Unveiled in Sicily in January 1975, the Rolls-Royce Camargue proved a feast for the motoring press starved of such extravagant machines in the immediate post-fuel crisis years. But praise was muted as the car’s styling was not universally admired. Instead, most reports at the time devoted more space to the car’s two-level air conditioning that constantly measured the air inside and outside the cabin through various sensors and automatically adjusted vents and fans accordingly.
To many the marque was synonymous with dignified conveyencers for royalty and the aristocracy but in the post-war years Rolls-Royce lost its time-honoured ability to distinguish between class and kitsch, to be able to tow the line rather than cross the line between discretion and ostentation. The arrival of the Camargue perhaps marked the beginning of this decline. This flamboyant supercoupe was a car intended for royalty or celebrities who imagined they were royalty.
The marriage of Pininfarina’s styling ancestry and Rolls-Royce’s blue chip bloodline should have resulted in a dazzling tour-de-force. Instead it resulted in an awkward looking behemoth. And why did they name it after a tract of French wasteland, mainly populated by wild horses?
When initial design started in the late 1960s it was intended to replace the handsome two-door Silver Shadow. Management wanted a coach built range-topper that would introduce new technology while appearing suitably different from regular production models. Bertone was apparently considered but Pininfarina was the natural preference. Surgis Pininfarina was so keen to seal the deal, he even moderated his usual fee on the proviso that he approved any future changes during the model’s lifetime.
The wheelbase and track of the Silver Shadow platform that served as the basis of the Camargue could not be altered, nor the scuttle height which dictated an unnaturally elevated bonnet line.
A 7.2-litre variation of the Shadow’s pushrod V8 was briefly considered but this proved unreliable so they went with the then usual 6.75-litre engine with alloy block and head, cast iron wet cylinder liners, Solex four-barrel carburettor and electronic ignition remained, allied to a GM 400 three-speed automatic transmission. Suspension was as the Shadow; independent all round with complex hydraulics for the front disc brakes and self-levelling rear setup. The steel monocoque body had aluminium bonnet, doors and boot lid.
If nothing else, the Camargue proved that Rolls-Royce was back from the brink following the 1971 crash. Its fabulous price reflected the laborious build; each car was six months in the making with waiting lists of up to two years.
The Camargue continued until 1986 when the last 12 models were made, fuel-injected for overseas markets.
During its 11-year run, 529 Rolls-Royce Camargues were made, most of which were customised to suit the owner’s whims and fancies with some white-on-white monstrosities sold in the USA, only serving to heighten the model’s reputation as the epitome of all things tasteless. This was unfortunate as models finished in more sober colours and with less ostentatious additions proved rather splendid machines.