‘Back in Black’ were the lyrics screamed by AC/DC’s English front-man Brian Johnson in 1980 in what would go on to become an all-time heavy-metal anthem.
And almost four decades later, traditionally stately and sedate Roll-Royce has been taking a leaf out of the band’s playbook in recent years by adding their own blend of dark magic to their range.
That culminates today with the launch of the scintillating new Black Badge Ghost, which we’ve been driving – fittingly at night and within a stone’s throw of the infamous ‘Hellfire Club’ caves at West Wycombe on the edge of the Chilterns renowned for the rakish goings on during the 18th century.
Indeed Rolls-Royce would like you to think of its bespoke ‘Black Badge’ treatment as appealing to the subversive, rebellious, disruptive ‘alter egos’ of its customers – the unburdened and unrestrained ‘Mr Hyde’ of the night in contrast to the more respectable, business-like and predictable daytime Dr Jekyll.
Back in black! This is Rolls-Royce’s new heavy-metal limo – the £325,000 Black Badge Ghost. And we’ve already been behind the wheel
It’s aimed at mavericks in the mould of Tesla’s Elon Musk, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson, it says.
You might even think of Black Badge as Rolls-Royce’s own alter ego – it’s devilishly dangerous evil twin.
And although priced from £325,000 – about £100,000 more than the standard Ghost – most customers will spend much more on their individual Black Badge Ghost, sometimes as much as double.
But the Rolls-Royce ‘noir’ approach seems to be working as on average nearly a third (27 per cent) of all Rolls-Royce customers now opt for the ‘Black Badge’ treatment on their luxury cars – rising to around 40 per cent in some cases and regions.
It’s paying off handsomely in profits, too.
Although RR doesn’t publish its accounts separately from parent company BMW, industry experts who have dived deep into the figures reckon Rolls-Royce is is now jointly the most profitable car company in the world alongside Italy’s Ferrari, with an estimated 50 per cent return on investment.
So very firmly in the black.
Although priced from £325,000 – about £100,000 more than the standard Ghost – most customers will spend much more on their individual Black Badge Ghost, sometimes as much as double
The Black Badge Ghost is based on the new generation and technologically advanced standard car launched 12 months ago (with more than 3,500 sales already under its belt)
The Rolls-Royce ‘noir’ approach seems to be working as on average nearly a third (27%) of all Rolls-Royce customers now opt for the ‘Black Badge’ treatment on their luxury cars – rising to around 40% in some cases and regions
It even funds its own investments now, having paid of the original start-up costs at Goodwood in Sussex.
That really does make Rolls-Royce the jewel in the crown of the BMW Group , as well as one of the UK’s own automotive crown jewels.
How the ‘Black Badge’ concept came about shines a fascinating light into the darker recesses of Rolls-Royce thinking, too.
A few years ago chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös was heading out from a trendy upmarket Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles when he spotted another guest in a customised Rolls-Royce that was totally black – inside and out.
Its owner was in similarly dress-down mode with gold chains and bling. He was an off-duty surgeon ‘chilling’.
Daily Mail’s Ray Massey poses with the new Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost as he got an sneak peak and drive of the new car ahead of today’s unveiling
This example has a totally contrasting interior, with an aqua blue cabin that brilliantly offsets against the black exterior
His all-black Rolls-Royce was his escape, his release, and his way of embracing his own ‘alter ego’ to relax. A real life Mr Hyde escaping from the demands and pressures of his regular Dr Jekyll medical profession.
It was a lightbulb moment for the Rolls-Royce CEO – and the gem of the Black Badge idea was born.
Initially, however, it proved a hard sell to the main BMW board in Munich concerned about whether such a dress-down approach might tarnish the carefully created and curated Rolls-Royce reputation. But the board – the same one responsible for green-lighting BMW’s ever larger grilles – eventually and cautiously backed their man’s hunch, and Black Badge was born.
