road test: 1975 Rolls Royce Camargue

camEvery car company has its moment of madness, a time when it comes up with something that turns out to be wildly inappropriate for the its brand, heritage and customer base. With Rolls Royce, the 1975 Camargue was just that.

In the spring of 1969, the great British marque decided to build a completely new two-door coupe, to appeal to the very richest of its clientelle. Turin-based Pininfarina was commissioned to pen it, and the result was strikingly different to Rolls Royce design orthodoxy of the day. Its delicate, finessed Italian lines were less bluff than Crewe’s existing saloons, giving the car – codenamed Delta – a radical look closer to Lady Penelope’s Thunderbirds Rolls Royce than the existing Silver Shadow.

The DY20, as it then became known (D for Delta, Y signifying it was based on the SY (Silver Shadow) platform, and ’20’ being short for its 120 inch wheelbase) project started in earnest, only to be delayed by Rolls-Royce Ltd’s bankruptcy on the 4th February, 1971. The newly revamped Rolls Royce Motors Ltd. moved the launch date to 1975, with the body being made at the HJ Mulliner Park Ward factory, and bolted to a shortened Silver Shadow chassis in Crewe. Final trimming was at MPW.

Rolls Royce elected to name DY20 the Camargue, an area around the delta of the River Rhône in France – likely a reference to its first codename. The car was launched in January 1975 in Sicily, and had the distinction of being the most expensive production car in the world at the time, costing £29,250 in the UK, which was well over three times the price of the average house. It was also fifty percent more than the price of a Corniche saloon.

Although mechanically very close to its 4-door sister, the Camargue sported the (then) world’s most sophisticated bi-level automatic air conditioning system to distinguish it. However, the company soon decided to further differentiate the car, and a higher performance Solex carburettor was fitted in all markets other than Australia, Japan and North America. Later mods included a repositioned fuel tank, further engine updates (for emissions compliance), rack and pinion steering replacing recirculating ball. Revised hydraulic rear suspension arrived in 1978, and headlamp wash/wipe in ’79.

In 1978 production moved to Park Sheet Metal based at Bedworth near Coventry, and soon after a project was started to produce a turbocharged Bentley version, but Rolls Royce decided the blown motor would work better in a bespoke turbo variant of a Bentlley saloon, and the Mulsanne Turbo was born. However, a one-off Bentley Camargue was built for a customer in 1985, fitted with a normally aspirated engine. This is the rarest and most desirable Camargue, and now has legendary status.

The last cars were built during 1985, the very final one going to Japan on Christmas Eve 1986, ending an eleven year production run. At the time, it cost £83,122 which had remained unchanged since 1981. The car wasn’t missed particularly, with Crewe’s focus moving to its four-dour Bentley saloon which was experiencing something of a renaissance. Very soon the macho Turbo R would arrive, and the delicate Italianate lines of the Camargue forgotten. What a shame, because it was Rolls Royce’s walk on the wild side; no other Royce would subsequently boast such exotic DNA.

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