the fitting of a totally different carburettor manufactured by Solex to replace the existing SU configuration on all markets other than Australia, Japan and North America.
Following a very successful press launch, the car was unveiled to the world on 5 March 1975 and the price quoted was £29,250. This was an enormous amount of money for a car at the time and in fact was the then most expensive production car in the world. To put the price in perspective with other Rolls-Royce models at the time the Corniche saloon car cost £19,013 and the “Flagship of the Fleet” Phantom VI only cost £21,352!
Owing to the fact that the USA specification cars did not commence production until August 1975, the launch in the United States to both the press and the dealers did not occur until May 1976 and was held at Scottsdale, near Phoenix in Arizona and therefore the first owners in the USA did not obtain their cars until the late months of that year.
As the production years passed many new features were added, usually as a result of legislation at the time. Examples being the repositioning of the fuel tank from the boot floor to a new position behind the rear seats (this change being required to meet rear impact requirements whereby the fuel tank did not rupture as a result of a rear collision); plus annual engine updates to meet emission requirements in various markets. Running changes introduced on other models such as rack and pinion steering were installed onto the Camargue at the same time, so it was always updated with new engineering features. However, cosmetic modifications were very much in the minority during its production life span, although a customer could request as many extras as necessary when placing the order for a new car and the features would be fitted at the end of the production cycle in a specially commissioned Special Features Department.
During 1978 the Company carried out a re-appraisal of all the various models and build facilities, deciding to concentrate the entire building and testing of Camargue at Crewe. Since MPW had more than enough work in producing Corniche and Phantom VI bodies, as well as completing the finishing of these vehicles, it was decided to look for an alternative supplier to relieve MPW of the task of manufacturing the Camargue body. The one chosen was the company Park Sheet Metal based at Bedworth near Coventry. Also during the late months of 1978 Camargue, as well as Corniche cars, had a revised rear suspension fitted and the hydraulic systems were filled and operated by hydraulic system mineral oil (HSMO), which had a number of advantages over the other hydraulic oil, namely RR363, used on the other models. The main advantages with HSMO were: it did not absorb water; it had better lubrication properties; and it did not damage paintwork if accidentally spilled.
Production commenced with the building of two pre-production cars that were also used to certify that the revised specification conformed to legislation at the time in the USA. The two first chassis numbers, JRK50001 (completed 19 June 1978) was to certify compliance in California and JRK50002 (completed 31 August
1978) was to certify compliance in the remaining 49 States. After compliance was granted these two cars then became part of the Company experimental fleet and were used for other development work. The revised rear suspension was to be used on the Silver Spirit range when it subsequently arrived in 1980 and, by introducing it earlier on low volume models such as Camargue, any engineering or production concerns that may arise could easily be dealt with prior to mainstream production commencing.
The first production car with the revised rear suspension and filled with HSMO was chassis number JRH50085, which was actually built in 1979 (commenced build on 2 March and completed on 22 August). At that time a very limited number of Silver Shadow II cars were being built to commemorate what was then
the Company’s 75th anniversary (1904-1979). These selected cars were fitted with red interlocking RR badges to both the famous grille and also to the boot lid. It was decided that JRH50085 would also be fitted with such commemorative red badges and so it was unique as it was the only one built to enjoy this feature. A silver plaque was fitted inside the lid of the glove box to highlight the uniqueness of this particular car. This particular vehicle was one of the first to be fitted with the headlamp wash wipe system, with it being introduced onto all production cars some weeks later except those cars that were built for USA and Canada, which never had this feature. In actual fact three previously built cars for Sweden between 1977 and 1979 had it fitted, because from 1973 onwards it was a legal requirement in that country. After registration it was used by the then Company’s Group Managing Director David (now Sir David) Plastow. Today this vehicle could be termed as a ‘collector’s item’.
Between 1978 and the end of production in 1986, the Camargue changed little. However, a project was instigated to produce a Bentley turbocharged version. Plans and specifications were issued to commence production build, but a decision not to proceed was taken and instead it was decided for engineering and marketing reasons to install the turbocharged engine in the Bentley Mulsanne to create a further car in the Bentley range that came to be called the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo. A one-off Bentley Camargue was built for a customer in 1985. This car was not turbocharged but fitted with the standard V8 engine.
Two further prototypes were built based on the Silver Spirit underframe and also had a revised front end styling. Both these vehicles were referred to purely as ‘DZ5’ and ‘DZ6’. DZ5 was used to evaluate anti-locking brakes, but was sadly involved in an accident in early 1983 and deemed to be beyond repair. DZ6 was fitted with Silver Spirit USA specification headlights and many new interior features such as passive restraint seat belts and also fitted with a trip computer, but the decision was taken not to proceed with any further development work with the particular project this car was being used for, which subsequently rendered the vehicle surplus to engineering requirements. Rather than dispose of it, the car was handed over to the School of Instruction as a vehicle to be used for practical training purposes by approved dealer technicians who attended service courses at Crewe.
The final cars were built in late 1985 and completed during 1986. Of the last fourteen built, twelve special ones were built solely for the US market. They were all painted acrylic white with a white everflex covering to the roof, together with a red and white interior trim. The cars were festooned with many extras, which included a sophisticated in-car entertainment system, parking aids and a sensitive alarm system and a set of silver plated hip flasks to name but a few. A name plate was fitted to the right hand side of the boot lid with the engraved name ‘CAMARGUE LIMITED’. These cars were produced to celebrate eighty years of the sale of the first Rolls-Royce in the USA (in 1906) following the Honourable C S Rolls demonstrating one of the first Rolls-Royce cars in New York during October 1906. Although the twelve special cars were completed during 1986, their respective vehicle identification numbers (a new terminology replacing ‘chassis numbers’ – see below) reflected a 1987 model year. These twelve cars were the only Camargues built that actually had an external name plate fitted.
The very last two cars produced were built for Japan and the final one left the factory destined for the importers in Tokyo on Christmas Eve 1986 and so ended an eleven year production run. The price of the car at the cessation of production was £83,122 which had remained unchanged since 1981. As 24 years have now passed since the final cars were completed, the Camargue can now be referred to as a true classic car.
Change from Chassis Number to Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
Legislation from the USA, and adopted worldwide, deemed that from 1980 all new and existing models built should be identified by a seventeen digit VIN replacing all previous chassis number configurations. Although Rolls-Royce introduced this method on the Silver Spirit range of motor cars (the first being the 1980 model year) it was not until the 1981 model year that the Camargue was brought in line, thereby replacing the former eight digit chassis numbers (export cars up to 1980 and UK cars up to the end of 1979) and the ten digit chassis numbers (used on UK cars only during 1980).
As a footnote, although the final production car left Crewe in 1986 this was not the end of the story. As previously stated, DZ6 was used by the Company School of Instruction and in early 1992 it was handed to the Quality Engineering Workshop as purely a runabout vehicle and used by the writer and colleagues who worked in that particular department.
During the same year we were informed by the Car Distribution Manager that an Australian enthusiast on a visit to Crewe had spotted ‘DZ6’ and enquired about it and was obviously told it was an ex-experimental car now being used for alternative duties. An offer of around £15,000 was made for it on a ‘sold as seen’ basis. Information that the car was to be despatched ‘Down Under’ as soon as possible was given and the writer had the ‘honour’ of driving the very last Camargue to the car distribution centre know as ‘Car Bond’ and duly watched it loaded in a container for the voyage. It is interesting to record that exactly twenty years after the first car ‘D1’ was running, the very last (albeit also an experimental) car finally left Crewe and thereby consigning the Camargue to the history books.