Even the best artisans have their off days. But when the chef overcooks the fish or the concert pianist hits the wrong key, the mistake is usually limited to a small audience. When the gaffe is committed by an architect, an engineer or an industrial designer though, the consequences are on a different scale.
Examples are plentiful, from the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge to the Tupolev 144. But maybe the folks who designed those two particular catastrophes were not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. But when we’re talking about England’s most prestigious carmaker and Italy’s most talented styling house end up co-laying a massive egg (still in its box, apparently), the mind boggles.
For let us not put all of the blame on PininFarina. Rolls-Royce could always have refused the design and called upon someone else – or tried to do it in-house. And they did more than their fair share of missteps during the whole process.
My personal problem, which of course is on a completely different scale, is that this will be the fourth CC post on the Camargue, including a masterful design analysis penned by the incomparable Don “Il Dottore” Andreina and a very thorough piece by JohnH875. So attempting to write something novel on this car will be devilishly challenging.
But let’s start with the Italian side of this tragi-comedia dell’arte. Turin and Crewe were not exactly strangers: the carrozzeria had designed a number of specials on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis back in the day. The four-seater Bentley Cresta even made enough of a splash to be produced in small quantities by Facel, in a complicated Anglo-Franco-Italian arrangement. But otherwise, these remained one-off oddities.
PininFarina’s appetite for Crewe-made chassis cooled somewhat – or perhaps it was just the times that were changing – when suddenly, out of the blue, a well-heeled individual approached the coachbuilder with a desire for a bespoke two-door on the new T-Series platform. Many sources attribute this car to Paolo Martin, who joined PF in 1967. It had been a well over a decade since anything so exotic had been seen bearing a Bentley grille. Crewe perked up.
The Bentley ’68 special (top left) had been designed in the dying days of privately-funded one-offs. Orders like it, or the 1970 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 coupé (top right), were now few and far between. But they foreshadowed what the PF designers were aiming at for their production cars, too. The Fiat 130 coupé (1971, bottom left) and the Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 (1972, bottom right) blatantly share the Mercedes’ roofline / C-pillar and, with some detailing differences, all four of the cars above have similar rear ends. To be entirely fair, the jury is out on the true author of the Benz (at least, I’ve not been able to get 100% proof) and the Ferrari was signed PininFarina, but was designed by Fioravanti, not Martin. The late ‘60s / early ‘70s flavour was beyond the purview of any single designer, as was usually the case at PininFarina.
Paolo Martin designed the Camargue in 1970, so it’s only natural that the Rolls’ hind quarters bear a family resemblance. And I must agree with my esteemed CColleague and erstwhile biscuit aficionado Professore Andreina: the three-quarter rear is easily the Camargue’s best angle. Chiefly because from this end, you could think that the front might look like the Fiat 130 or the Bentley Special.
But of course it doesn’t. The front end of the Camargue, which was difficult to capture on the one I found so I’ll just put this pre-1980 UK-spec factory photo here instead, was a famously botched affair. And Paolo Martin tried his best, but there was just no way to square the circle – or integrate that massive chrome grille into a cohesive whole. There are a lot of things wrong with this end of the car, but I would rather direct you to Don’s aforementioned post, which expatiates upon these issues with unparalleled panache.
It is worth going back to the drawing board, literally. These initial sketches look much better-proportioned than the final result. Thinner bumpers are one thing, but the one detail that sticks out is that grille. It’s much less intrusive. Because it’s a Bentley – yes, the Camargue should have been born with a winged “B” and a toned down schnozz. And that would have helped, but the folks at Crewe probably never considered it.
So let’s look at the English element, a.k.a. the Dark Side of the Farce. Rolls-Royce felt that they could make a few bucks by re-bodying the Silver Shadow in a swanky new Italian-tailored suit and putting a price tag on it that would make Mercedes drool with envy. It just had to be a Rolls, too: the Bentley marque was barely alive by that point. Even though the Continental name and heritage were just sitting there, unused…
Never mind. The Rolls-Royce boys pulled the trigger and PininFarina delivered. In metric. How that was a problem exactly is somewhat unclear to me, as surely Rolls-Royce had known about the metric system beforehand and, presumably, were able to translate the Italian house’s centimeters in the blueprints into good old feet and inches for Mulliner-ParkWard to manufacture the bodies.
But whatever. The other issue was that Rolls-Royce went bust in 1971. That was a long time coming and did not really involve the automobile side, which was profitable. The aero-engine side was the problem, and had to be separated from the car business. That delayed the new car’s start, which had been penciled in for late 1972, by a couple years at least.
