(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.
Looks like an oversized Fiat with a chrome grill. :/
Wow. Even in the context of the early 1970’s, that’s hideous.
From the side, it is absolutely stunning. From any other angle, not so much.
Wow! It’s insane, but in a good way. That convertible top boot doubles as a car cover for your Mini.
Hey Paul, headline typo “Dropehead”. Unless the wealthy client was a “Ropehead”.
I seriously doubt it. Swiss ropehead: an oxymoron?
hmmmm,its kinda fabulas isnt it
I like it. Definitely need the wide whitewalls for the full effect. I wonder what the Frua version cost in ’73. A regular Rolls probably around $ 30K. I’d guess in the $ 50K range. Only for the rich and famous, in an era when a Cadillac cost $ 7-10K.
Love the 70’s mint green. The white roof and WWW’s with the white (or biscuit) interior really contrasts nicely. The elderly patriarch in the town where I grew up had a (74?) XJ12 in the same shade. About 20 years ago, I can recall his fueling up one day, and the pump attendant basically kissing his A–.
I would guess it cost several times that. This project took two years of continual work by the shop. No way to compare it to an assembly-line built Silver Shadow.
$50K would be the deductible on collision insurance.
Damn, nice to be rich…
Looks great from certain angles, although the ridiculously narrow track makes it look silly head-on. Too bad, because aside from that and a few minor details, I love it – and I’m definitely not the world’s biggest Rolls’ fan.
Taillights look like W108 Benz pieces, although I have a feeling they’re not!
I didn’t bother to look for dimensions of this convertible, but the standard limousine is 2010mm / 79.1″ wide with front track width of only 1546mm / 60.9″ and rear 1626mm / 64″. The height alters your perspective when used to ‘normal’ cars too – 1750mm / 68.9″. Likewise the height of the 8.90S x 15 tires – taller than most CUV’s today.
I expect the Frua car is significantly wider than standard. Also note how tight the wheel arch openings are – even at static ride height there needs to be some ‘freeboard’ to allow the wheels to turn.
Having said that I don’t think it hurts for this car to exist in the world, you just need to be in the frame of mind of the Thunderbirds FAB1 or think of it as the ultimate Camargue. That last shot in the snow is stunning, partly because it minimises the ridiculous length
Makes it look.like an oversized pedal car. and that rear over hang ..man..
It looks like someone gave Chuck Barris two days to cobble together Britt Reid’s daytime ride for the old “Green Hornet” TV show.
“Drive away, Kato!”
You beat me to it.
You meant George Barris, right? That is, unless the “Gong Show” host had some previously-unknown mad customizing skills.
No, Chuck was the right Barris.
If THAT ugly thing came across a car auction ramp floor…it would get “gonged”.
You would have to pull an “Unknown Comic”, and hide your face, if you don’t want to get laughed at while driving that oddball.
Frua was truly inspired …. by the prior appearance of this, that is …
Ha! What’s the date of that?
I’ve never been a huge fan of Frua, although he did some nice work on the Glas coupes and a few other things.
Lady Penelope’s FAB 1 first appeared in 1965. The Wikipedia entry notes that two full-sized replicas were built, the first on a Bedford bus chassis, and the second — after protests from Rolls-Royce — on a Silver Spirit base adapted to handle the double steering.
I’m afraid I missed that show. Too bad!
The replica is fab indeed.
Presumably the same type of Bedford bus featured in the Italian Job movie
THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!
Ha, exactly what I was thinking! 🙂
I like it. That last photo is great, and captures the future-modern front really well. Not often I can actually say I like a RR for the design.
Ah Im not the only one who’d seen that grille treatment before awesum beast but shouldve had wider tyres on it.
… oh, and by the Citroen SM’s taillights
We have a winner!
Wow–great call! Just as I was about to definitively post “Peugeot 604”. Other than a Maserati Merak I’ve never seen any other car use SM parts.
Awesome. I’m late to this party, but I was going to guess Maserati Kyalami. They could be the same units as on the Citroen.
