Exploring three continents in Rolls-Royce’s first off-roader.
By Max Prince
Photographs by Cory Richards
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is not an SUV.
It seats five adults and has an expansive tailgate. It rides on air suspension, towering more than six feet tall, and weighing more than three tons. It has a torque-y twin-turbo engine and full-time four-wheel drive, with a dedicated low gear for off-road use. On paper, it is an archetypal sport utility vehicle.
According to Rolls-Royce, the Cullinan, which represents the British automaker’s first foray outside the traditional coupe, sedan, and convertible body styles, is “a high-sided, all-terrain motor car.” Acronyms, apparently, are tacky. Crass. Maybe even vulgar. And a Rolls-Royce is nothing if not entirely devoid of vulgarity.
Consider the automotive landscape in 1906, when the company entered the market. Motoring was an event unto itself; drivers could expect frequent mechanical failure, tools and lubricants, ruined clothing, and long walks searching for fuel or assistance. Rolls-Royce positioned itself as the ultimate in personal luxury: all the opulence of autonomy and speed without the inconvenience and ignominy of a breakdown. Early marketing efforts were famously theatrical, with salespeople chucking their tool kits, locking their hoods shut, and driving hundreds of miles through mountains and deserts. Royals and socialites swooned. The brand became an institution.
In a neat historical symmetry, the Cullinan’s final testing phase involved a theatrical endurance trial. Wearing camouflage livery, the all-new Rolls-Royce traversed the Scottish highlands, smashed over Mideast sand dunes, ascended the 14,000-foot Pikes Peak in Colorado, then ripped off top speed runs across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Cory Richards, the award-winning photojournalist and mountain climber, was along for the ride. He captured some exclusive behind-the-scenes images for Watch Journal, which appear on the following pages, along with his notes from the journey.
The visual grandeur of Richards’s work fits the Rolls-Royce’s personality. After all, the name Cullinan comes from the world’s largest rough diamond, discovered in 1905, and later cut into nine stones. Two of them were set into the Queen’s crown. Her Majesty does not dress provocatively, express political views, nor speak in clipped, crude abbreviations.
“Every time I step out the door, I don’t really know what to expect. That uncertainty is the soul of adventure. Being isolated is always unnerving. But it’s always underscored by a sense of curiosity. I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve never seen a landscape that is at once so similar and so complex.… God, it’s stunning.”
– Cory Richards
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
“A place is more than its people, its cultures, its languages, or its landscapes. They’re simply components of the texture. Finding the moment that celebrates all of these things simultaneously—that’s the alchemy of photography. Finding a moment that says everything without having to say anything at all. Like the quiet stranger, walking through the desert, alone.”
“Finality is always bittersweet. Oftentimes journeys seem to end abruptly, like crossing a finish line that you know is there, but that you couldn’t see until it was behind you. I’d imagine it’s kind of like going 300 miles per hour [on the Salt Flats.] It happens before you can make sense of it, only to be trapped trying to remember the experience long after the world has slowed. What was lived can only be revisited in images along the way. Postcards from the past, that we use to make sense of how it’s changed us, as we look to the future.”