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Rolls-Royce Camargue

Rolls-Royce Camargue Published: 7th Oct 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
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Take a classy Corniche and give it a modern 1970’s coupé look and Rolls should have had a winner…

Trading traditional Rolls dignity for dollars and heritage for hedonism, the Camargue wasn’t the success story Crewe hoped this curious coupé would become. But eplacing graciousness with gaudiness, is it any wonder that the Camargue was a sales flop for Rolls-Royce?

With sales amounting to just over 500 in eleven years, even for such an exclusive Roller, a popular it was not. However, over 45 years since the car was first conceived and 41 since its launch, this chintzy coupé has to be one of the best-kept sleeping classics on the block – or should you let sleeping dogs lie, as they say?

Camargue (codenamed project Delta) was originally planned way back in 1969 to replace the classy but ageing Corniche two-door although the convertible which evened into the Corniche soldiered on well into the 1990s!

To distance itself from any other car coming out from Crewe, the Camargue was also to act as a showcase for the very best technology Rolls-Royce could design into a road car and therefore justify its then sky high asking price of a predicted £25,000 plus.

Italian Sergio Pininfarina was given the job of designing a stylish fastback that was right for the 1970s to sit on the existing Silver Shadow platform with most panels made of steel; the only alloy ones allowed were the doors (which still weighed a massive 100lb), bonnet and boot lid.

All work was carried out at the Londonbased works of coachbuilder specialist Mulliner Park Ward, after which the bodies were sent to Crewe for painting and assembling before returning back to Mulliner for finishing – small wonder it took some 24 weeks to build a single car!

Compared to the hardly small Corniche, the Camargue was 3.5inches wider yet less than an inch lower while the high scuttle, dictated by the Shadow’s chassis, meant that the car would never be called sleek. Dateless and dignified is how Rolls pragmatically chose to describe the car’s dumpy styling instead – others simply thought it slab and disappointing… On the other hand, it can now be argued that the Camargue was ahead of its time plus also set the tone for future Rollers, witness the Silver Spirit of 1980 right up to its more current bold and flamboyant offerings?

All work and no play

Although Rolls wanted to make the Camargue a technological tour de force, apart from a slightly uprated engine care of a four barrel carb (a mighty 7.2-litre V8 was tried but it never went into production) mechanical changes were kept minimal. No, the real innovation centered around the highly advanced two-level air conditioning unit, which had the output power of several domestic fridges and was also completely automatic. Autocar described the system as ‘childishly simple’ to operate and the design featured in every subsequent Rolls-Royce and Bentley right up to 1998.

The rest of the car was pure Shadow and at 5175lb, the Camargue was 200lb heavier than the heavier Corniche. Initially, UK cars ran on twin SU carbs but more power was decreed so a Solex four barrel downdraught set up and breakerless ignition were fitted after the first 30 were made (and closely monitored by Rolls- Royce, it seems) while very late Camargues destined for export featured fuel injection.

Strangely, given the popularity and pace of the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo saloon that was also in production by then, Rolls never saw fit to catapult Camargues into supercar stardom with a turbocharger (as it later did on the Corniche S).

In 1977, the model gained the superior chassis of the Shadow II, including its rack and pinion steering, three years later it adopted the Silver Spirit’s running gear complete with a new rear axle and suspension geometry set up along with modified braking that incorporated the new mineral oil hydraulic system.

The price of vanity

It sounds more like Mondeo money now, but the biggest talking point back in 1975 was the Camargue’s eye-watering asking price of £25,000, which was a huge sum 40 years ago. Worse, it quickly jumped to £27,250, which then was twice the price of a Corniche and no less than six grand (about the price of an average house!), pricier even than the Phantom VI limo!

This didn’t put off affluent Americans who bolstered Rolls-Royce’s coffers by almost 50 per cent when it hit their shores in 1976, by which time, raging inflation saw the UK price rise to £34,000. Silly prices or not, the first year’s production was soon sold out and a lengthy waiting list quickly formed. Success, it seemed, was assured.

Considering the global damage caused by the 1973 Energy Crisis, Rolls-Royce came out of it remarkably well, especially as the company went bust at the start of the decade. However, a second oil crisis during the winter of 1979 – by which time the Camargue carried a £61K price tag – pulled the deep pile rugs from under Rolls’ feet. The car’s now fading popularity never recovered and this plutocrat was killed off in 1985/6 after just 531 cars were made and where prices had swollen to £83,122…

Monthly Car magazine had already demoted this big and bloated Brit to the Boring section of its famous The Good, The Bad and the Ugly buying guide – alongside the Reliant Rialto! Its comments were cutting to say the least: For: Big and shiny. Against: Hideous styling, joke price. Sum up: Can they be serious?

A logical Bentley version that would have become the forerunner to the ’90’s Continental (itself the much better and more accepted car all round) was touted, but it never got past the prototype stage, because, it’s said, that the Camargue’s special blunt front made it difficult to blend in the rounded Bentley grille. There again, by now the Mulsanne was firmly established as the car which gave back Bentley its own identity with the terrific Turbo, and probably why Crewe never bothered to develop the Camargue further.

They appear bargains now and can be bought for much the same price, or even less, they sold for when brand new, but many need expensive work to make good. Rolls/Bentley specialist Hanwell Car Centre of West London (020 8567 1777) says good ones need searching for and can be hard to sell. The company’s Steve Brown cites the car’s marmite styling as one of the reasons why the car never caught on and adds that its stablemate, the Corniche, and especially the later Bentley Continentals (including the GT) as better cars and the wiser buys.

Paul Brightman of Royce Service and Engineering agrees and adds it’s a harder car to maintain and repair than mechanically identical Shadow with certain body and trim parts becoming hard to find. However, prices are on the way up and the retro look is in contends Brightman.

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