I think that you are probably right about the tail lights…
Those are Citroen SM taillights. I had only a vague idea that led me to look at Peugeots, then Mercedes. Then I thought, what else was in Frua’s shop? Web says an SM-based concept car.
Aargh!!!!! Posted while I posted!
This ark is nauseating. “Beaten by hand” holding ugly stick. I had to go look at that pretty Peugeot 504 to restore calm.
Think of it as a Swiss-Italian Bugazzi.
Either that or Les “Superfly” Dunham once had a branch office in Geneva.
Seriously: TWENTY-THREE FEET long? On a TWO-door? When even the record-holding production four-door — the ludicrous 1958-60 Lincolns — still stopped short of the 20-ft mark? Just look at that rear overhang: “Honey, does this designer coachwork make my butt look like Liechtenstein?”
This car’s only possible rival for megalomaniacal excess:
Looks like 3 people worked on it, one for the front end, one for the back end and one for everything else and no one was allowed to see the others work until it was finished.
riddiculas ,ostentatious..but ultimately completely fabulas,we will never see the likes of cars like this again..and the world is a poorer place for it.
Cruela de Ville would approve, but she would want more fur and leather in the interior…….
Dalmationhyde upholstery is definitely in order.
Great post, Paul! Where did you get the pics of the green RR?
I stumbled unto it while doing a google image search for something totally different; serendipity. But if you google 1973 RR Frua, several links come up. I got the pics from two or three sites; on being an ad for the car when it was for sale a few years back.
I’ve long been fascinated by this car. How can you start with a Rolls Royce, send it to a coachbuilder (whose SOLE PURPOSE IN LIFE IS TO MAKE BEAUTIFUL CARS) throw so much money at it, and end up with something so ill-proportioned? It’s a much greater sin than when someone takes a regular vehicle and splatters it with bling.
I just don’t get it. It should’ve been magnificent.
I still think rectangular headlights on a Rolls-Royce look ridiculous and cartoonish, even today, but especially in 1973.
A Rolls Royce Brougham, if there was ever one…
The main problem with the dimensions is that they used a Phantom which is a 7 passenger limousine, like the kind the Queen rides around it, so yeah, it suffers from that big framed car with a regular style car body on it, imagine and Eldorado based on a Fleetwood hearse commercial chassis.
You know a car is big when Americans are saying it’s too big! Ref. Alexander of Hollywood’s comment above.
@cfclark – rectangular headlights were modern styling back in the early 70’s, and I don’t think that round headlights would work with the overall style of the front end of this car. As to whether that style actually works, that’s another question, but it is certainly ‘of its time’.
It also has the short doors of non-coupe body. Nothing throws a 2-door car off balance like having stubby sedan doors.
Exactly, it ruins the whole car.
It also needs some nice dual exhaust pipes instead of that horrible skinny angled thing. A suitable arrangement would be how Chrysler used to have their exhausts more inboard, rather than close to the sides of the car.
Glad it was built though, its almost beautiful.
Exactly. Like a Morris Marina.
When your ultra-exxy super-high-end coachbuilt car invites comparison with a Marina, you might have problems!
Impressive feat, but ooohhh that front! The bumper guards can’t possibly have been meant to be angled like that – in contrast to the negative-cambered wheels (is that a Rolls chassis or a Twin-I-Beam Ford truck?)
And then there’s the (Fiat 130 coupe?) headlights, so much potential for ’70s showcar cool, squandered by the disharmony between the strictly rectangular chrome outlines and the slightly bowed-out openings.
Looking at the front my first thought was Fiat 130 headlights too. And then I thought if I can recognise Fiat 130 headlights I really need to get out more… 😉
I am r, w & a to buy a car like this: The burgendy one with the following comment:
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.
What is the absolute minimum you’ll take? This will be a all cash deal. Please advise
No cash, but Paul’s always up for a trade for the right fullsize ’71 Ford!
