Car names can be comical in the way they attempt to evoke a certain location. Take the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, for example. Has a bloated Chevy two-door ever taken to the ultimate playground of the rich and famous? Almost certainly not.
One vehicle that certainly has plied its way through Monte Carlo is the Rolls-Royce Corniche, which was appropriately named after the Grand Corniche that runs along the French Riviera. And, of course, the Corniche boulevard that zips past the decadent Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi has undoubtedly seen its share of droptop Rolls-Royces.
What makes this droptop so special? The 2000-2002 Corniche was the fifth in a line of Bentley-related cars dating to the late 1970s that offered Rolls-Royce opulence and style in a two-door package. Coupes were part of the first Corniche run, but the style became far associated with stately convertibles. Rolls-Royce built versions of the original Corniche through 1995, and then took a five-year break before assembling just 374 Corniche V models between 2000 and 2002
By then, the iconic British luxury brands had been split up, with BMW taking ownership of Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen controlling Bentley. The Corniche was the last car developed when Rolls-Royce and Bentley fell under the same umbrella, and at about $360,000, it was massively expensive — about a contemporary Toyota Camry more expensive than the related Bentley Azure.
What made the Corniche so expensive was its classic Rolls-Royce opulence. This was a car built with no attempt to cut corners with less-expensive materials sourced from low-end suppliers. It was built to the same definition of opulence that had defined Rolls-Royce for the better part of a century, and its 6,800-pound curb weight was on par with a Ford Excursion.
The Corniche is almost quaint inside, a reminder that Rolls-Royce and Bentley did not have BMW and Volkswagen budgets to work with just 20 years ago. A wood panel reveals an Alpine cassette deck not far off of what you could pick up at Best Buy for your Nissan Xterra. This was definitely old-school luxury, considering a Mercedes-Benz ML320 at 1/10th the price came with an LCD screen in its dash.
The Corniche, instead, draped passengers in hand-stitched Connolly leather, glossy wood trim, and lush wool carpets. What looked like chromed metal trim was the real thing, not shiny plastic like on other luxury cars. The only airbags were in the dash and steering wheel, four less than you’d find on a 2000 Volvo S80.
Still, there was nothing like the Corniche, and there will never be anything quite like it again.
Here’s a gorgeous Sunset Red one with a color-matched convertible top and an interior that blends tan leather, burgundy carpets, and inlaid wood trim in a stunning way. Ignore the model year and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a 1985, not a 2000.