Fux, a Cuban-American entrepreneur who has feathered his nest most luxuriously by selling mattresses on a king-sized scale, is so enamoured with the bespoke cars for which the British marque is renowned that he took delivery of his 11th example at last August’s Monterey Car Week. As with a number of his vehicles (he believes he owns around 160 of various makes), the Phantom in Fuxia is finished in his own personal paint. The colour is called Fux Intense Fuxia Pearl – just in case anyone should forget that it was created for him and him alone, after he was inspired by the petals of a purple bloom that was minding its own business in a (flower)bed at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours.
But according to Rolls-Royce communications boss Richard Carter, Fux is far from the only buyer to take serious advantage of the firm’s sky’s-the-limit personalisation service, which regularly pushes the price of a car into seven figures. “Rolls-Royce shuns mass-luxury ‘tick-box’ options in favour of bespoke creations that no other manufacturer can achieve,” he says. “Last year saw unprecedented demand for one-offs from buyers looking for cars with features that reflect elements of the high-end watches, superyachts, fine homes and private planes that are also part of their world.”
Among the individual, handcrafted cars that left the Goodwood factory in 2018 was a Phantom called Whispered Muse that used the model’s unique glass “gallery” (a transparent area running the length of the dashboard specifically designed to display artworks) to house an interpretation of the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot made from sculpted silk by a British artist. Other creations included a Black Badge Dawn built for Google executive Benjamin Treynor Sloss and featuring an intense blue/black and yellow colour scheme – inside and out – that was based on the Modenese flag; a Dawn that commemorated the Czech squadrons of the Royal Air Force (complete with Latin mottos on the doors and the representation of a Merlin aircraft engine stitched into the rear seat); and a version of the recently launched Cullinan SUV with a “viewing suite” comprising two rear-facing leather chairs and a cocktail table that emerge from the floor of the load area at the touch of a button.
Another British marque famous for recognising that “the customer is always right” when it comes to personalisation requirements is Bentley, the bespoke department of which operates under the name of Mulliner as a result of Rolls-Royce (which once owned Bentley) acquiring the HJ Mulliner & Co coachbuilding firm in 1959. Stefan Sielaff, Bentley’s director of design, says Mulliner is now busier fulfilling special requests than it has been since it ceased to produce handbuilt bodywork more than 60 years ago. “People buy a Bentley because they want a special car, but increasingly they want to make it even more special by individualising it to their own taste – and will often spend as much again as they paid for the car in order to do so,” he explains. “The Mulliner service has become so popular that we now have a dedicated ‘co-creation’ team of designers who work with owners to put together complete packages in order to add bespoke elements to the car, inside and out. We will do virtually anything they ask for, but while we are not there to judge taste, we do draw the line at anything politically or sexually incorrect.”
“Modern technology means we can create ‘colour to sample’ paints that are exactly the same shade as a favourite object, and trimming interiors in different materials is often no more difficult than using standard leathers,” adds Sielaff. He says other recent one-offs have included tweed and tartan upholstery for a car destined for an anonymous Scottish owner, and examples of the Bentayga SUV that have variously been equipped with boot-mounted units designed to hold falconry and fly-fishing paraphernalia.
Bentley also teamed up with gunmaker Purdey to create a Bentayga equipped with a beautifully crafted storage box featuring compartments for cartridges, knives and a first-aid kit – as well as for champagne flutes, hip flasks and a cigar case, cutter and lighter. “But there is still a lot more we can do,” says Sielaff. “One of the areas I have been asked to explore is the possibility of reviving coachbuilding at Mulliner, which would enable us to create complete, one-off bodywork designs.”
That’s already happening at Aston Martin, where the Q by Aston Martin bespoke division was formed in 2012. Initially publicised by word of mouth only, it added personal touches to just 60 cars during its first year of operation, a number that had grown to almost 300 by the end of 2018. The service comprises two divisions: Q by Aston Martin – Collection, which offers a range of special trim and paint options and other enhancements that can be added to the car while the specification is being chosen; and the more extreme Q by Aston Martin – Commission, which was launched in 2017 and enables an entirely bespoke car to be created from the ground up for a fee that can potentially exceed £10m.
