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Pininfarina’s Rakish Roller: 1976 Rolls-Royce Camargue brochure

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Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News; courtesy of Bruce Zahor

Controversy: Thy name is Camargue. Monocles everywhere went dangling when Rolls-Royce introduced its new flagship two-door in 1975, for this car had such unusually sleek, severe lines that originated not in Crewe, but Turin.

This model was developed out of a Bentley T-series-based show car that Pininfarina displayed on its Paris Motor Show stand in 1968. That show car was intended to inspire a modern-day Continental, but would ultimately lead to this Rolls-Royce variant, which would remain in production for 11 years.

Its crisp styling was not unlike that of the equally Pininfarina-penned Fiat 130 Coupe and Ferrari 400. This car’s Parthenon-inspired grille upset traditionalists by being angled forward five degrees, BMW shark nose-style, rather than standing bolt-upright.

The Camargue – which was nearly stillborn, having been in development when Rolls-Royce declared bankruptcy in 1971, and was subsequently split into aircraft engine and automotive companies – was named after France’s marshy region on the Mediterranean Sea, south of Arles and west of Marseille. As this 1976, U.S.-specification brochure explains, “The Camargue is a wild, watery area in the South of France, described by the Michelin Guide as one of the strangest, most solitary, most original regions of France. It is home to a special breed of half-wild white horses which has flourished in the Camargue since Roman times; like filmy white wraiths, never to be tamed. Our new Rolls-Royce engulfs that uniqueness, breathes that mystery, and so we named her Camargue.”

This massive (5,135 pounds!), opulent four-seater’s 207.5-inch-long body was hand-crafted by H J Mulliner-Park Ward, primarily in steel, but with alloy doors, hood and trunk lid. Its instrument panel was very obviously inspired by an airplane cockpit, and included controls for the world’s first production bi-level automatic air-conditioning system. That dashboard was trimmed in Circassian Walnut veneers, while vat-dyed Nuella hides covered the seats and steering wheel, and edged the deep-pile Wilton wool carpeting.

Under the vast bonnet was Rolls-Royce’s 6.8-liter ( V-8, fed through two emissions-friendly SU HD8 carburetors, and which sent a demurely unspecified amount of power (estimated at 220 hp) to the rear wheels through a GM-sourced TH-400 three-speed automatic.

Overseas deliveries began in the spring of 1975, with the U.S. introduction one year later, indicated by this surprisingly sparse 1976 brochure. According to the Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, this car cost $115,000 in 1977 (roughly adjusted for inflation, $460,833 today), an incredible sum even when compared to the more formally styled Corniche Coupe ($102,900, or $412,345) or the basic Silver Shadow sedan ($65,400, or $262,074).

A grand total of 534 Camargues would be built in this flagship coupe’s lifetime, including prototypes and a singular 1985 Bentley Camargue variant.

Have you ever seen a Camargue? And do you feel its appeal has grown in the last 40 years?

Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge.