‘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.
Roll-Royce, a sedate and stately band from the 1950s, has taken a page out of the band’s book in recent years by adding their own brand of dark magic to its repertoire.
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.
Retire in black! This is Rolls-Royce’s new heavy-metal limo – the £325,000 Black Badge Ghost. We’ve been behind it already
It is targeted at mavericks such as Elon Musk from Tesla, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin tycoons, and Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook.
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 also pays handsomely in profits.
Although RR doesn’t publish its accounts separately to parent company BMW, industry experts have delved into the figures and found that Rolls-Royce is now jointly the most profitable car manufacturer in the world with Ferrari and Italy, with an estimated 50% return on investment.
So 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 upon the latest generation and most technologically advanced standard car, which was launched 12 months ago (with over 3,500 sales).
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 now funds its own investments after having paid for the initial start-up costs at Goodwood, Sussex.
Rolls-Royce is a jewel in the BMW Group’s crown and also one of the UK’s most valuable automotive crown jewels.
The fascinating story of how the ‘Black Badge” concept was created shines a light on the darker corners of Rolls-Royce thinking.
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 dressed in a similar style, with gold chains and bling. He was an off duty surgeon, ‘chilling.
Daily Mail’s Ray Massey is seen with the new Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost. This was before the official unveiling.
This example features a completely contrast interior with an aqua cabin that is brilliantly offset against the black exterior
His all-black Rolls-Royce was his escape. It was his way of embracing his ‘alter ego to relax’. He was a real Mr Hyde, fleeing from the pressures and demands of his regular Dr Jekyll medical practice.
It was a lightbulb moment for the Rolls-Royce CEO – and the gem of the Black Badge idea was born.
However, initially it was a struggle to sell it to the main BMW board in Munich, concerned about whether such an approach might tarnish Rolls-Royce’s carefully curated 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 roads was the coupe-like Black Badge Wraith in 2016 and original Ghost in 2016, followed in 2017 by Dawn and the Cullinan SUV for 2019.
The Black Badge Ghost is now available in a new generation, based on the latest generation standard car that was launched 12 months ago (with over 3,500 sales).
The 21-inch composite wheels consist of 22 layers of twisted Carbon-fibre that have been folded back on each other for greater strength. There are 44 layers. A 3D forged aluminium hub is bonded to each rim.
The Pantheon grille and flying lady ‘Sprit of Ecstasy’ are not painted in black. Instead, they are coated with a specific chrome electrolyte that 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
The Black Badge Ghost at close quarters
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. It won’t stop members of the public from noticing you cruising down the street in your barge-like limousine.
Rolls-Royce says that Black Badge customers have the option to choose from 44,000’ready-to-wear colours’. However, it is clear that the majority of Black Badge customers chose the signature Black.
It takes 100 lbs (45kg) to create the darkest black exterior of the motor industry. The paint is atomized, then applied to an electrically charged base body. After that, it is oven-dried. The surface is then polished by four craftsmen to achieve a high-closs piano look.
The Pantheon grille, the flying lady ‘Sprit of Ecstasy’ and the Pantheon grille aren’t painted black. Instead, they are given a specific Chrome electrolyte during plating which darkens it. 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.
Specially designed 21-inch composite wheels are also available. Each wheel’s barrel is made of 22 layers of twisted carbon fibre, which are then folded over themselves to create 44 layers. The hub is a 3D forged aluminum alloy.
The best seat in the house! Rolls-Royce Ghost customers rarely sit up front. Instead, they pay a chauffeur to drive them as they lounge in the rear.
Inside, the demonic dark theme continues with a black bolivarwood veneer. The lid of the rear champagne cooler contains the mathematical symbiol to ‘infinity’ made from aerospace-grade aluminium. It appears to float on the veneer
Everything is exquisitely finished, down to the bottles and glasses that are branded for those who want to quench their thirst while on the go
A black bolivar wood veneer continues the demonic dark theme inside. The lid of rear champagne coolers bears the mathematical symbol “infinity” in aerospace-grade aluminium. It appears to float on top of 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 has a glowing eternity sign surrounded by the dark. Thanks to intricate etching and more than 150 hidden LED lights, there are over 850 dashboard stars that light up when the lights turn on. These stars echo the twinkling Shooting Star’ constellation in this headliner.
Ray Massey drove the new model at night, fittingly within a stone’s throwing of the infamous “Hellfire Club” caves at West Wycombe, just outside the Chilterns. This area is renowned for its rakish activities during the 18th century.
Ray, Ray’s man, took the time to take in the luxury of the rear seats as he played the role a 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.
It’s quite an experience to be hurling a 2.5-tonne luxury limousine, hand-crafted, at night, at more than 100mph, down an otherwise unlit airfield. Perform tight turns around cones and hit the brakes to 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, actually.
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.
It’s dark and brooding on the highway, with a sporty appearance but a refined gloss.
A little bit of Dracula charm and seduction, but with real bite.
The Black Badge Ghost shares its flexible spaces-frame with the new 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.
You feel instant power when you hit the accelerator. The transmission and throttle responses were adjusted to allow the driver to fully experience the increase in pulling power and torque.
To increase road-holding and confidence, front and rear-steered wheels work together.
In ‘Low-Mode’ – effectively sport – gearshift speeds increase by 50 per cent when the accelerator pedal is decreased to 90 per cent.
Robust brakes ensure that the stopping power is equal to the acceleration. You can eve have bright red brake callipers – once unthinkable – to highlight its prowess.
If you are being driven, be comfortable in your back.
Keep in mind that you won’t save the planet right away. It’s officially a gas-guzzler’, with fuel consumption at a paltry 17.9mpg.
Rolls-Royce has already revealed its first all-electric car in late 2023 and a fully-electrified range in 2030. This could be one of the last heroic but rebellious, bad boys of a dying breed.
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.
Rolls-Royce’s most advanced motor car has been reengineered to reflect its alter ego: assertive, dynamic, and powerful. This is the Black Badge’s purest motor car. This is Black Badge Ghost.
Only thing left is to crank up the AC/DC songs as I return my car to its Goodwood owners, hopefully avoiding the Highway to Hell.
Rolls-Royce has given Black Badge treatment even to the Spirit of Ecstasy, an iconic symbol of the spirit of Ecstasy…
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’