The Corniche epitomized Rolls Royce
There are three ancient roads or “Corniches” that run along rugged mountainsides connecting Monaco with France. The Lower Corniche…or “Bas Corniche”, Middle Corniche…or “Moyenne Corniche”…and the Upper Corniche or the “Grande Corniche.”
The Bas Corniche passes through a picturesque fishing town of Villefranche and small towns such as Cap Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The Moyenne Corniche rises to an elevation of around 1,200 feet featuring spectacular views of the Mediterranean towns. The “Eagle’s Nest” is located on the Moyenne Corniche. The Grande Corniche passes through the mountainside town of Roquebrune.
The Grande Corniche aka “high-road” was built by Napoleon and runs through the beautiful Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur on the French Riviera one of the 27 regions of France. From the Bas Corniche with its exclusive hotels and yachts to the Grande Corniche famous for its breathtaking views, sheer drops, and hairpin turns…are some of the most beautiful landscapes put on God’s green earth.
The name “Corniche” evokes the Speed Weeks in Nice at the turn of the century when drivers raced up the winding climb to La Turbie… Or Monte Carlo road rallies winding down off the top of the Alps after a winter excursion across Europe. These roads tested the driver’s expertise with the sheer drops and hairpin turns that sometimes cost a surefire winner victory. There is nothing more picturesque than a road trip from France to Italy via Monaco…
The Corniche…is also an ultra-luxurious coupe or convertible cabriolet. The panel beaters…carpenters…trimmers…and cabinet makers who have experience in these areas are rare. The art was alive and quite well at Mulliner Park Ward Design Studios where artisans were plying their various trades on behalf of those discerning motorists that sought only the best life has to offer. Rolls Royce purchased the firm in 1959. The eminent coachbuilders at Mulliner Park Ward were masters of the craft.
Mulliner Park Ward created works of automotive art. It was Mulliner Park Ward that crafted the first coupe models of the Silver Shadow in the mid-1960s. The Silver Shadow Mulliner Park Ward coupe models were renamed Corniche in 1971. Corniche I-IV was built from 1971 until 1995, then again in 2000 as Corniche V and was at the time the most expensive car in the world at $359,000+ USD.
The Rolls Royce Corniche convertible was a benchmark of excellence. Its intricate bodyshell was crafted entirely by hand by the masterful artisans at HJ Mulliner, Park Ward Studios in London. Its coachcrafting was distinctive from the other Rolls Royce models. The waist rail was lower and a graceful ‘cupid’s bow’ was deftly incorporated into the architecture augmenting its exclusivity as signature MPW features. Anything that rolled out of Mulliner Park Ward was a cherished, instantly collectible vehicle.
The Series II Corniche received a “beauty treatment” with body colored impact moldings, this was the only noticeable refinement to the exterior. Rolls Royce never designed their cars to be “trendy or seasonal” with short-lived notoriety.
Out of courtesy to all Rolls Royce owners, they would never introduce anything to render the previous model redundant. Change is required to refine components, not just for the sake of change. The Corniche II was built from 1986 until 1989 for the US market. It was available in other markets in and after 1988. Only 1,234 Corniche II models were built.
The Corniche was the pinnacle of luxury and the very essence of the brand. Both the hardtop coupe and luxury convertible went through an evolution of refinement…which was a continuous program of rigorous testing and development was applied without compromise to suspension, brakes and steering.
Every attempt was made to eliminate any sudden or unpredictable handling characteristics. Advanced electronic measurement was used to quantify data regarding handling, ride quality, and noise testing. It was the little things that weren’t forgotten…the door handles, ashtrays, and the various switches and fittings were all made to exacting standards for their specific functions.
The power, fully automatic folding fabric roof for the Corniche convertible was the Mulliner Park Ward crowning touch. All convertible tops are not created equal. To MPW it was more than just a soft top. It took one man more than four days to build the frame alone.
The entire assembly piece by piece was fitted to a master jig. Hours were spent easing the joints, fitting the hardwood, and tensioning the steel door top cables that were unique to the Corniche convertible. These were hand sewn into the hood (The British refer to a convertible top as a hood) fabric and effectively prevented flap and wind noise.
The hood trimmers were masters of the trade. They hand cut the hood lining which was made of pure wool ‘West of England’ broadcloth. This was artfully pre-tailored and then carefully hand-stitched into place….stretching a little here…easing a little there in the intangible instinctive manner that was the hallmark of this intricate process.
