A couple of decades back, somewhat awestruck, I held a simple—primitive, really—wooden car model as old as I was, nothing more than a block of wood that had been sliced longitudinally at an angle on both sides sometime in the late 1930s so its transverse cross section became a symmetrical trapezoid. The block was then jigsawed to a profile that described a hood, windshield, and body to which were appended rough plaster of Paris fender forms. It was Flaminio Bertoni’s own crude, brutal … and astonishingly precise physical description of a car that was subsequently manufactured for nearly half a century in exactly that shape, the legendary Citroën 2CV.
I have never seen a design model for the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, but one can easily imagine a block of wood similarly jigsawed to profile (and slightly narrowed above the waistline) that would be perfectly adequate to define and describe the three-dimensional surface envelope R-R’s design team had to work within to create this ferociously expensive SUV. Nothing is the least bit awesome or particularly imaginative about the Cullinan. But I am nonetheless impressed by the subtlety and, yes, relative elegance of the surface modulations executed within the confines of the few inches between my imagined wooden block’s rough-sawn perimeter and the lavish interior crafted for the enjoyment of the world’s tenth-of-one-percenters who will become owners of this OTT SUV.
Unlike the ancient 2CV, there is nothing at all brutal or crude about the Cullinan. There are even vague hints of voluptuous curvature in the front and rear fender profiles, although there’s only a few millimeters deviation from a dead straight line. In my notes I’ve referred to the Cullinan as the “Rolls-Royce truck,” and indeed that’s what it is, just as history’s longest-lived passenger car model name, Suburban, was first applied to Chevrolet’s panel delivery truck with some windows punched into its sides. If there never has been a production R-R truck, there have indeed been quite a few utilitarian bodies built for placement on Rolls-Royce chassis, in perfect accordance with Sir Henry Royce’s idea that one should be free to interchange bodies at will, depending on need, whim, or just season of the year.
In our modern world of unitized body-chassis units, that long-ago concept is no longer applicable, so it is now necessary to dedicate a specific set of tools to make each separate type of body, even if engine, driveline, and suspension elements can be shared by them. The Cullinan may be seen by some as shamelessly following a popular trend for SUVs, but I don’t think so. This vehicle, with its flawless execution and lavishly appointed interior, is perfectly aligned with the glorious history and respected traditions of the fine old British firm. Rolls-Royce may be German now, but there’s nothing wrong with that. So is the British royal family. Long live Betty Battenberg … and Rolls-Royce.
1. The panel on which the headlamp is mounted is very slightly inset from the fender profile leading edge. The many surface planes on the front end keep the eye from detecting the blunt blockiness of the whole.
2. The radiator grille is not as simple as it might seem. The lower rim is a simple curve in plan, running straight across the front, while the upper rim is nearly two planes intersecting at the centerline, with the curved vertical bars hiding the different origins.
3. The visual interest in the headlamp perimeter derives from having sharp points at the upper inner and lower outer corners and differing radii at the lower inner and upper outer ends of the assembly, and discernible inner lamp elements.
4. The upper surface of the front fenders is quite complex, rising from the outer peak line to a subtle declivity toward the hood cut, all beautifully modeled.
5. Yes, here’s the rear corner of my hypothetical wooden block left very apparent.
6. This crease in the door skins runs into the rear wheel opening but not into the front ones.
7. It was clever to cut the chrome strips short at each end so only two pieces are needed per side rather than four. The eye is carried the length of the side anyway.
8. A shame about this clumsy corner. Well, there’s no such thing as perfection, try as you might.
9. This bar aligns its top edge with the top, not the center, of the side chrome strips. Very nice.
10. It’s not really a skidplate, but it gives you the impression that should the Cullinan bump a stump, there would be no damage. It is relieved in the center portion.
11. The plan view bend in this chrome filler piece is just detectable in this view.
Chauffeur’s Post View
Designing the interior of a Rolls-Royce is not an easy job. Certain things are givens: fine woods and leathers, traditional ventilation elements, round instruments. Some are newly imposed by the current proprietors: making sure all metal aspect elements are actually made of metal, as in the recent Phantom VIII. Others are variable, as in the surprising glass-enclosed diorama section on that same Phantom known as the Gallery, excluded here. This is not a particularly harmonious composition, but it is appropriate to a Rolls-Royce, as it would definitely not be for a Mercedes-Maybach or a Cadillac.
