Beaten By Hand, But Not A Beater: 1973 Rolls Royce Phantom VI Drophead by Frua – The End Of An Era Of Custom Coachbuilt Rollers

(first posted 7/11/2012)    Once upon a time, luxury car manufacturers like Rolls Royce only built the chassis, and the buyer would either select from a number of coach builders who already had designs for that particular car, or order a completely unique body. This all started to change in the late thirties, and accelerated after the war. But when RR switched over to unibody construction for their main car line, the 1965 Silver Shadow, that ended true custom coachwork. Unless of course, one was willing to use the limo-oriented Phantom VI chassis, which still had an old-school frame. One wealthy Swiss client decided in 1971 that he wanted to re-live the golden era with a unique RR drop-head, and commissioned Pietro Frua to design and build it. It took almost three years, and the result is less than perfect, but quite spectacular.

I can’t find exact dimensions for this yacht, but it’s big, and long, and tall (update: 23 feet long). It was commissioned in 1971 by an H.E. Consul Simon van Kempen (suitable name, no?), and the chassis was sent to the Garage de’l Athinee in Geneva, where it was completely hand built according to Frua’s design. At one point, the original front end was deemed by the patron to be too tall, and completely started over. There’s a very fascinating detailed account of its construction here.

If the Frua’s proportions seem a bit odd, keep in mind that this is what most Phantom VIs looked like: tall, narrow, and long.

That really comes across in a view of the Frua from the front.  Needs a bit of “wide-tracking” too. But what an imposing car. And van Kempen drove it for twenty years or more.  Got status?

Here’s a rear view. OK, you Clue Sleuths; from what car did Frua borrow those taillights?

Dashboard: true to the word.

Just the thing to take on a sightseeing excursion in the Swiss Alps. On second thought, some of the tighter hairpin curves in Stelvio Pass and such might be a bit of a challenge.

Strictly speaking, the van Kempen Frua wasn’t the very last RR custom drophead, as the basic design was re created in a four door version that was started in 1977 and not finished until 1992, well after Frua died. It was originally conceived of a Sedanca DeVille, but was modified into a full drophead. But it’s more of a parade/show off/collector-mobile, than the daily-driver two-door. That era really did end with van Kempen’s car.