And…it was only done this way to prevent wrinkles even after long use. Then there was the installation of the many grades of padding to achieve the desired shaping of the hood. It was equally important that the final covering could withstand wind and the elements providing many years of service anyplace in the world.
With the hood raised, it mocked the appearance of a hardtop. On the inside there was no visible hardware exposing its identity as a convertible. The hood was constructed with loving care as was the entire car. The Corniche models epitomized Rolls Royce eloquence and escalated the brand to new heights in exclusivity and supremacy in an ultra-luxury motorcar.
The use of hand-polished veneers was the ultimate embellishment of British coachcraft. Unique to Corniche were the use of cross-banded veneers. This process entailed the art of edging the panels and door capping rails with a narrow band of veneer that possessed a pronounced cross-grain.
The veneers were artfully shuffled, matched, and cut before mounting to the seasoned hardwood backing. The age-old art of architectural entasis was used. This process results in the ultimate impression of flatness. All of the panels were made slightly convex to achieve this look. The wood was lacquered and hand-rubbed to a mirror gloss. All wood in a Rolls Royce is ‘mirror-matched’ to reflect the panels of the opposite side.
The interior, even the carpet bindings were trimmed in supple natural grain leather by Connolly Brothers. Hand-tufted wool carpets with mouton rugs were luxuriously underfoot. At Mulliner Park Ward artisans that specialized in leather, tin smiths, sheet metal workers, and cabinet makers teamed together to build the best car in the world. Rolls Royce likes to cosset their customers in decadent luxury.
Standard was Rolls Royce automatic dual level air conditioning system that supplied heated or cooled air to the interior through independently ducted upper and lower systems. Stale air was extracted via the luggage boot.
Power windows, power door locks with centralized locking system and theft deterrent system, power seats, automatic boot release, power steering, and courtesy lighting were just a few of the myriad features and accessories standard for the Corniche.
Electronic speed control used the speed signal from the electronic speedometer generator. The actuator was connected to the accelerator linkage and adjusted the amount of throttle opening enabling the car to maintain the selected speed.
The Rolls Royce Corniche was built as monocoque construction, where the body and frame are made as a single entity. It was a large front engine rear drive convertible that rode a long 120.5” wheelbase, had the luxury length of 204.06” and was 72.3” wide.
The front subframe was mounted to the body under frame on rubber mounts. The rear subframe was a space-frame assembly attached at its four corners to the body under frame by cylindrical rubber mounts. A short telescopic damper was fitted to each front mount position to dampen movement in a fore and aft direction.
The front suspension used independent coil springs, lower wishbones, compliant controlled upper levers, telescopic dampers, and anti-roll bar. The rear suspension consisted of independent coil springs with semi-trailing arms, suspension struts and anti-roll bar. Gas springs were used with the suspension struts that performed as integral dampers and height control rams.
The Rolls Royce Corniche was powered by the legendary 6.75 litre 412 CID 16-valve V8 engine. The cylinder block and heads were aluminium alloy. The smoothness, silence, and refinement of the Rolls Royce engine were paramount to the brand.
Every possible source of noise was examined and reduced to the absolute minimum. In every Rolls Royce motorcar there are more than 80,000 components many of which are made on-site in their own machine shop. This gives Rolls Royce complete control over engineering quality.
The engine was mated to GM’s Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission. It had a three element hydraulic torque converter and compound planetary gear train which transmitted the drive in three forward ranges and reverse. The transmission fluid was cooled by a heat exchanger incorporated in the engine radiator. A parking lock was activated in the transmission when the gear lever was shifted to park or the ignition key removed.
The Rolls Royce Corniche was the ultimate Rolls Royce. It was the quintessential status symbol. With handcrafted custom bodywork by Mulliner Park Ward, the Corniche was the benchmark of excellence. It was truly the Spirit of Ecstasy.
From its hand sculpted radiator grille to its matched walnut veneers, the Rolls Royce Corniche left no room for compromise. It was built to last, and built according to the principles set down more than a century ago. Power, performance, and presence were the constant companion to the driver and passengers of the epitome of Rolls Royce luxury…
The quality remains long after the price has been forgotten
Thanks to Rodd Sala at Park Ward Motors Museum