Rolls-Royce's 20 Crown Jewels Under BMW's Reign, Part 1: A Retrospective

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, the epitome of automotive luxury and craftsmanship, is celebrating a significant milestone this year - 20 years under the ownership of BMW, which enabled the brand to successfully maintain its heritage and prestige while also bringing in numerous innovations and developments.
Rolls-Royce Phatom 13 photos
Photo: Rolls-Royce
In March 1998, BMW officially acquired Rolls-Royce (RR), marking the beginning of an era for the iconic British manufacturer. While the acquisition was a significant hallmark for the company, implementing changes and adjustments to align with the new ownership structure took several years to realize fully.

Under these circumstances, the first vehicle to be delivered under BMW's ownership was not until several years later, in 2003, signifying the completion of this transition period. This celebration marks a significant achievement for both companies and is a testament to their successful partnership.

Retracing the legacy - Rolls-Royce before 1998

1906 Silver Ghost
Photo: Rolls-Royce
Rolls-Royce Limited started life as a British luxury car and later an aero-engine manufacturing company founded by Charles Rolls and Henry Royce on March 15, 1906. The partnership between the two men was formed in 1904, and the company's first car, the Rolls-Royce 10 hp, was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904.

During the First World War, Rolls-Royce began producing aero engines, and its products quickly became renowned for their quality and reliability. The Rolls-Royce Eagle engine, in particular, was widely used by the British and American airforces, and the company became the world's leading aero-engine manufacturer.

During the Second World War, Rolls-Royce signed a contract with Packard Motor Car Company to build the Merlin airplane engine in the United States. The company also developed a derivation of this unit, known as the Meteor, for the British Army, who planned to equip the Cromwell tank with this 600 hp (450 kW) V12 petrol powerplant.

1940 Hawker Hurricanes
Photo: Rolls-Royce
The post-war austerity pushed the company into developing diesel engines, not only for passenger vehicles but also for the railway, industrial and marine services. Despite financial troubles in the late 1970s, when the company faced receivership and nationalization, Rolls-Royce remained a British establishment.

In 1987, Rolls-Royce was privatized as a public limited company (PLC), and in 1998, Vickers PLC sold Rolls-Royce to BMW, which marked the beginning of a new era for the company.

Under the ownership of BMW, Rolls-Royce continued to produce luxury cars and engines while expanding into new areas, such as developing bespoke, custom-built vehicles.

The modern Rolls-Royce: continuous excellence

Photo: Rolls-Royce
In the years since the acquisition of Rolls-Royce by BMW in 1998, the iconic luxury car brand has undergone a significant evolution. Under the guidance of BMW, the company has maintained its prestigious reputation while modernizing and expanding its offerings.

One of the critical areas of focus for Rolls-Royce since 2003 has been the development of new technologies and engineering advances. It allowed the company to continue to push the boundaries in terms of performance, luxury, and comfort.

The company has also placed a strong emphasis on sustainability and environmental responsibility reflected in developing advanced powertrain options and using sustainable materials in their vehicles.

Photo: Rolls-Royce
Rolls-Royce also expanded its production capabilities and opened a new factory in Goodwood, England, in 2003. This state-of-the-art facility was designed to accommodate the latest production techniques and technologies and allowed the company to increase its production capacity and improve efficiency.

Beyond the technical advancements, Rolls-Royce has also undergone a significant expansion in terms of its global reach. The company now has a presence in over 50 countries and customers in over 100, with a strong focus on emerging markets. Furthermore, the company has also been able to tap into new segments of the luxury car market, such as younger buyers and women, through the development of their newer models.

Moreover, the Rolls-Royce has also focused on sustainability and environmental concerns, and implemented eco-friendly manufacturing processes. Not least, the brand has been heavily investing in research and development in electric and hybrid technologies and announced plans to launch a fully electric vehicle by the end of the decade.

The 2003 Phantom: the start of a new era

Photo: Rolls-Royce
In 2003, the company introduced the Phantom, a luxury sedan that marked a new era for the brand and set the standard for future models. The Phantom was the first car to be designed and developed entirely under BMW's ownership, the first model to ever leave the Goodwood factory gates. It featured a host of cutting-edge technologies, including a 6.75-liter V12 engine and a state-of-the-art suspension system.

The brand still recalls when it sold its first vehicle to its customer. "The first completed motor car was handed over to its new owner in a special ceremony at one minute past midnight on 1 January 2003. Since that historic moment, no fewer than 20 different models and variants have been created and handmade at Goodwood – equivalent to one for every year."

Rolls-Royce innovated and expanded its lineup in the following years by introducing new models such as the Ghost, Wraith, and Dawn. These cars were specially designed to appeal to a younger, more dynamic demographic while maintaining the brand's reputation for luxury and refinement.