Bespoke hand-built, custom coachwork craftsmanship demands thoughtful, tasteful design paying particular attention to proportions. Frua may have had a good feel for smaller, sporty cars but absolute failed with such a gigantic chassis to cloth. Shame the last of its kind is monstrosity.
I’m glad that van Kempen got what he wanted, but jeez…instead of commissioning Frua to build one, wouldn’t it have just been easier to go out and buy a ’65 Olds 88?
Image source: oldcarbrochures.com
Thats exactly what I was thinking! The minute I saw the side view with that ridiculously long trunk and rear overhang, I thought 65 Oldsmobile!
Gah!, My eyes, my eyes!!!
Looks like a typical 70’s pimpmobile with the wide whitewalls and rectangular headlights.
I love these two Rollers. Love. Them.
I keep trying to work it out: Wheelbase lengthened by 8″ all at the rear, axles widened by 8″, tires 3cm wider, body height reduced by 4″…… And no, it just doesn’t work. It’s hopeless. And I so want to love it somehow.
Although, aside from the too-narrow track, the rear view is stunning. For whatever that may be worth.
I does not like.
Wow, nice find, Paul, although not exactly to my taste! I missed it when you first published it but here are some details you may be interested in:
– this yacht was actually not assembled in Geneva but at Frua’s Moncalieri workshop near Turin. The Garage de l’Athénée was merely the RR dealership it was purchased from and they acted as focal point during assembly. The story you linked to on rrab.com has all the story on that with some hilarious details about (mis-)communication between the strictly English-speakers at RR and the strictly Italian-speakers at Frua with Garage de l’Athénée sitting in the middle and trying to help out with spare parts from their stock and translations of parts lists into …German!
– Garage de l’Athénée is an institution in Geneva. Founded in 1946, it’s been the dealership of choice for the rich and famous to this day. It was originally located in the city center (near the Athénée concert hall, hence its name) but moved to its current location near the airport in 1963 (less than a mile away from where I live). They were *the* Rolls-Royce dealership in western Switzerland for over 60 years, finally losing this status in 2008 when they must have been forced to choose between Bentley and RR and retained the former.
– From what I gather, His Excellency (that’s what H.E. stands for) Simon van Kempen was honorary consul of Monaco in Switzerland. It is not uncommon for (especially smaller) countries to appoint a wealthy individual as honorary consul rather than having a career diplomat as a consul, to whom they have to pay a salary… Mr van Kempen seems to have enjoyed that status so much that he had the Monaco coat of arms affixed to the right hand end of the dashboard. There is a shot showing this (copied below) and other details in this article: https://www.classicdriver.com/en/article/cars/one-rolls-royce-phantom-vi-consul
– while the consul drove the car for some 400’000 km (250’000 miles), it was apparently being serviced at Schmohl garage in Zurich (another celebrity shop) and this article in Auto Motor und Sport has some interesting details about how it would eat brakes, shocks and the like and how it received en engine upgrade from 6.3 l to 6.75 l: http://www.auto-motor-und-sport.de/fahrberichte/rolls-royce-phantom-im-fahrbericht-sechseinhalb-meter-cabrio-von-pietro-frua-1103380.html
– Based on his name, Simon van Kempen would have been originally Dutch or Belgian rather than Swiss.
I didn’t quite find it; in the flesh, that is. I stumbled into it on the web somewhere. There would be a CC prefix (“Curbside Classic”, CC Outtake”, etc) in the headline of all of the cars that any of us find and shoot ourselves. But we don’t only limit ourselves to that all the time.
Thanks for the additional info, details and links. Quite a story all the way around. And one from a rather different era.
As a few others have said: looks like what you would get if you wanted to build a “pimpmobile” for a member of the British aristocracy.
The front and back ends both look like they were chopped off just before the car was finished, as if they suddenly realized the car exceeded some laws for passenger car length.
The front MIGHT have looked a bit better (IMHO) if the bumper had gone straight across instead of dropping in the middle to…..emphasize that classic grille? While the rear styling puts me in mind of those motorhomes that use passenger car tail lights that don’t look like they fit in with the overall styling of the vehicle they are used on.
