Targa Siciliana by Camargue

Rolls-Royce must have had a Mafia mole. Briefly in 1975, Sicilian speed limits, it seemed, were suspended. We flew in a BAC 111 from Gatwick to Catania on January 15, for the press launch of the Camargue; driving round island roads in a sort of luxury Targa Florio*. Sicily was good in January, warm, sunny and we stayed at a spectacular hotel, clinging to a cliff in Taormina, Mount Etna one side and the Ionian Sea on the other. I drove with Roger Bell, an engineer from Rolls-Royce in the back. We never discovered if he was merely an observer, watching over his car or over us. We drove on dry, dusty mountain roads, then raced along empty half-finished Autostradas, which pierced rock faces with twin tunnels. It was an exciting journey in air conditioned comfort, the motorway bits mile after mile at an indicated 120mph. We weren’t sure that the man from Rolls-Royce enjoyed it, but he never complained. Roger was head road tester and a trusted former colleague at The Motor, an accomplished saloon car racer we often drove on press launches. We knew one another’s driving. The poor engineer didn’t know us at all.

Did you know there was a Bentley Camargue? Just one. A Bentley Pininfarina designed for Lord Hanson in 1967 and the Rolls-Royce Camargue eight years later, were not highly regarded at first. It was a decade or two later before the eye caught up with their high waistlines and flat sides. Sergio Pininfarina had worked to strict limits. His design brief from Crewe was unlike the free-ish hand given him for the Fiat 130 Coupe, which, as with the 1947 Cisitalia, was an exemplar of crisp contour and elegant proportions. This time he had to adhere to the 1960s T-series/Silver Shadow floor pan, engine and transmission. Furthermore he was required to keep the generous seating plan. Rolls-Royce decreed that the proportions of the radiator could change (they had altered several times since 1904) and, as a special concession it could be tilted forwards, but by no more than 4 degrees from the vertical. Camargue looked bigger than the rest of the range and although no taller, it was a substantial 10cm (3.94in) wider. A striking innovation to the facia was Pininfarina’s clever adoption of aircraft-style instrument bezels, at one stroke taking the ambience of the car ahead by a generation. Something of a new experience for Crewe was meeting safety legislation, largely American thus far, which required destructive testing of bodies and components. More power was needed to make sure the larger frontal area would not affect performance, so after car 31 the engine was supplied with a German-made Solex four-barrel fixed choke carburettor. For markets where stringent emissions regulations were being applied, such as the United States and Japan, the two SUs were retained along with a lower compression ratio of 7.3:1. Crewe and Mulliner Park Ward in London shared Camargue production until summer 1968, when Motor panels of Coventry was contracted to supply completed body shells and production commenced at Crewe. Prototype Camargues ran with Bentley disguises and a turbocharged Bentley had been considered for production, but the car came on the market as a Rolls-Royce. However Sir David Plastow said that the company would be happy to quote a price for a Bentley version if anyone wanted. It was an offer one customer took up. Enquiries to identify the individual came to nothing. Was there a Sicilian connection?
INTRODUCTION 1975 produced to 1986
BODY Saloon; 2-doors, 4-seats; weight 2347kg (5175lb)
ENGINE V8-cylinders, in-line; front; 101.4mm x 99.1mm, 6750cc; compr 9:1 later 8:1; 164kW (220bhp) @ 4000rpm; 24.3kW (32.57bhp)/l.
ENGINE STRUCTURE 2 pushrod overhead valves; hydraulic tappets; gear-driven central cast iron camshaft; aluminium cylinder head with steel valve seats, aluminium block, cast iron wet cylinder liners; 4-choke Solex 4A1 carburettor, later 2 SU HIF7 1.87in; coil ignition Lucas Opus electronic ignition distributor; two SU electric fuel pumps; 5-bearing chrome molybdenum crankshaft.
TRANSMISSION rear wheel drive; GM400 3-speed automatic with torque converter; hypoid bevel final drive 3.08:1.
CHASSIS steel monocoque with sub-frames; independent single transverse arm top wishbone front suspension; coil springs, anti roll bar; independent trailing arm rear suspension, coil springs; anti roll bar; rear automatic height control; telescopic dampers; hydraulic servo brakes, 27.9cm (11in) dia discs, 2 single callipers front ventilated, dual calliper rear; triple circuit; Saginaw recirculating ball, later rack and pinion PAS; 107l (23.5gal) fuel tank; 235 70VR 15 radial ply tyres, 6in rims
DIMENSIONS wheelbase 305cm (120in); track front 152.4cm (60in), rear 151.4cm (59.6in); length 517cm (203.5in); width 191.8cm (75.5in); height 148cm (58.2in); ground clearance 16.5cm (6.5in); turning circle 11.6m (38ft).
EQUIPMENT Connolly hide upholstery; Wilton carpet with nylon rugs; air conditioning; laminated windscreen; Bosch Frankfurt AM FM radio £77.46 extra
PERFORMANCE maximum speed 190kph (118mph); 42.1kph (26.2mph) @ 1000rpm;
0-100kph (62mph) 10.1sec; fuel consumption 22.6l/100km (12.5mpg).
PRICE, 1975 Rolls-Royce £29,250
PRODUCTION 525 Rolls-Royces and 1 Bentley (plus 4 prototypes and 4 experimental cars all scrapped)
*Sicilian road race. This blog based on The Complete Bentley, Dove Publishing Ltd, now widely available as an ebook from Foyles, Waterstone, Amazon and more.