First on the road was the sporty coupe-like Black Badge Wraith and original Ghost back in 2016, followed by Dawn in 2017 and the Cullinan SUV in 2019.
Now comes the new generation Black Badge Ghost, based on the new generation and technologically advanced standard car launched 12 months ago (with more than 3,500 sales already under its belt).
The 21-inch composite wheels have up of 22 layers of twisted carbon-fibre folded back on themselves for greater strength to form 44 layers, with a 3D forged aluminium hub bonded to the rim
The flying lady ‘Sprit of Ecstasy’ and Pantheon grille are not painted black but instead are given a specific chrome electrolyte during the plating process which darkens the finish. It is just one micrometre thick – or around one hundredth of the width of a human hair, and precision polished by hand to achieve a mirror black chrome finish
All elements that would normally be shiny bright metallic -such as dashboard and rear-cabin air-vents – are subdued and darkened using a process that prevents discolourtion or tarnishing
Getting up close and personal with the Black Badge Ghost
The new Black Badge version is cloaked in what designers call a minimalist ‘post opulance’ – so instead of shouting ‘look at me I’m mega-wealthy’, all the bling and bright-work is toned down to create an edgier feel. Not that it will prevent members of the public noticing you stealthily rumbling down the road in your barge-like limo.
Although Black Badge customers can choose from up to 44,000 ‘ready to wear colours’, Rolls-Royce reveals ‘the overwhelming majority of women and men who requested this darker expression of Ghost selected the signature Black’.
Creating the motor industry’s darkest black exterior involves 100lbs (45kg) of paint being atomised and applied to an electro-statically charged base body before being oven-dried. After two layers of clear coat, the surface is then hand-polished by four craftsmen to a high-closs piano finish.
The flying lady ‘Sprit of Ecstasy’ and Pantheon grille are not painted black but instead are given a specific chrome electrolyte during the plating process which darkens the finish. It is just one micrometre thick – or around one hundredth of the width of a human hair, and precision polished by hand to achieve a mirror black chrome finish.
The 21-inch composite wheels are specially created too. The barrel of each wheel is made up of 22 layers of twisted carbon-fibre folded back on themselves for greater strength to form 44 layers, with a 3D forged aluminium hub bonded to the rim.
The best seat in the house? The vast majority of Rolls-Royce Ghost customers don’t sit up front – they pay a chauffeur to drive as they kick back in the rear
The demonic dark theme continues inside with a black bolivar wood veneer. The lid of the rear champagne cooler carries the mathematical symbiol for ‘infinity’ in an aerospace-grade aluminium which appears to float on the veneer
Everything is finished sublimely, right down to the branded glasses and bottles for those wanting to quench their thirst on the move
The demonic dark theme continues inside with a black bolivar wood veneer. The lid of the rear champagne cooler carries the mathematical symbol for ‘infinity’ in an aerospace-grade aluminium which appears to float on the veneer.
All elements that would normally be shiny bright metallic -such as dashboard and rear-cabin air-vents – are subdued and darkened using a process that prevents discolourtion or tarnishing.
Even the clock in the Black Badge Ghost is subdued – with only the tips of the hands and the 3, 6, 9 and 12 O’clock markers picked out. The illuminated dashboard fascia also features a glowing eternity symbol surrounded in the dark, , thanks to intricate etching and 152 hidden LED lights, by more than 850 dashboard stars which appear when the lights are switched on, echoing the twinkling ‘Shooting Star’ constellation in the headliner above.
Ray Massey – fittingly – drove the new model at night and within a stone’s throw of the infamous ‘Hellfire Club’ caves at West Wycombe on the edge of the Chilterns renowned for the rakish goings on during the 18th century
Our man Ray even took time out to enjoy the luxuries in the rear seats, playing the role of the well-heeled Roller customer
Like all Rolls-Royce models, customers can specify the Starlight Headliner to a date, time and location they so desire
What’s it like behind the wheel?
Before I took it out on the road, I had the chance to thrash it around – and I do mean thrash – a track.
