Street-Spotted: Rolls-Royce Camargue

Just 531 Camargues were produced over an 11-year production run.

Back when Rolls-Royce production numbers were truly exclusive, there was once a coupe named the Camargue. In production from 1975 till 1986, just 531 examples rolled out of the factory during that time — an average of just 48 cars per year. How’s that for an exclusive model?

But even among Rolls-Royce cars of the time the Camargue was special, serving as the halo model for the marque and priced accordingly. And it wore a modern Italian suit styled by Pininfarina, which offered a suspiciously similar suit to the Fiat 130 Coupe, of all things. The look was controversial back in the day — let’s put it that way.

Curiously enough, this design was initially built as a Mercedes and could have ended up as an SEC Coupe of the time, but was shunned by Stuttgart as the company opted for a look closer to the W116 sedans. The design, remarkably, went on to be tweaked for Rolls-Royce’s consumption, but lost very little in the transition.

At the time, the Camargue was panned for its uncompromising design and uncompromising price tag, seemingly borrowing a page from a book about brutalist architecture. The big coupe was knocked being inelegant to the point of offering featureless surfaces, ones that had nothing in common with other Rolls-Royce cars of the time. The flat front fascia and lines contrasted sharply with that of the Silver Shadow, and its sheer footprint dwarfed cars like the Corniche, which can seem snug today and dwarfed by a modern Toyota Avalon. The front fascia was arguably the only Rolls-Royce thing about the car; with the grille gone it could have easily worn a different mask, perhaps one of an American car of the time. And the rear fascia reminded car enthusiasts of a scaled-down version of a Fiat 124 sedan.


The Camargue resembled the Fiat 130 Coupe a little too closely, and its taillights evidence Italian roots.

Indeed, the rear fascia is one of the few elements that betrays the Camargue’s Italian roots, and it almost makes the Camargue look smaller than it really is, at least in photos. The effect is lost over time — the U.S. never had a lot of 124 sedans to begin with — but it doesn’t really advertise itself as a British car of the time.

No shortage of design critiques were put forth back in the day, but it’s a very special treat to see one of these rare coupes on the street.

The Camargue itself was based on the Silver Shadow/Corniche cars so Rolls-Royce did not invest too much in development, aside from dual-zone climate control, and it ended up previewing the next generation of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars from the Silver Spirit/Mulsanne range. The coupe was powered by the trusty 6.75-liter V8, paired with a three-speed automatic borrowed from GM, but it was by no means a sporting kind of coupe. Its favorite kind of driving was transporting one or two passengers from a wild night in Monte Carlo to a villa on the French riviera overlooking the Mediterranean. Another favorite pastime of the Camargue was carefully crawling around manicured hedges on its way to attend a polo match in the home counties.


The Camargue remains quite affordable but also quite expensive to service properly, with few examples approaching the $100,000 mark.

Has the design aged well, looked through the eyes of 2019?

The Camargue’s legacy is getting a second look of sort today as Rolls-Royce has adopted a design direction remarkably similar to that of this coupe, with the Phantom and Ghost featuring a high shoulder line, flat sides, high-mounted rectangular headlights and a square grille mounted on a flat front fascia. If the Camargue was updated with a few modern touches, it would look a lot like the current Rolls-Royce lineup: if you squint hard enough and picture it with massive wheels and a silver metallic paint finish, the coupe is not that far off from designs offered by the Anglo-Germanic marque today.

But this resemblance hasn’t helped Camargue values in the collector market where it remains remarkably affordable, if a little north of Silver Spirit/Mulsanne values.

How hard is it to spot the Camargue in the States? We’ve only seen a handful of these in the U.S. in the last decade, so don’t worry if you haven’t seen one.  And as we’ve mentioned earlier, a 531-car production run over 11 years does not divide into a whole lot of cars for any one region, but the U.S. did get a few dozen of these coupes. A number have had their roofs sliced off by coachbuilders in the 1980s — Rolls-Royce could have profited handsomely from a factory cabrio, now that we think about it — and the automaker also built one example as a Bentley. All it took back in the day was a Bentley grille, some badging, and voila — you had a genuine Bentley. Isn’t it strange that things used to work that way when Rolls-Royce and Bentley were the same automaker?


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