Rolls Royce Camargue (1975-86): Italian Take on a British Institution

Channeling the Fiat 130 crossed with traditional Rolls design cues, the stylish and striking Pinninfarina-designed Camargue was striking, stylish and more subtle than what was to come

Introduced in 1975 as the top-of-the-range Rolls Royce, the Camargue was the most uniquely styled Roller of its time and accredited as the first production car with automatic climate control. As the world’s most expensive car at its launch, the Rolls Royce Camargue sold for about twice the price of a Silver Shadow saloon, with a £29,250 UK price-tag and $147,000US asking price when launched there a year later. A sportier, more modern and edgier take on a traditional Rolls Royce theme, the Pininfarina-designed Camargue was the first post-war Rolls not styled in-house, and was distinctively different from its contemporary Corniche coupe stable-mate.

Though a coupe, the Camargue’s position was – unconventionally – that of the range-topping and slightly sportier Rolls Royce, but as with any Roller, sportiness is a relative term, which never impinges on its role as the ultimate luxury car money can buy. Nearly four decades since its launch, the Camargue still has a strikingly different and awe-inspiring sense of delicately penned yet sharp, un-fussed and boldly brash presence and magnificence. In terms of its unconventionally sharp lines and stylized interpretation of Rolls Royce attributes, the Camargue looked light years ahead of other highly traditional Rollers of the time. Perhaps an indication of the stylized and sharp design language the Rolls Royce would take from 2002 under BMW ownership, the Camargue – irregardless of the massive grille – however carried itself with a more subtle and airy sense of style.

Characterized by its huge and dominant grille, the Camargue’s profile revealed a subtly more aggressive design touch with a slight seven degree forward slant, as opposed to modern Rollers’ slight aerodynamic grille tilt. The Camargue’s rectangular headlight clusters – with round lamps browed by small wiper – had a stark and bold appearance, and were set within an otherwise little cluttered and almost barren and elegantly minimalist landscape of bodywork. Though vaguely reminiscent of the 1960s Thunderbirds TV series car, the Camargue was however a chic, refined and cutting-edge interpretation of a Rolls Royce, whose role as ultimate personal luxury coupe makes it the most fitting of predecessor for modern Phantom Coupe.

Designed by Pininfarina, the Rolls Royce Camargue had both hallmarks of the traditional British brand and the Italian design house’s contemporary design language, with thin A- and B- pillars, a low waistline and gently sloped boot. Most prominently, a thick, long, and straight C-pillar best captured Pininfarina’s 1970s design theme, and was particularly reminiscent of the sumptuous Pininfarina-styled Fiat 130 Coupe’s C-pillar and glasshouse. Measuring 5170mm long and 1920mm wide, the Camargue was a spacious 5-seater despite its 2-door coupe configuration, while its low waistline, high seating and airy glasshouse helped with driver visibility over its vast bonnet and boot.

The first production car with automatic climate control that maintained a pre-set temperature, the Rolls Royce Camargue also featured power assisted windows, seats, steering and anything else then possible, while later US-bound versions even had CD-players and car-phones. Pulling out all the stops for the Camargue’s interior, hand crafted high quality leathers, woods and deep lush carpeting covered every cabin inch. A rich and ambient old world feel predominated the Camargue’s cabin, where an upright high dashboard featured luxurious wood veneers and leather stitching, with instruments and various button clusters or vents inlayed into the wood, while a steering column gear selector and a thin and large two-spoke steering wheel facilitated a comfortable cruising driving style.

Powered by the most prolific 6.75-liter version of pre-BMW Rolls Royce’s traditional 16-valve OHV V8-engine, the Camargue had the then most powerful iteration of this particularly robust, smooth, torquey but technologically old world engine family dating back to 1959 and first introduced in this displacement in 1970. Known to be big on torque and less so on horsepower, the Camargue was of an era when Rolls Royce didn’t disclose power ratings and instead only quoted output as “adequate”. However it is estimated that the Camargue was using a more powerfully-tuned 220BHP at 4500rpm engine with 330lb/ft torque. A low revving engine with emphasis on huge torque for gentle yet muscular progression, or “wafting”, as the Rolls Royce ride and driving experience is described as.

At 2390kg, the Camargue wasn’t as heavy as it could have been owing to some aluminum body panels, but with its discretely brawny 6.75-liter V8 driving the rear wheels through a smooth GM-sourced 3-speed slush-box automatic transmission, would reach 97km/h in an unhurried but respectable 10.9-seconds and propel its un-aerodynamic frame to 192km/h. Using independent front and rear self-leveling suspension tuned for comfort and suppleness, the Camargue was, like all contemporary Rollers, a sublimely smooth and ‘wafting’ experience designed to relax and pamper passengers, and to encourage an indulgently easy and gentlemanly driving style, while its light steering and surprisingly tight 11.7-meter turning circle made it easy to drive.

Specifications

  • Engine: 6.75-liter, in-line V8-cylinders
  • Valve-train: 16-valve, OHV, carburetor
  • Bore x stroke: 104.1 x 99.1mm
  • Compression ratio: 9:1
  • Gearbox: 3-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
  • Top gear / final drive ratios: 1:1 / 3.08:1
  • Power, BHP [Kw]: approximately 220 [162] @4500rpm
  • Specific power: 32.6BHP/liter
  • Power-to-weight ratio: 92BHP/ton
  • Torque lb/ft (Nm): approximately 330 (448)
  • Specific torque: 49Nm/liter
  • 0-97km/h: 10.9-seconds
  • Maximum speed: 192km/h
  • Fuel consumption: 23.5-liters/100km
  • Length: 5170mm
  • Width: 1920mm
  • Height: 1470mm
  • Wheelbase: 3050mm
  • Track, F/R: 1520 / 1510mm
  • Ground clearance: 165mm
  • Kerb weight: 2390kg
  • Fuel capacity: 107-liters
  • Brakes, F/R: Ventilated discs, 279mm / discs, 279mm
  • Steering: Power assistance, worm & roller
  • Lock-to-lock: 3.2-turns
  • Turning circle: 11.7-meters
  • Suspension, F/R: Independent, lower wishbone / semi-trailing arm, coil springs, anti-roll bar
  • Tires: 235/70R15
  • Production: 530 (+1 specially-commissioned Bentley Camargue)