No biggie. As previously stated, the obvious “Bentley Continental” moniker having been thrown to the wayside, a novel name was now needed to impart how exceptionally endowed with culture and good taste the owner of the new R-R coupé is compared to those alphanumerically challenged Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari owners. So they went with Camargue, which is a marsh on the French Riviera. It’s much nicer than it sounds. But how does it sound, by the way? Most non-Francophones were left scratching their guttural “Rs” trying to make sense out of this name. It’s “Cam-Arrgh,” if you didn’t know. Trust me. I’ve actually been there.
Seventy-five. That’s the year when the Camargue finally can out and, in percentages, how much of the production went to the US. Apparently, the Japanese version was virtually identical to the US one, in that it kept the Silver Shadow’s engine specs and twin SUs. Other climes were provided with a single Solex that (according to period articles anyway) provided an extra 10-15% of power from the 6.75 litre V8. But given that the exact hp numbers were, famously, never communicated to the outside world, we’re just going to have to take their word for it.
And in return, they took your money. Quite a lot of it, in fact: the equivalent of eight Cadillac Coupes de Ville. Heck, even the Silver Shadow, which was the same contents wrapped in a more practical and prettier package, cost half as much as the Camargue. It’s surprising that they still managed to shift something between 525 and 534 units (no one seems to coalesce around a specific number) in eleven model years.
Did they try anything to turn this sow’s ear into something slightly more Vuittonesque? What didn’t they try! The unnecessary chrome trim under the greenhouse was disposed of circa 1980, but that’s one of the few noticeable production changes that were actually implemented. Other than that, Hooper and Jankel attempted to make specials but went nowhere; one client actually specified (and got) a Bentley grille and Mulliner-ParkWard (above) gave a car some square eyes just to see if that fixed anything (it didn’t). The only mod that caught on was chopping the roof off, which apparently was done to about ten cars over the years.
So who is more to blame in the Camargue’s fiasco? Well, some details, taken in isolation, actually look pretty good. But there is nothing that really prepares you for the sheer bulk of the Camargue. It’s massive. It’s too damn big for its own good. The same Silver Shadow floorpan was used by the same carrozzeria in the one-off ’68 Bentley and the result then was decent enough. And that’s on PininFarina. Rolls-Royce, for their part, should have seen the danger and protected their ass(ets) by designating the car a Bentley, which would have at least made the front end less hideous and the name more pronounceable. On balance, the gravest errors were perhaps more Italian than British, but only by a few metric measurements.
Curbside Classics: Two Out Of Three Camargues, by Don Andreina
Curbside Classic: 1981 Rolls Royce Camargue – Much Ado About Nothing?, by JohnH875
Cohort Capsule: Rolls Royce Camargue – A Gorgeous Flop, by Perry Shoar
The 130 Coupe is what the Camargue should have looked like. Use a cut down RR grill, somewhat like the contempory Lagona sedan. The angular RR grill works better than the curved top section of the Bentley.
I always thought that these cars looked like a rich person’s, well, VERY rich person’s attempt at emulating a poor person’s VW Beetle with a faux Rolls-Royce grille.
That is, it appears to be a Fiat 130 with a Rolls-Royce grille hung on it. I would rather have the better looking Fiat.
And no mention of the wheels? Those wheels (wheel covers) look like Wal-Mart rejects.
Wheels. As fitted to 80s? 90s? Silver Spirits and (sadly) Corniches.
That is one fugly car. ’nuff said.
The odd thing about this is that while it´s a design flop, it´s a charming car, like the Jaguar XJ-S which is also a mish mash of elements. While I would not have planned a car like this, I am glad it happened as it´s an interesting example of a design which fails to achieve homegeneity. As an ownership proposition, it has a quirky appeal.
The car also shows up Pininfarina´s inability to design for the customers and instead often make a car that re-uses existing and often inappropriate styling themes from the time.
Well done for finding one.
Oh yes, I like this thought, even without liking the car much.
Ofcourse, the inelegant final result arising from the general confusion involved in its conception might still resemble one of those over-funded granite tombstone memorials passing by, but such oddness has indeed become charming now it is old.
How nice of you to have returned, Mr Baum!
You were missed. Be careful, we’ll aim better next time.
Something about the look of the rear facia practically screams “73 Ford Maverick”…not really the best direction to take for a Rolls Royce if you ask me…?
It appears screaming “73 Ford Maverick” may have been a thing for British luxury car makers back in the day.
Yes. And the tailights look like screwed on afterthoughts; no attempt to integrate them into the real panel at all.
Didn’t notice the maverick look of the tail lights… my thought of the rear 3/4 view was the trunk looks like a 77 caprice or 78 Malibu with Vega tail lights.
Coach-built design at times goes hideously wrong…
It seems the Camargue rehashing the Fiat 130 was just a sequel to the Silver Shadow rehashing the Peugeot 403.
I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned that it looks a bit like a ’77 Chevy Impala coupe.The three quarter view of the tail lamp panel, decklid and rear quarter panel. Maybe not the rear window. It’s not like it’s a twin, but that’s the vibe I get. I do like the interior. That 1948 Cresta, what a beauty, that was worth the money.
