Koehn is clear that the company would have no problem building more of its cars in Goodwood – where final assembly takes place – though doing “real heavy engineering” was never in the remit of the deal signed between Rolls-Royce and its Sussex landlord, Lord Charles March. “We would have loved to move the body-in-white operation to Goodwood,” he says, “but we couldn’t find e-coating facilities to take such big bodies.” He also hints that, although the latest turbocharged Rolls V12 continues to be made in Germany, several UK firms are interested in the task. ‘Bent 12s’ are in decline in BMW’s cars, he explains, and Rolls has become the group’s centre of excellence for them.
A walk through the factory shows how logically the spaceframe is built up like a Meccano set, the lack of unnecessary curves belying the complexity of the design, which is intricately designed to crumple elegantly in a crash. Components are welded where big strength is needed and rivets and adhesive are used for lighter duty joints, especially where welding would distort the work.
At the end, a completed chassis has its various joining points carefully milled for an hour before it accurately joins the body. Panel gaps are measured and monitored as if they were components of a Swiss watch.
Then comes the body, a true work of art. Welding is kept to a minimum for distortion reasons, but there’s one unavoidable 30cm weld necessary on the C-pillar so vital that it is carried out by hand-picked technicians who are the stars of the show.
“There are places we really have to keep the craftsmanship,” says Koehn, “and these are the guys to do it.” It takes as much time and money, someone tells me, to fix a Phantom Mk8 roof in place as it does to make an entire Mini bodyshell.
“To make this entire system work,” says Koehn, “you start with the volume – let’s say around 4000 cars a year. And of those, about 500 to 600 are Phantoms. You soon find that there are surprisingly few components you can share with BMW but, of the parts we need, many will be in Rolls-Royce models for years to come. We can order, say, 70,000 dashboard eyeball vents, knowing we’ll use them for years to come.”
Koehn specialises in deals with smaller, highly skilled and often family run businesses, citing an Italian supplier called Marco, which he knows well. Marco’s castings business employs the same techniques for Ferrari and Lamborghini engine parts as for structural parts of a Phantom chassis.
We wander along in Koehn’s wake, every stop yielding a story, then fall to discussing which parts will be common in the Rolls-Royces of the future, and which will need to be flexible. The ‘fixed’ bits include the front and rear strut towers, the rear subframe, the crash-absorbing front and rear longitudinals, and the mountings for fuel tank and seats, among other things.