Automobile - - Design - By De­sign by ROBERT CUM­BER­FORD

A COU­PLE OF decades back, some­what awestruck, I held a sim­ple—prim­i­tive, re­ally—wooden car model as old as I was, noth­ing more than a block of wood that had been sliced lon­gi­tu­di­nally at an an­gle on both sides some­time in the late 1930s so its trans­verse cross sec­tion be­came a sym­met­ri­cal trape­zoid. The block was then jig­sawed to a pro­file that de­scribed a hood, wind­shield, and body to which were ap­pended rough plas­ter of Paris fender forms. It was Flaminio Ber­toni’s own crude, bru­tal ... and as­ton­ish­ingly pre­cise phys­i­cal de­scrip­tion of a car that was sub­se­quently man­u­fac­tured for nearly half a cen­tury in ex­actly that shape, the legendary Citroën 2CV.

I have never seen a de­sign model for the Rolls-Royce Cul­li­nan, but one can eas­ily imag­ine a block of wood sim­i­larly jig­sawed to pro­file (and slightly nar­rowed above the waist­line) that would be per­fectly ad­e­quate to de­fine and de­scribe the three-di­men­sional sur­face en­ve­lope R-R’s de­sign team had to work within to cre­ate this fe­ro­ciously ex­pen­sive SUV. Noth­ing is the least bit awe­some or par­tic­u­larly imag­i­na­tive about the Cul­li­nan. But I am none­the­less im­pressed by the sub­tlety and, yes, rel­a­tive el­e­gance of the sur­face mod­u­la­tions ex­e­cuted within the con­fines of the few inches be­tween my imag­ined wooden block’s rough-sawn perime­ter and the lav­ish in­te­rior crafted for the en­joy­ment of the world’s tenth-ofone-per­centers who will be­come own­ers of this OTT SUV.

Un­like the an­cient 2CV, there is noth­ing at all bru­tal or crude about the Cul­li­nan. There are even vague hints of volup­tuous cur­va­ture in the front and rear fender pro­files, although there’s only a few mil­lime­ters de­vi­a­tion from a dead straight line. In my notes

I’ve re­ferred to the Cul­li­nan as the “Rolls-Royce truck,” and in­deed that’s what it is, just as his­tory’s long­est-lived pas­sen­ger car model name, Sub­ur­ban, was first ap­plied to Chevro­let’s panel de­liv­ery truck with some win­dows punched into its sides. If there never has been a pro­duc­tion R-R truck, there have in­deed been quite a few util­i­tar­ian bod­ies built for place­ment on Roll­sRoyce chas­sis, in per­fect ac­cor­dance with Sir Henry Royce’s idea that one should be free to in­ter­change bod­ies at will, de­pend­ing on need, whim, or just sea­son of the year.

In our mod­ern world of uni­tized body-chas­sis units, that long-ago con­cept is no longer ap­pli­ca­ble, so it is now nec­es­sary to ded­i­cate a spe­cific set of tools to make each sep­a­rate type of body, even if en­gine, driv­e­line, and sus­pen­sion el­e­ments can be shared by them. The Cul­li­nan may be seen by some as shame­lessly fol­low­ing a pop­u­lar trend for SUVs, but I don’t think so. This ve­hi­cle, with its flaw­less ex­e­cu­tion and lav­ishly ap­pointed in­te­rior, is per­fectly aligned with the glo­ri­ous his­tory and re­spected tra­di­tions of the fine old Bri­tish firm. Rolls-Royce may be Ger­man now, but there’s noth­ing wrong with that. So is the Bri­tish royal fam­ily. Long live Betty Bat­ten­berg … and Rolls-Royce.

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