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Far-Flung-nuegen?

So let's just say that Volkswagen outruns BMW in its quest to take over Rolls-Royce. And let's say VW goes a little buggy in making over the look of the regal sedan. . . .

April 06, 1998|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Among the favored and first in line were BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen-Audi, followed by serious nibbles from Ford, Chrysler, even impudent Toyota.

Then came a comedy chorus including Formula One racing pooh-bah Bernie Ecclestone; a syndicate of British loyalists headed by flag-wagging London barrister Michael Shrimpton; and last, probably least, Mohamed al Fayed, rumored conduit of Brunei billions, the man nobody in Britain wanted as Princess Diana's father-in-law.

As of last week, Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW, had been given the blessing by Vickers to buy Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which also builds equally celebrated Bentley motor cars. Not that Vickers needs the money. It just wants to concentrate on aerospace technology that reaches for the stars, instead of automobiles that cater to the stars.

BMW's bid was $570 million, really only a few quid more than the combined stickers on 3,000 Rolls-Royce sedans.

If accepted by Vickers' shareholders, the sale would mark the most successful German crossing of the English Channel since the Luftwaffe blitzed London in the early '40s--when German bombers were powered by BMW engines and were shot up by British fighters using Rolls-Royce engines.

The shareholders are expected to vote next month. This has given Volkswagen room to launch a lightning counterattack, upping its bid by $100 million, bringing its ante to almost a billion dollars. Or the price of 60,000 Jettas.

Infighting for this jewel in the British crown has been simply diabolical, old boy.

*

Among all the rumors, apocrypha, drunken dreaming, red herrings and black lies infesting the unresolved negotiations, it is wildly and unreliably reported that Volkswagen has built a rolling prototype, with the working title of Rolls-Royce Silver Cicada.

Imagine how ugly the spy sketches would be.

Obviously inspired by today's hysteria for yesterday and its own sold-out hit, Volkswagen well might propose a 3-ton Beetle. At that height, weight and length, it would look more like a Scarab smooching the Goodyear blimp.

Unable to come up with a suitable engine on short notice--and with BMW rejecting a request to supply V-12 loaners--der wunderkind at Volkswagen could cobble together a 400-horsepower V-16 from four Corolla engines. With the promise, of course, that Toyota gets a contract to supply future engines for an Anglo-Teutonic-Nippon-Rolls-Royce.

Volkswagen could retain the traditional, Grecian-temple radiator and the Flying Lady hood ornament. Sadly, the vehicle then would resemble one of those protest cars from the '60s, when gluing a Rolls radiator on a Beetle indicated a generation's distrust of materialism. Equally depressing: Volkswagen continuing this suggestion of eras past by resculpting the Flying Lady with a doobie in one hand and love beads in the other.

As often is the case with a product born in panic, items conceived as cute and jocular on paper can emerge as kitsch and unfunny in final form. Similarly, blending cultures is likely to produce lumps in the gravy.

* Volkswagen may want to reconsider any decision to equip its demo with a license plate frame announcing: "My Other Car Is a Saturn."

* It would be a mistake to replace the traditional Rolls-Royce picnic trays with TV trays, Connelly leather with Nuremberg Naugahyde, and Wilton carpeting with Austrian AstroTurf.

* Stein holders will never replace cup holders.

* Rear-seat hooks for lederhosen will not play in Mayfair.

* A bud vase may look good in the New Beetle, but a 5-gallon Waterford vase would look God-awful in the New Rolls-Royce.

* Bug-cute billboards comparing the car's character to "The Full Monty," size to Fergie's waistline, or the national heritage of a Rolls-Royce to steak-and-kidney pie, will not play in Encino.

* Nor would such Volkswagen advertising slogans as: "How to impress your neighbors in a new Rolls-Royce. Tell them what it costs in Deutsche marks." Or: "If you had to sell your house to buy a Rolls-Royce, you'd be home now." Or: "Zero to 60 in a fortnight." Or: "From Adolf With Love."

Based on all this, insiders say Volkswagen's chances of buying Rolls-Royce are as likely as finding a KROQ bumper sticker on a Bentley. BMW, they say, will emerge from negotiations with all the bratwurst.

That means Britons must again heed Churchill and brace themselves to their duties. To greet the Roller-Bimmer. And to thank God that Hyundai wasn't in the running.

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