Back in the pre-war era, cars were invariably bought in the form of a naked chassis for which a specialist coach builder would be commissioned to make the bodywork. After that, the owner could set to with an accessories catalogue such as the 800-page 1920s tome produced by Dunhill to advertise its ‘Motorites’ and choose all the necessary add-ons to complete the car. Everything was available, from headlamps to horns and from upholstery to luggage. The result was, effectively, entirely bespoke.
Today’s manufacturing methods and safety constraints generally make it impractical for customers to have quite such a free hand in the creation of their new wheels — although it’s surprising just how accommodating the luxury marques can be when it comes to making a car. Here are some examples of what can be done by the top manufacturers if your wallet is generous enough and you’re happy to let your imagination go into overdrive.
1. Aston Martin – ‘Q Design’
The fabled British sports car maker quietly announced its ‘Q Design’ service at the Geneva Motor Show in 2011, since when it has chiefly publicised it by word of mouth. Its purpose is to transform ‘standard’ Astons into unique editions. About 200 cars were given the Q treatment in 2012, with each project being carried out by a dedicated team of ten or so people, including colour experts, engineers and interior specialists. The basic service involves creating bespoke upholstery and special body finishes. A particularly wealthy (and anonymous) customer’s request for Q Design to create an entirely new car for him resulted in the futuristic CC100 open-topped speedster that was seen out and about during the marque’s centenary celebrations last year. It is said to have cost a seven-figure sum.
2. Range Rover – Engineered to order
The Range Rover has been regarded as an ideal blank canvas for experiments in luxury since the original version was launched in 1970, soon after which specialist firms began turning them in to convertibles, limousines and even six-wheelers. This potential was further realised in 1980 when Vogue magazine requested a customised one-off for a photo shoot — resulting in numerous requests for replicas and leading to the launch of the ‘In Vogue’ model. Victoria Beckham, a longtime Range Rover driver, collaborated with the brand in 2012 to launch an Evoque Special Edition in what she described as ‘the perfect collaboration’. The ultimate factory-built Range Rovers are now known as ‘Autobiography’ models because, essentially, the owner writes the specification. The latest, the Autobiography Black, is the plushest Rangie ever made and comes from the marque’s exclusive ‘engineered to order’ (ETO) department. Special features include a redesigned grille and body vents, special rear lights, unique ‘Autobiography Black’ seat covers and a rear centre console housing electrically deployable aircraft-style tables. There’s also a drinks chiller, a concealed ski hatch and ten-colour ‘mood lighting.’ All absolutely essential when towing a horse box across a ploughed field.
3. Rolls-Royce – Bespoke Collection
Rolls-Royce recently announced that close to 95 per cent of the cars it sold in 2013 were, in one way or another, personalised to the owner’s specification. In addition to adapting its cars to the requirements of individual buyers, Rolls-Royce also offers a range of vehicles under the ‘Bespoke Collection’ title, with recent models being a Ghost based on the car which won the gruelling Alpine trial of 1913, and the ‘Celestial Phantom’ which was unveiled last year to mark a decade since the opening of the Goodwood factory. The Celestial’s special features include a head lining fitted with hundreds of LEDs to replicate the stars, ‘Night Sky’ paintwork featuring tiny glass particles, a picnic set with hand-engraved glassware and an uplit bonnet mascot. It is relatively common, we’re told, for female buyers to request a colour exactly the same as a favourite lipstick or nail varnish. One woman wanted her car to be painted the precise hue of her Irish Setter. The dog was persuaded to sit still and be scanned and, within minutes, its colouring was reproduced in paint.
4. Jaguar – Engineered to order
Jaguar launched its ‘engineered to order’ service in 2012 to create concept cars, limited-edition versions of its regular range and, of course, one-offs for well-heeled customers. They have already produced several memorable road-burners, including the supercharged 550-horsepower XKR-S. One of the first to buy an XKR-S was Iron Maiden’s drummer, Nicko McBrain, who asked for his to be made a little more exclusive through the addition of door sills engraved with his name, ‘Supercharged’ bonnet badges in the Iron Maiden font and a red-and-black interior. There are custom goods to put inside your Jag, too: the venerable French luggage maker Moynat has designed a bespoke motoring trunk to fit the F-Type’s decidedly bijou boot. The only downside is that, while you can buy an F-Type convertible for around £60,000, the trunk, made from the finest saddle leather, costs another £42,000 — although you do get a folding scooter thrown in.
5. Porsche – Exclusive
Porsche not posh enough? Not to worry — just ask your dealer for a one-to-one ‘personalisation consultation’ and a world of bespoke opportunities will be unveiled. The Porsche Exclusive service allows buyers to mix and match materials used across the range, choose from a special selection of ‘Exclusive’ options or specify unique alterations — provided, of course, that they don’t compromise a car’s performance or safety. Currently there’s a craze among buyers of the marque’s legendary 911 cars to specify paint jobs redolent of the groovier years of the 1970s. Turbo Lime Gold Metallic is apparently especially popular, especially when complemented with an interior of agate grey and lime-gold leather. Guards Red — the favoured 911 colour from the ‘loadsamoney’ days of the 1980s — is also back, along with trendy again Grand Prix White.
6. Bentley – Mulliner
Bentley’s ‘Mulliner’ department, which evolved from a coach-building firm, operates from the marque’s Crewe headquarters and exists to pander to sir and madam’s every motoring whim. That includes giving the car a unique outward appearance, making it bulletproof, having the family crest stitched into the headrests or even kitting it out as a mobile office. There are few requests which cannot be accommodated. Mulliner has fitted Bentleys with drawers to hold paintings for an art dealer, concealed security safes beneath carpets, and built in-car vanity tables complete with solid silver mirror, brush and comb from the royal jeweller Asprey. One American customer even paid handsomely for the design and construction of a bespoke petrol cap — which spends most of the time hidden beneath a hinged flap.