When one thinks about a bespoke car, the Rolls-Royce and Bentley marques often come to mind. While there is no doubting their stellar work, there are other carmakers that do equally stellar bespoke jobs for their customers, but whose work perhaps isn’t as well-known.
One such example is Audi and its performance arm, Quattro. Customisation is available for every model, from the A1 all the way up to the A8 limousine and R8 supercar. This customisation could take the form of a personalised exterior colour (the range of standard, non-bespoke shades extends to over 100), and upholstery or interior panel inlays.
The humble A1, the most affordable car in Audi’s expansive line-up, can be had with over 800 variations, such as a 16-colour palette nappa leather interior or its roof in a contrasting colour to the rest of the body.
Move up to something like the A8 and the scope for personalisation balloons, with such options as a one-off exterior colour (though that’s subject to approval by the factory), upholstery or panelling that can be finished in two or more colours. Then, potential customers could choose from contrasting or tonal stitching, plus quilted or honeycomb-patterned seats.
It is, to say the least, bewildering, which is why Audi offers several ‘design selections’, which is a fancy way of saying an automotive customisation set menu, where the carmaker chooses what it thinks are good colour/trim combinations.
Some cynics will say that completely defeats the purpose of a customisation programme, but it’s actually quite clever, because this anti-customisation (in a sense) allows the carmaker to collaborate with other brands that share similar values.
For example, in 2013 Audi teamed up with Italian luxury furniture manufacturer Poltrona Frau to build a limited run of 50 A8s with seats clad in the latter’s acclaimed aniline leather.
On the other end of the customisation spectrum is the A8L Extended, a one-off six-door stretch limousine. Taking over a year to develop, it required significant re-engineering over the standard car, boasting the same torsional rigidity and safety as non-stretched versions. In fact, the reworking of the limousine’s chassis was so extensive that everything behind the A-pillars is completely new, and the A8L Extended had to be re-homologated to comply with EU regulations.
As for whether you’ll actually be able to order one of your very own, Audi says that while it has received several enquiries following news of the A8L Extended’s completion, it currently cannot confirm that it will accept requests to build another.
That said, if a potential buyer is really keen on one, it can open discussions with the factory to take the matter further.
All that sounds vastly similar to what its Volkswagen Group sibling, Bentley offers. What makes it even more surprising is that Audi is supposedly a more mass-market (for a given value of mass-market) carmaker, with global deliveries of 1.8 million vehicles, versus the 10,000 cars Bentley delivered in the same period.
According to Audi, the number of customised vehicles in 2015 stood at 180,000, which is a healthy 10 per cent of its total deliveries. That number pales in comparison to Ferrari, whose aptly named One-Off programme (which was launched in 2008) has an output of just two cars a year.
And it’s not just the programme’s capacity that’s unusual, because One-Off is very much a reflection of Ferrari’s famously cantankerous founder, Enzo Ferrari. According to a somewhat tersely worded statement from Ferrari, anyone can request to be a part of the One-Off programme, but “only projects that involve innovative styling and which are considered to be in line with Ferrari’s brand values will be considered".
While this might sound like the height of snobbery, you have to remember Ferrari has a reputation to protect, and it has a (possibly apocryphal) track record of Enzo turning away paying customers whose desires for their cars didn’t coincide with his. Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt Ferrari One-Off is hugely exclusive and the fact that the manufacturer selects its clientele only adds to the mystique.
It’s only fitting because the cars that come out of the One-Off programme are, as its name implies, unique. The most recent example of which is the 458 MM Speciale. While based on the running gear of the 458 Speciale, its bodywork is entirely bespoke, with more aggressive aerodynamic bodywork and a black-painted A-pillar that gives the impression of a wraparound windscreen.
Then there’s the SP12 EC, delivered in 2012 and commissioned by a guitarist you may have heard of, an Eric Clapton. Those are but some of the examples of what the programme has produced to date, with other notable examples including drop-top 599s and F12s, bodystyles the production cars were never made in.
That’s a direct result of the customer being involved every step of the way, with plenty of mutual consultation between him (or her) and Ferrari. As with the selection process, Ferrari has the right to refuse and won’t accede to every request. Suffice it to say, hot pink Ferraris festooned with decals are out of the question.
The process of ordering and then taking delivery of a One-Off Ferrari takes approximately two years, and in addition to the journey of building a unique Ferrari from scratch, customers will also have to frequently journey to the carmaker’s design centre in Maranello for direct consultation.
This is aimed at guiding customers in making a car that is consistent with the brand’s values, says Ferrari.
Then there’s how the unique Ferrari cannot in any way compromise performance or safety of the model it’s based on. It’s a very similar process to how a series-production Ferrari is made, says the Italian carmaker, with the only difference being just one example will be made.
But what if the customer decides to sell his unique Ferrari? Well, there are a bunch of restrictions there as well. Firstly, the customer may not sell it within 24 months of delivery, and even then, Ferrari has first right of refusal to buy the car back.
As you can probably tell by now, ordering a bespoke car from any manufacturer is far from easy. It’s a process made all the more difficult by the virtually limitless array of possibilities, to say nothing of the restrictions placed upon you by regulations or technical impossibilities. But ask anybody with a customised car and they’ll tell you the value of owning something with your mark on it, a mark that’s distinctly yours, is well worth it. And you really can’t put a price (be it time or monetary) on something as precious as that.