Overall, this reminds me of that “custom-built” 2nd generation Monte Carlo that graced the front cover of an issue of Car&Driver in the mid 70s…..but only if they had added about 5 feet at each end.
Google Car&Driver and The Custom Cloud for story and photo of front cover for….not sure which month, in 1976, March 1976, I believe.
Story and pictures are also available at http://www.coindispenser.com (if my phone can be trusted.
Apparently, the tall grille was insisted upon by the owner. And that was one of the many clashes between owner and designer. Frua wanted a lower grille, the owner insisted on retaining the original Phantom VI grille. The proportions of the car are way off, because it’s designed around that grille. And it couldn’t be crossed by the bumper, it had to be shown in all its glory. Thus the compromise. And I think that counts for many of the other compromises, the owner simply wanted the car his way, and he was prepared to go at extreme length to get it so. I’m not sure Frua wanted the end result to look as compromised, but he wasn’t the one paying either.
Reminds me of this.
A friend of mine had the Phantom VI with James Young bodywork. Maybe old fashioned, but looked a lot more elegant, to say the least
Where do you start when thinking about the unhappy details?
Looks like a car Santa Claus would drive. The last picture with the snowy landscape and the red feature above the driver’s head inspired that thought — and my heart agreed.
The track/width is too narrow… and I’d never though I’d say this, but the wheelbase and overall body are too long. It needs the back wheels up further and a much shorter trunk.
The track is way too narrow, and the wheel openings way to small. It just looks . . . awkward and strange. Was this the inspiration for all those pimp-mobiles of the ’70s?
This car is hideous.
It’s not bad from the side view, it looks rather American. I can live with the rest, but have to admit it brought to mind this monstrosity, the Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan….
In the first pic it looks like a Dart Swinger from the cowl back, with a nice stretch job out front in the manner of ’67+ Imperials. Viewed from the side or rear with the top down, it’s something else entirely. The interior is nice but nothing I haven’t seen in mid-price or entry-luxury British cars – your standard all-wood panel with lots of black gauges. Still, I miss this era of carbuilding which really dates to its very beginning, when former coach works companies that mad horse-drawn wagons were reorienting their designs for engine pull. Some of these combined and then got bought out by motor companies, which had no experience building bodies since they didn’t need to. Only by the 1910s did the notion of a fully packaged automobile, designed as a one piece unit, become the norm. Buggy manufacturers realized they had to start selling well-integrated cars, engines and all.
The two biggest issues I have with it are the short doors and the ‘floating’ headlights. I don’t get why the doors had to be so short. I mean, it’s a custom job (and a very expensive one, at that). Couldn’t Frua have made the doors long enough to match the long, long length?
Likewise, the headlight openings simply don’t match the rectangular headlights that went in. They really look half-assed and like a cheap kit-car, as if Frua was just winging it, making sure the openings were big enough to fit quad rectangulars and didn’t care about the freaking open area around the headlight lenses. Even the turn signal openings don’t match the lenses that went in. Truly unforgivable for what it must have cost to build this monstrosity.
I wonder if anyone who first saw this post has softened on their opinion of the car in the intervening decade. The money shot pic has to be of the open trunk… man, I would love to see that.
Nope, my opinion hasn’t softened. The real question is why Frua took the assignment after learning what the customer wanted. Sometimes you have to sacrifice some present money to keep your future reputation and future income.
I don’t like the car, but I do like the fact that someone commissioned a custom body, to their taste, for a RR. Expensive to be sure, but not compared to say a Learjet, let alone the super yachts of today which can run half a billion. Ostentatious perhaps, but not for the truly rich. Sure, money could be better spent, but it could be worst spent too. I just wish he had better taste in cars.
The side view brought to mind the infamous Holden Brougham, with its extended rear deck.
What a shame they didn’t shorten the chassis. I wonder whether Rolls-Royce could have been encouraged to supply a shorter-wheelbase chassis for this extravagance? With perhaps two feet off the rear overhang; this looks like it could carry a piano laying flat on its back.