What it looks like inside the Rolls-Royce factory

You'd like your new car to have seats made of alligator skin, a microwave oven, 21 coats of your personalised paint hue, a timber dashboard made from what used to be your favourite tree before you decided it would look better in your car, and a roof lining designed to resemble the star-cape over Tumbarumba on the night you were born?

No problem at all, sir, and welcome to the Rolls-Royce factory, a place where even the most absurd dreams come true.

A British heritage

This remarkable facility, plodded in the middle of some suitably resplendent English meadows near Goodwood in England, produces just 4000 works of motor-vehicular grandiosity each year.

Each remarkable Rolls-Royce starts its life at a BMW factory in Dingolfing, Germany, where the enormous bodies are made. BMW owns Rolls-Royce these days, but it's wise enough to know that the brand would lose its very English lustre if the bulk of the work wasn't still done in the Old Country.

While tourists are welcome to visit VW's vast operation, only the lucky few – people willing to spend a million dollars or more buying one, mainly – get to visit the hushed halls of the Rolls dream factory.

Sanctified halls

It's almost eerily quiet inside the factory's giant halls, in fact, and the humans within seem to be working at a painstaking pace.

"It might not look like it, but they're moving at full speed," our guide whispers.

A lot of extras goes into a car like the luxurious Phantom, of course, which is why it weighs an astonishing 2.5 tonnes. What's more astonishing, though, is how much goes on each vehicle, with a staggering 45kg of paint and lacquer creating a deep, lush look that sparkles like diamonds in the sun.

The process – each car gets at least seven coats of paint and two of clear lacquer, but you can demand as many as 21 coats – is the one job in the factory that's carried out by robots, because humans get all sniffy about working in the airless vacuum of the paint shop, apparently. The tricky bits, like the unique, paint-brushed character line along the side of each Rolls, are still done by hand.


As for the colour, the company will let you create, and name, your own, and will promise never to use that particular shade on anyone else's car, ever. For a fee, of course.

The ultimate bespoke

One owner was so attached to his recently departed dog that he brought in some of its hairs and had the paint technicians recreate its particular coppery brown for his whole Phantom.

Personalisation, or making your car bespoke as they prefer to call it, is what Rolls-Royce is all about (that and cars that offer a unique "waft"-like ride, and the kind of silent cabins that turn the world outside your windows into a frantic-looking mime performance).

The company recently delivered a fleet of gold-plated cars to a casino owner, and in another case built a microwave oven into the back  for a Japanese customer who likes his sake served warm.

You don't just get leather seats, either, you choose the animal you want them made from, anything that's not on the endangered list is fair game, and alligators, moose, ostrich and kangaroo have all been used before.

Organic and mechanic

Most people are happy enough with the hides of between 11 and 15 top-quality bulls (boy cows have fewer stretch marks, apparently), who are grown in special paddocks with no sharp fences for them to prick their precious skins on. That's how many go into just a single vehicle.

While most car companies have done away with the lovely feel and texture of genuine timber in their car interiors – partly because it can splinter and injure people in a crash, and partly because fake wood is so much lighter and cheaper – yet Rolls allows you to chop down your own tree and drag it in. It has to be a big one, though, because they'll only make your car's interior from one, so that all the grain matches perfectly.

Their clever engineers solved the splintering risk by coming up with a method of making a veneer of 60 layers of wood and aluminium, which they bake for for three days, to make sure it won't shatter.

Perhaps the most mind-boggling example of this obsessive compulsion with detail, and flair for the extravagant, is the Starlight Headliner.

Light in the darkness

This over-the-top-of-you feature uses swathes of optic fibre cables to provide the sensation of stars above your head in the cabin of your Rolls.

Among the many craftsmen and women in the factory, the incredibly deft and delicate-handed women who create these roofs are the most amazing to watch.

It takes three months of training to be allowed to work on the sewing of stars, which involves hand drilling no fewer than 1340 holes and then sewing the optic fibres into each hole by hand and gluing them in place.

Maps of the heavens

Adding to the level of difficulty is that every Starlight Headliner is different, because buyers are invited to choose the look of their night sky; southern or northern hemisphere, a favourite cluster, a zodiac sign, or even the sky as it looked on the night they were born.

This means the star ladies must follow a very detailed map and, because stars all twinkle with different brightness, each optic fibre has to be cut or angled just right to produce the required effect.

It's a task of almost infinite complexity, but the women who do it maintain a chipper English cheeriness throughout, as do all of the staff in this factory of the implausible.

It might only produce 4000 cars a year, but every single one of them is a creation the workers are justly chuffed with. Not to mention their owners.

Check out the gallery above to see what it looks like inside Rolls-Royce's dream factory.

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