1. This light switch/start-stop panel is delightfully 19th century in aspect, completely up to date technologically, absolutely perfect for Rolls-Royce cars.
2. The severe simplicity of the round ventilation outlets …
3. … and their traditional “organ stop” pull-out command buttons is truly at home in this antique-futuristic environment.
4. The massive hub and the steering wheel rim are not concentric, as is the case with many cars today, but here both are at least perfectly and precisely round, pure geometric circles. As they should be.
5. There are a lot of controls on the wheel, but they are at least logical. No more instrument light rheostat controls hidden inside the glove box on the other side of the car, as found in true-Brit R-R/Bentleys of old.
6. Very good, a parking brake control where it can be found by the driver. More than quite good.
1. There is visual continuity with the chrome band on the lower door skins, even if the elements are quite far apart. Very smoothly done, not at all obvious.
2. OK, it’s not a pure vertical line, but it’s not far off, just a few degrees of rearward lean for the grille, a bit more for the fender leading edges.
3. Even very rich companies are restrained by capital costs, so the Cullinan has to share side marker lines with other R-R models … where they also don’t quite fit.
4. You can see the subtle curving rise of the fender line above the wheel, but the cut line just behind it is parallel to the hood centerline profile, with a slight drop in from
the fender peak.
5. Not really rakish but still quite sporting, the windshield angle is a lot less upright than most SUVs.
6. The traditional Rolls-Royce center-opening doors give us this handsome door handle pair about halfway down the body side.
7. The peak of the upper side molding crown is just a bit behind the B-pillar …
8. … while the peak of the lower section, which also is curved upward from front to back, is just about halfway along the rear door.
9. This elaborate trim piece recalls the castings used by Lexus for the LS 460, an especially well-made car that rather shamed Mercedes at the time of its launch. Just right for R-R.
10. The extension of the roof surface improves aerodynamics and picks up a nice hard edge that carries across the whole width of the upper body.
11. As close to the sawn edges of the imaginary wooden block as it’s possible to be, this rear surface is perfectly perpendicular to the road surface, maximizing the interior volume available.
12. The only awkwardness on the exterior are these sharp-cornered color break lines between body paint and the black lower section, worse in back than in front.
1. Notice the slight indentation of the entire roof section.
2. The indentation theme is picked up in the center of the hood, leading the eye to the Flying Lady as observed by the driver and any front-seat passenger.
3. The one wonderfully distinct part of R-R visuals was the strict three-element straight lines of the radiator shell cap. That’s gone now, and this soft curve is dismally generic and undistinguished. Only the strict vertical sides and grille bars save the presentation. But it’s definitely not good in my opinion. I think it’s possible to work with the original, even on a modern shape.
4. These slots are very nice, although we don’t yet know if they have a specific function.
5. This diagonal line at the bottom of the front end provides a sense of stability, a base for the entire structure above.
6. One has the feeling that many sizes and shapes were tried for the Cullinan’s headlamps until the absolutely correct dimensions were established.
7. In none of the photos does one get a clear perception of how severely the front fenders are cut back in plan view. That’s too bad, because it was artfully and skillfully done with an exactitude that suggests that many angles were tried here as well until the perfect one was found.
1. Sorry, the taillights seem a bit small to me. They are nicely shaped and proportioned and are positioned into insets within an overall inset section.
2. More evidence that my supposed block model may have existed after all.
3. The black-painted gusset apparently holding up the transverse spoiler strip is a surprise, but it’s decently unobtrusive.
4. In this view, you get a clear sense of crispness in the front fender profile.
5. These look like truck wheels. As they should; they are truck wheels, nice ones.
6. The incurving part of the door panels below this stamped crease reduces the visual mass of the body sides.
7. This whole lower rear corner is a bit awkward, in that there is a black shelf coming off the transverse chrome strip, its tight corner radius pinches the outer edge of the exhaust outlet, and there is that graceless pointed intersection of body color and underbody black.
8. Not an aerodynamic diffuser, not a skidplate, this broad trim piece is relieved in the center like the front simulated skidplate.
9. I presume this cut line is the bottom of the lift gate and that the panel below it is hinged just above the transverse chrome strip, folding down to the back to make a picnic platform. If not, that’s a really high lift over for luggage. Servants handle that either way.