It’s always sad to see an iconic motor being put out to pasture. And this week we see that officially happen to the Rolls-Royce Dawn. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has signalled the end of a glorious, glamorous era as it ceases production of its Dawn convertible.
But its not all sad news for motorheads, especially those fortunate to be in the luxury space. After all, the Dawn represents the best-selling drophead in the marque’s history, which more than solidifies its position in the pantheon of great Rolls-Royce motor cars.
More Than Just A Drop Top
Making its debut in 2015 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the idea for the Dawn was to usher a new era of super-luxury motoring. The focus was to create a stablemate for the Phantom Drophead Coupé, but yet serve as an entirely new kind of ultra luxury convertible for the market.
Rolls-Royce’s fastback coupé, the Wraith provided a template of sorts for the Dawn but designers wanted it to stand apart on its own. Fifties and sixties fashion provided the inspiration with the removal of superfluous lines and textures. In creating Dawn, 80% of the panels were entirely unique, including a ‘wake channel’ on the bonnet emanating from the Spirit of Ecstasy.
However, in one vital respect, Dawn broke with a long-established automotive design convention. Almost without exception, convertibles are designed in a 2+2 configuration, with full-size seating for the driver and one passenger in the front, plus two smaller seats for occasional passengers or children in the rear.
The lack of rear-seat space, and particularly legroom, reduces the car’s comfort and practicality – a shortcoming Rolls-Royce refused to accept. Dawn was therefore a full four-seater with comfortable, individual seating for all occupants.
The Silent Treatment
Nevertheless, Dawn did provide a host of complex engineering challenges for Rolls-Royce, most notably the intricate roof mechanism, dubbed the ‘Silent Ballet’ for its precision, elegance and noiseless operation. A convertible hardtop had been briefly considered, however the marque’s designers decided Dawn’s roof should be created from fabric to retain the romance of listening to raindrops on canvas.
Instead, a unique blend of materials, including fabric, cashmere and high-performance acoustic composites, made Dawn the world’s quietest convertible. Amazingly, with its roof closed, Dawn equalled the Rolls-Royce Wraith for noise-isolating performance.
In quintessential Rolls-Royce style, engineers spent months optimising the convertible experience with an exhaustive testing programme – neither eliminating airflow completely nor permitting disruptive levels into the cabin.
Rolls-Royce also recognised the centrality of the driving experience for many of the younger clients Dawn was created for. Thus, beneath its svelte, minimal lines, Dawn received the marque’s near-silent 6.6-litre, 563bhp twin-turbo V12 engine. The chassis, naturally, delivered the brand’s signature ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, combining responsiveness and engagement with an almost supernatural smoothness.
In 2017 a more powerful Black Badge variant was added to the line. Boasting an entirely new exhaust system, it added a bass baritone quality to the engine note. The engine itself was tuned to deliver an extra 30bhp and boost torque to 840Nm.
Beyond its desirability, Dawn brought the spirit of ‘la dolce vita’ to Rolls-Royce’s contemporary brand promise through an exquisite marriage of seductive design, contemporary materials, and a social, open-air driving experience. In doing so, Dawn has ensured its legacy by compelling an entirely new generation to the marque. As such, it is a model that will surely be missed.