The 100EX: experimenting with the 9-liter V16

ROLLS\-ROYCE 100EX, 2004
Photo: Rolls-Royce
The first modern "experimental model" (EX) made by the renewed Rolls-Royce brand came to public attention during the 2004 Geneva International Auto Show and was specially created to commemorate 100 years since the company's venerated founders, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, first met.

The vehicle featured a mindblowing powerplant at the time, a massive 9-liter V16, and a six-speed automatic transmission. The 100EX closely resembled the seventh-generation Phantom of the time but in convertible form, paving the road for what would later become the Drophead Coupe.

The vehicle took inspiration from luxury motorboats with its "teak deck" motifs behind the rear passengers. Also, it featured a hood made from a single piece of machined aluminum and a Spirit of Extasy made from a solid block of silver.

Extending the Rolls-Royce Experience: the 2005 Phantom EWB

Photo: Rolls-Royce
The seventh-generation Phantom gained another family member in the form of the first modern extended wheelbase (EWB) version of the Phantom, which was 250 mm (9.8 inches) longer than the "standard" car, if you can even call it that.

In terms of drivetrain and technology, the Phantom EWB was similar to its predecessor, its main highlight being an even more luxurious inside living space, specially conceived for owners who preferred to be chauffeur-driven.

Launched at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, the vehicle offered comfort and luxury unheard of at the time, being fitted with the finest materials and craftsmanship, including bespoke leather seats, wood veneers, and cutting-edge technology. The Phantom EWB established itself as a must-have vehicle for the wealthy and powerful.

The 101EX: elegant and timeless concept

ROLLS\-ROYCE 101EX, 2006
Photo: Rolls-Royce
In 2006, Rolls-Royce proudly showcased the 101EX, a grand tourer coupe prototype, at the Geneva International Auto Show, as a follow-up to the 100EX concept, teasing the public about the possibility of introducing a two-door Rolls.

The 101EX was built on a shortened version of the aluminum space frame technology used in the 2003 Phantom. The car featured a lowered roofline with a shallower glass area, with the body panels made entirely out of carbon fiber composite.

The stunning design of the 101EX, alongside the 100EX from two years prior, would eventually become the basis for developing the Phantom Drophead Coupé and Phantom Coupé.

The 2007 Phantom Drophead Coupe: yacht-inspired luxury on wheels

Photo: Rolls-Royce
The Phantom Drophead Coupé was first unveiled in 2007 in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show. It quickly evolved into one of the Goodwood factory's most sought-after models.

The car's distinctive styling was derived from the 100EX concept, featuring a unique interior wood veneering that flows around the cabin and into the teak tonneau cover, a design inspired by the deck of a racing yacht.

The amazing attention to detail and unparalleled craftsmanship can be observed in every aspect of the car, from the fine leather upholstery to the precision-machined aluminum accents, making this machine an even more exclusive addition to one's collection.

The 2008 Phantom Coupe: a cinematic legacy

Photo: Rolls-Royce
The Phantom Coupe unveiled at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, featured a highly-praised pillarless construction, showcased as a genuine hardtop two-door coupé, the first of its kind in the company's modern portfolio.

The vehicle's exterior appearance was heavily influenced by the 101EX concept car. The Phantom Coupe became an industry favorite among affluent luxury car enthusiasts who sought high performance and ultimate style.

The Phantom Coupé also made a successful cinematic appearance in Johnny English Reborn. The leading actor, Rowan Atkinson, a passionate automotive enthusiast, convinced BMW to fit one of the V16 engines initially developed for the 2003 Phantom saloon into the vehicle that would appear in the motion picture.

To everyone's delight, BMW executives gave their consent, thus adding another layer of excitement and prestige to the already iconic vehicle.

The 200EX, 2009: the concept of younger exclusivity

ROLLS\-ROYCE 200EX, 2009
Photo: Rolls-Royce
The 200EX was a concept car displayed at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, representing a new direction for the brand, devising a more accessible and driver-focused model.

The car's design was a clear departure from the traditional, imposing look of previous Rolls-Royce. The car was built on a shortened version of the Phantom's aluminum spaceframe, with a more driver-focused, modern, and minimalist design, inside and out.

Rolls-Royce's traditional clientele appreciated the brand's effort to evolve and innovate. As a result, the 200EX served as the inspiration for the 2010 Ghost, with which it shared many design elements.

As our retrospective journey through the first decade of Rolls-Royce under BMW's ownership comes to an end, it's clear that the brand has produced some truly iconic and revolutionary vehicles, and we cannot help but feel a sense of excitement for what's to come.

But as impressive as these cars have been, they were only the beginning of the modern Rolls-Royce. As we look ahead to the next part of our coverstory, we'll dive into the next decade of the brand's history and explore the cars that have pushed the boundaries of technology and design even further.

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About the author: Dan Marinescu
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Since his early childhood, Dan developed an avid passion for cars and, now he sees himself as a genuine petrolhead. His enthusiasm comes from his father, an automotive engineer. They love to reminisce about the days when his dad showed him the inner workings of an engine and why everything does what it does.
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