8 July 2019

More than an old car #109: Rolls Royce Camargue

Recently, I found out about a classic car drive that was taking place during Hari Raya public holiday and naturally it piqued my interest. Mr V graciously let me be his passenger for the day and it was really interesting to see many classics that I was aware of in the flesh. Among the many beauties that caught my eye, this 1975 Rolls Royce Camargue was a car that I had wanted to see for quite some time!

The Camargue was developed by Pininfarina, the famed car design company responsible for producing Ferraris at that time, and was designed to be the replacement for the Corniche. It was unveiled in 1975, with the distinction of the most expensive car in the world at £30,000 – equivalent to around S$413,410 in today's money. Interestingly, it shares its name with the Camargue region in southern France. A main selling point of the Camargue was the advanced automatic split-level climate control system: it could blow cold air in your face and hot air at your feet. Though modern cars feature them currently, it was the first of its kind back then.

Although it was intended to be the flagship model of RR, it was ultimately let down by poor styling. The Camargue featured a rather large grille that did not help to accentuate its supposed classiness, as it had to accommodate the huge 6750 cc V8 engine. Furthermore, the bodywork was deemed too bloated and slab-like, making the rear wheels look smaller than it looked. Early drawings of the car depicted a smaller front, and something seemed to be lost when translating into reality.

As a result of its fancy air-con system, the Camargue was twice as expensive as the hot favourite 4-door Silver Shadow and 50% more compared to the Corniche: it was therefore hard to justify why the Camargue was better than its siblings. Furthermore, while it faced little rivalry in the luxury-car niche, other cars such as the Ferrari 400 or Cadillac Eldorado were cheaper and of better quality. It could reach a top speed of 190 km/h, weighed 2330 kg and was 5169 mm long.

Production of the Camargue ended in 1986 with 531 made, of which only 184 were in RHD. In a rare instance, RR was vulnerable to complacency and lack of market understanding, as purists derided its astronomical price and poor unique selling points. Even the Camargues available today suffer from a reduction in value in the classic car market.

According to the owner, this unit was recently imported from Hong Kong and he is the 3rd owner currently. He believes it is the only one in South-East Asia at the moment: apparently none were brought into Singapore when it was released. An estimated 400-450 units still exist and this particular one is unit number 29. He felt that this epitomises the 'gentlemen's coupe', like what James Bond would drive while chasing the baddies! While reliable, the parts are difficult to acquire partly because of their rarity.

Despite the disparaging labels tacked to it ("high-end lemon", "uncool and horrid"), it was certainly interesting to see it up close. It really imposes itself just like what a RR must do, and it must be a leap of faith for the owner to bring in an unconventional classic. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I heard a few others complimenting it too. Do keep an eye out for this pretty unique classic!

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