Automotive History Capsule: Rolls-Royce SX Proposal

Yesterday’s piece on the Camargue garnered a lot of query around a prototype Rolls-Royce it featured. It was hardly familiar to me as well, so I did a bit of digging. This is the SX, an in-house proposal for a downsized sedan prepared in the early 1980s.

In 1980, the SZ cars were released to market as the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit and Bentley Mulsanne. They were more massive and indelicate than their predecessors, but suited the times and were well received by the company’s clientele.

But the company now sat in the midst of a new type of economy; fuel prices and inflation.

A smaller model had been on and off the cards since the war. Blatchley’s Bentley Junior drew much from Evernden’s pre-war French-market Corniche in the face. In the early 1960s, desperation set in and a number of projects were commenced of cars based on BMC products. Thankfully, none were proceeded with and only the Vanden Plas 4 litre slipped through.

With a reduced-dimension package drawn up for project SX, Rolls-Royce consulted with stylists Tom Karen and Giorgetto Giugiaro in 1981.

Tom Karen was head at Ogle. They had designed the Reliant Scimitar in all its guises including the original Daimler SX250 version. Their Triplex estate so pleased Prince Phillip, he acquired it for himself.

I’m not sure what Karen presented to Rolls-Royce. These two renderings are from two different sources, both of which say they came from the mid 1970s. But they look more 1980s to me, and could well be his work for the SX.

Nor can I find the Giugiaro proposal. But the brief came in just after his Lancia-based Medusa. This car was a bit of a watershed for him in that it set a new curvature language for him after a lengthy spell in origami.

He had submitted work to Jaguar in the mid 1970s for their XJ replacement. The one on left more conventional, the one on the right a sneakily regrilled Maserati Medici II. The prestige Medici influenced the greenhouse of the Medusa, but I doubt his SX for Rolls-Royce had a fastback.

Graham Hull, stylist at Rolls-Royce, described Giugiaro’s proposal as ‘Lancia meets enlarged Volvo 340’. Sounds like he was looking at the one on the left.

The Giugiaro version was built by Rolls-Royce in quarter-scale. It was met with silence from the board.

An in-house version emerged, styled by Graham Hull. This one was taken to full-size and shown at the sports field against the European competition.

Seeing it lifesize brought a reality check.

The only dimension I have is length; SX – 16.16’; SZ – 17.3’. With the SZ being 6.2′ (74.4″) wide, I estimate the SZ here to be about 5.6′ (67″) across.

The board asked for 6 extra inches of length, 4 of cabin interior and only 1 extra inch of width. It never happened. The whole project withered in the face of the SZ’s success.

I couldn’t find any profile shots but the shape looks square-rigged all over.

The rear is a great disappointment.

I think the front nailed it, though.

The angle I used gives it some forward cant in the face-plane which helps. The detail may be missing, but the arrangement of the shapes comes straight from the green Frua Phantom.

And when you stretch the SX slightly, it looks even nicer.

In 1982 Graham Hull asked his boss Fritz Feller whether he might be able to borrow his car. Feller was driving an Audi 100 CD which the company had bought for appraisal. Hull put a plywood mock-up of a Rolls-Royce grille on it and stuck it in a wind tunnel.

It achieved a Cd.32 against the Audi’s original Cd.30. hehehe

This account is drawn from the book 

Inside the Rolls-Royce & Bentley Styling Department 1971 to 2001

by Graham Hull