Why you should care
Because Rolls-Royce believes even the brightest of technologies still requires a bit of hand-holding.
Cross the threshold of any modern day Rolls-Royce, and you’ll step over a placard etched with five simple words: Hand-Built in Goodwood, England. Allow that bit of language to saturate as you get situated and look around. Inhale the rich aroma of precision-cut hide. Lay your hands on the laser-sharp veneers. Gaze up toward the twinkly, virtual starscape overhead. If the next thought to cross your mind isn’t “Holy sh*t, how?!” you are probably a lost cause. Hands, remember the hands!
With the aid of local observatories, we are able to plot out a specific section of the night sky and then replicate it inside the cabin of the car.
OK, so the Starlight Headliner referenced above isn’t standard on every Rolls that rolls from the assembly facility, but it is one of the brand’s more popular options — despite the $12,000-plus price tag. It also is a marvelous example of old-world craftsmanship meeting modern-day technology. After all, with today’s automated systems, fail-safes and — of course — simulated celestial vistas, building a car by hand is an absurdly obtuse concept, regardless of economics.
Bryan Shave, Rolls-Royce’s assembly manager for Ghost and Wraith models, explains how the process of installing a Starlight Headliner is actually a brilliant example of natural and artificial intelligence coexisting for the greater good. It’s captivating enough as a line item, he notes, but the real fun begins when customers go for an option of the option. “With the aid of local observatories, we are able to plot out a specific section of the night sky and then replicate it inside the cabin of the car,” he states.
Others have requested logos and other images. Shave tells the story of an unnamed client who requested an image of an astronaut’s helmet. (Though he can’t divulge the customer’s identity, you can’t help but wonder if the same guy is into park ranger hats.) “A projector is then used to cast the desired image onto the inside of the car’s uninstalled headliner,” he explains. This is where things really get hands-on.
Enter Rolls-Royce’s assembly experts — typically working two per headliner — who plot out the Big Dipper (Ursa Major if you fancy bears over ladles), the North Star or any requested band of constellations to correspond with the thousands of perforations in the leather of the car’s roof. Working in tandem precision that borders on a surgical nature, the assemblers then thread hundreds to thousands (averaging 1,600 per headliner) of fiber-optic strands into each pin-size portal. The other end is then routed to one of numerous LED-powered lighting houses located at various points around the periphery of the roof.
But the process is more complex than just plug-and-play. Grasp a bundle of the uninstalled elements, and you’ll note they are uniform in diameter. When the headliners are finished, however, they seem to twinkle and deliver the depth of a clear, moonless night. Shave notes that this effect is accomplished by installing the strands at varying depths, and also trimming the ends at different angles, causing the light to escape in different directions, at different intensities. Wowed yet?
What’s more mind-blowing is the fact that this particular task is all a Starlight Headliner installer does. “Typically, one unit takes anywhere from 12 to 16 hours to complete,” explains Shave. “And it is the same individuals working on them from start to finish.” He’s also eager to note how the installers take immense pride in and ownership of their creations. Not that you ever would, but pulling down the headliner would reveal their signatures on the leather’s reverse.
Could all this be accomplished by a robot? Probably, but it’s not. Instead, Rolls-Royce hires dexterous, detail-obsessed individuals from the textile realm and others; staying true to the company’s five-word mantra while fueling economies of all scales. The tangible result is a totally different take on heavenly creationism that’s still almost impossible to comprehend. But have faith — in man, at least.