“It is very much about providing a personal service and fulfilling a creative need,” says Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief creative officer, who oversees a dedicated Q team of around 25 specialists. “We are a group of experts providing a consultation service, just as a tailor or boat builder would do. We will travel anywhere in the world to meet a customer in order to discuss a project because the ability to personalise and tailormake is really key to the modern perception of luxury. We find that people like to make their cars bespoke because they often intend to keep them for a lifetime and therefore want them to be exactly right.”
And getting it “exactly right” is what the 106 customers who have put their names down for the 250mph, £2.1m McLaren Speedtail are currently being invited to do at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Woking, Surrey, where an entire team has been formed purely to help buyers decide how their cars should be finished when production begins later this year. The radical Ultimate Series Hyper-GT – which features a central driving position with a passenger seat either side, electrochromic glass that dims at the touch of a button and high-definition cameras instead of door mirrors – is described as “the most bespoke McLaren ever built” by Jo Lewis, the marque’s head of materials, who is responsible for anything on the car that might be touched or looked at.
“There is a standard specification, but it is very unlikely that anyone will choose it,” says Lewis. “We have developed a video tour configurator that makes it possible to choose the colours, finishes and materials for every part of the car and see them instantly displayed on a large screen. They can then be changed or minutely adjusted with the press of a button until the client is completely happy. By designing the car ‘live’ in this way, we can lock down the specification very quickly – a typical session covering interior and exterior usually lasts about three hours.”
In that time, buyers can choose such extreme options as having personalised images woven into carbon-fibre components, unique patterns punched into the car’s upholstery and paint finishes that look as though they are in a permanently liquid state. The car’s special Schedoni for McLaren luggage can also be made in the material and colour of the owner’s choice, while even the titanium Snap-On tool kit can be personalised with an engraving of the relevant chassis number.
At Jaguar Land Rover, meanwhile, the Special Vehicle Operations division, created in 2014, offers buyers of certain Range Rover and Jaguar models the chance to visit the SVO Technical Centre, where they can visualise their dream machine using radio-frequency identification, which reads colour samples and then projects an accurate representation onto an on-screen model. It is also possible to have personalised graphics laser-engraved onto door handles and footplates, or meticulously embroidered onto headrests.
But, according to Land Rover chief design officer Gerry McGovern, one of the strengths of SVO’s personalisation programme lies in being able to advise on what to omit as much as what to add. “By offering people the opportunity to curate a genuinely one-off vehicle, we’re reflecting the changing culture of the automotive world, specifically when it comes to meeting the expectations of high-level customers,” he says.
“Outside tuning companies have tinkered with Range Rovers for years, but they have generally done so with a complete lack of understanding for the brand and so they create a Frankenstein vehicle that does nothing to improve on the original car in any way. People don’t always appreciate that ‘bespoke’ is not about bolting on as many extra parts as possible – it’s about subtlety of design, about considered taste and, importantly, about knowing what to leave out,” he opines.
Such in-house personalisation services are not, of course, confined to UK manufacturers. Porsche has operated its Porsche Exclusive programme since 1986, promising to “let customers order a unique vehicle that meets all their special wishes” in terms of both styling and performance, while Ferrari has a history of offering its wealthy clients just what they want that dates from the 1950s, when virtually every car that left the Maranello works was automatically customised to suit the owner. Back then, however, the marque’s production was tiny compared with the 9,000 or so cars it makes today, some of which pass through the marque’s current Tailor Made personalisation programme. This enables owners to put a highly personal stamp on their already expensive purchase that, says the firm, could enhance its long-term investment potential.
Not everyone gets the chance to take advantage, however. Only a “limited number” of buyers can use the facility each year due to the fact that a dedicated personal designer is assigned to each Tailor Made client in order to lead them through a process that can often be long and complex. Because, let’s face it – there isn’t always a flower handy to provide inspiration…