I saw the downsized Impala in the rear 3/4 view also. In fact, in one of the front 3/4 shots, if I squint and imagine dual headlights rather than quads, and shrink the grille, I see …. Chevy Vega.
I blame RR more than PF. They’re the ones that specified the hard points, including the high cowl. I’m quite certain the ’68 Bentley PF coupe had a lower cowl.
The front end isn’t the only problem by far. The body sits too far back on its wheels: not enough overhang in the front, and the rear wheels are also a bit too far forward, making it look like one of those NHRA funny cars. And the massing in the rear is just too great.
RR was the client, so if they weren’t happy they could have asked for changes. But it seems this is what they asked for and got. It’s not like this just showed up in the mail one day, without a return address.
Is it missing its engine, or is it an air suspension issue?
Probably they swapped in a 659cc turbo Daihatsu triple.
Or LS swapped it with a Tennessee droop. (I think that’s what it’s called)
The whole car is odd looking. I wonder if it was a response to RR’s rather stale (timeless?) styling at that point. They had not really changed in quite a while and thus perhaps it was something different for the sake of being different. Except the grill – that had to be the same to its overall downfall.
I can’t imagine ever seeing someone driving one of these and not immediately associating it with “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
The thought of someone paying the price of entry into one of these eyesores is cause for scorn and ridicule in my mind.
Common sight in Belfast city centre in mid seventies as a leading jeweller bought one and serenely went out for lunch in it. Bearing in mind most of Belfast City centre was in various state of ruin thanks to the IRA, it was quite a surreal sight.
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we
are. They are different.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
I think I can sum that up in a word: “Entitled”.
I don’t understand why so much hate is piled upon the Camargue. In my opinion, it’s much better looking than the current piles of $hit being peddled to the tasteless 1% by Rolls Royce.
I’m genuinely curious about your reasons for calling the current ones piles of $hit?
I agree – the Camargue looks so much better than modern R/Rs. I’d love to have one.
I’m genuinely curious about your reasons for calling the current ones piles of $hit?
That Rolls–or any other–would look GREAT sitting in my driveway.
It’ll never happen, of course.
In the front view, admittedly at an awkward angle, it resembles a 1963 Jeep Wagoneer.
The square head lights take away some of the bug eyed look of the round ones, and (IMO) is an improvement; but that tail panel is just sad! When these first came out, I thought they were somewhat awkward looking, and surprise, I still do!
I have to say the Camargue has not aged well. It looks more awkward and homely now than when I saw it as a new car. They were so rarely encountered that I didn’t have much of an impression at the time. I have only seen one and it was a convertible. In a metallic copper with buckskin leather interior it looked Okay.
Chevrolet did a better job carrying off this design. Was someone at Chevy design consciously emulating the Camargue? Probably not. The Chevy is arguably the better car if you consider reliability and ease of service important. You could also say that you get more value for your dollar/pound but that isn’t really a consideration for Rolls/Bentley buyers.
What I’m driving at here is that you could take a Chevy and redo it to look more Rolls and less Chevy. Begin with a complete interior upgrade. You would have to work out some restyling details. The rear could remain essentially the same but install a nicer bumper. The front would be the challenge. How would you address the lights, grill and bumper?
What would PF done if presented with the Chevrolet?
Would this be a colossal waste of time? Absolutely! Is it worth doing? Yes it is.
Let me add more gratuitous criticism, the expression “looks like a beached whale” applies here. This poor beast has been stuffed into an apartment house carport that is too small for it. This just makes it look more bloated. The color only makes it worse. Pontiac has a similar color around 1965 called “Metallic Lavender”. On a 65 GTO it looked great. Here it looks like something dead or meat that has spoiled. I recoil in horror.
On the other hand I’m sure you could sell this in a former Soviet satellite to some oligarch, politician or criminal chieftain. It has the right sort of unapologetic brutal styling to carry that off.
That´s an interesting excercise for a PhotoShop guru to undertake. With a bit of skill and some tailoring, the Caprice could easily be the basis for a Rolls Royce as in the basic design could be made into a Rolls and it would/could look entirely believable. It´s big enough and has the right proportions. For the interior, a version of the Silver Spur interior would fit right in: wood and leather with wood and leather and chrome on top.
I was raised in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s and saw a far amount of these.
I loved Rolls and Bentley and was always disappointed whenever one of these went by.
I think it is absolutely gorgeous, especially since having seen a couple of them live and also been sitting in one (a moss green, very 1976-ish). I don’t share this criticism ever going on at this car at all, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It may look a bit like a giant Audi 80 of the first front wheel-drive generation – which, by the way, is a very good looking car.
“Dark Side of the Farce” – LOL