Quite a formidable sensation to be hurling a herculean 2.5 tonnes of finely hand-crafted luxury limousine flat out at night at more than 100mph down an otherwise remote and deserted but partially lit airfield, performing tight turns around cones, and hitting the brakes to come to a dead stop.
There’s a bit of movement amid the automotive gymnastics – it’s a big and heavy beast after all – but nothing like the showboating wafting and weaving you might expect. Surprisingly stable, in fact.
These are night moves you’d never contemplate on a public road – unless of course you are a protection officer getting your VIP charge out of a difficult situation – but it goes to show just what its capable of.
Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge: Will it fit in my garage?
Price: from £325,000
On sale: now
Length: 5,546mm / 218.3 inches
Width: 2,138mm / 84.6 inches
Height: 1,571mm / 61.9 inches
Wheelbase: 3,295mm / 129.7 inches
Weight: 2,490kg (5489.5lbs)
Engine: 6.75 litre V12
Power: 600 horse-power (591 bhp)
Gears: 8-speed automatic ZF
Drive: All wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph (governed)
0 to 62mph (100km/hr): 4.7 seconds
Wheels: Bespoke 21-inch composite
Fuel consumption: 17.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 359g/km
Turning circle: 13m / 42.7ft
Boot volume: 500 litres
Out on the public highway it’s a dark and brooding presence that has a sporty character but a refined gloss.
A bit of a charming and seductive Dracula, but with real bite.
The Black Badge Ghost shares its flexible space-frame with the latest Phantom.
Riding on bespoke 21-inch composite wheels and powered by a mighty 6.75 litre V12, the all-wheel drive Black Badge Ghost is fired up by 600 horse-power – a 29hp increase on the standard Ghost – and through its 8-speed automatic ZF gear box rockets from rest to 60mph in just 4.5 seconds up to a top speed governed at 155mph.
There’s a feeling of instant power once you hit the throttle. The transmission and throttle responses have been tweaked so the increases in pulling power and torque are fully experienced by the driver.
Front and rear-steered axles work together to increase the road-holding and confidence.
In ‘Low-Mode’ – effectively sport – gearshift speeds increase by 50 per cent when the accelerator pedal is decreased to 90 per cent.
Robust brakes mean the stopping power is equal to the rocketing acceleration. You can eve have bright red brake callipers – once unthinkable – to highlight its prowess.
Comfy in the back too if you’re being driven.
You won’t be saving the planet just yet, mind. With fuel consumption a meagre 17.9mpg and CO2 emissions a massive 359g/km, it’s officially a ‘gas-guzzler’.
But with Rolls-Royce having already announced its first all-electric car by late 2023 and a fully electrified range by 2030, this could be one of the last heroic, rebellious, bad boy, naughty but nice, (coughing) gasps of a dying breed of petrol-powered Rolls-Royces determined to go out with a bang, not a whimper.
Launching the new Black Badge Ghost, Rolls-Royce CEO Mr Müller-Ötvös said: ‘Today, we announce a product that represents a new kind of Black Badge motor car, one that seizes on the minimalist, post opulent design treatment that has recast the legend of Ghost but amplifies and subverts it with the application of black.
‘Our most advanced motor car yet has been reengineered to characterise the alter ego of Rolls-Royce: assertive, dynamic and potent. This is the purest Black Badge motor car in the marque’s history. This is Black Badge Ghost.’
All that’s left for me to do is to crank up the AC/DC anthems as I return the car to its Goodwood owners – hopefully avoiding the Highway to Hell in the process.
Even the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy has been given the Black Badge treatment by Rolls-Royce…
Launching the new Black Badge Ghost, Rolls-Royce CEO Mr Müller-Ötvös said: ‘Today, we announce a product that represents a new kind of Black Badge motor car, one that seizes on the minimalist, post opulent design treatment that has recast the legend of Ghost but amplifies and subverts it with the application of black’
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