MAKING THE WISH LIST
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Tue, Dec 16, 2003
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
MAKING THE WISH LIST
Comments by The EDITORS Photos by JOHN GRAFMAN
The desert wind is blowing dust over the two-lane country road leading to Willow Springs. The local crew is fixing the sewer system, and the twisty strip of asphalt seems even narrower than usual. Inside the luxury suite of cream-colored leather, dark polished oak, and plush carpets none of this matters. Somewhere in the background the opening bars of the Jupiter symphony are steadily rising to their magical and inimitable metric crescendo . . .. ta-da-dam, ta-da-dam, ta-da-da-dam. The gentleman beside me and I chat as we lazily pass the construction site. Except that I am holding a steering wheel, and, if a white needle on the speedometer in front of me is accurate - there is no reason to suspect otherwise - we are traveling at seventy-five miles per hour. Money has magic ability to insulate its owner from the ordinary. In case of the Rolls-Royce Phantom, which I am driving, three-hundred twenty thousand dollars will turn every simple drive from point A to point B to a ride on a magic carpet leaving noise, dust, dirt and other unpleasantries on the outside. Deep under my seat there is doubly insulated frame that keeps the bumps on the road away from me. My passenger and I do discuss the size of the wheels, the engine power, power train and torque, but analyzing these details seems so inappropriate, so crass. Instead of a tachometer, I am provided with a discreet instrument that gives me information about remaining available power. Its needle never drops below seventy percent, despite my rude attempts to move it lower. The Phantom brims with electronics, but most of it is placed underneath wood panels. Elegance has always equaled simplicity, and the Phantom faithfully follows this old adage. A thirty-minute drive seems short. Painfully short. As I exit the car I notice two details. The double R lettering on the hubcaps is always pointed correct-end upward, irrespective of how the wheels stopped. And a simple push on a silver button in the middle of the passenger door behind the driver reveals an umbrella. Some find the Phantom design objectionable. After driving around in this automobile, it does not take one long to realize that these are views from those on the outside looking in. Which, as is has been pointed earlier, really does not matter.
"Why don' t you bring the car to a stop, and then after you push that button on the steering wheel marked 'low', tromp on the accelerator so that you can see just how this vehicle can accelerate." The above comment was from Rolls Royce's General Manager of Communications, Bob Austin, sitting rather serenely in the back seat of the new Rolls Royce Phantom as your correspondent attempted (poorly) to maintain an outward air of 'cool' while driving the new Rolls. The Phantom did, in fact, accelerate 'smartly', pretty damn fast actually, with 0-60 in 5.7 seconds. It is a big car that doesn't feel all that big to the driver. Yes, it is longer than the 'short' Maybach (5.84, versus 5.7 meters), and no, it is not going to run through the slalom with the same ease as a Porsche, (any Porsche), but that isn't really the point, now is it? The odd thing about all this size is that the Phantom is only a few hundred pounds heavier than a Volkswagen Phaeton, or a Porsche Cayenne. There are a number of things about the Phantom that, for lack of a better term, are just fun. First among these are the electrically-actuated rear doors (for closing), which are 'coach' doors opening towards the front. This is followed closely by the umbrella that stows neatly in the door, easily available to whomever opens the door to see to it that the rear seat occupant doesn't get wet. Also fun is the hood ornament that disappears when the ignition is turned off, and the RR emblems on the wheels that are always situated upright as the wheels turn. When contemplating automobiles in the ultra price class (the Phantom requires writing a check for $320,000.00) one needs to attempt to eschew the mundane - i.e., speed, weight, length, etc. - and look at the macro picture. What does this all mean in the automotive scheme of things, who buys these things, and why? Why indeed... This is a conundrum that won't be solved by me in this 'go round, but it is certainly worth musing on. Is this vehicle four times better (based on price ratios) than a V12 Phaeton? More than twice as good as a Bentley GT? Less than half as good as a Ferrari Enzo? The answer certainly is in "the eye of the beholder." And if said beholder is sitting behind the wheel rather than standing on the sidewalk watching the Phantom roll by, the perspective is radically different.
In creating the Phantom (the first Rolls Royce created under the ownership of BMW), it looks like BMW Design Chief Chris Bangle had the designers take the trunk of the new 7-Series and apply it to the rest of the car" said one disparaging colleague upon the car's introduction. Another called it the best-looking refrigerator on four wheels. While the Phantom may lend new meaning to the term "brick house", underneath, it's a thoroughly modern, efficiently-packaged sedan that weighs within a couple hundred pounds of Volkswagen's similarly-named luxury car, the Phaeton. That fact is clearly demonstrated when one gets behind the wheel. At slow speeds, the new Rolls rides like a dream. Put the pedal to the metal, however, and it'll rocket from 0-to-60 mph in less time than most sport sedans. On the road, BMW's influence is evident: This may be the ultimate luxury car driving machine. Never mind the motorized "suicide" rear doors and passenger-seat amenities, this remains a great car to drive. With its upright exterior and rocket ship performance, Rolls has created one hell of a sleeper. The Phantom exhibits levels of luxury that most Americans will never get to experience. We did, and it's an unforgettable one. However, we quickly forgot the references to refrigerators and bricks. After spending some time as both a passenger and driver in the new Phantom, it somehow all looked right. Roy Nakano
LA Car bids farewell to 2003. However, we saved one of the best for last. In the automotive food chain, certainly the Rolls Royce name is among the top. The massive Phantom operates similarly to the top of the animal world food chain, the great white shark. Both are far more nimble than their size and weight would ever lead anyone to believe. They also are operating silently and swiftly. But most noticeably, those that catch a glimpse of these behemoths in action get the hell out of the way most expeditiously! With few equals, the Rolls is a staggering sight. Evolution has not entirely caught up to this machine. One glimpse at the front, and the aerodynamic similarities to a brick are readily apparent. From the inside, the silence is amazing. You can hear a pin drop. With an interior that is more along the lines of something out of Architectural Digest, the styling is a step removed from nearly the entire automotive spectrum. The interior is awash in the best of hides and woods. The accents are reminiscent of art deco represent the boldness that is part of the Rolls Royce heritage. Driving this tank is to truly understand why Rolls Royce still survives while others have become extinct. While on first blush this machine appears to have evolved little over time. The truth is, this continues in a large part due to much of the very latest in automotive refinements. The steering is surprisingly light, giving the impression of a much smaller sedan. The power, which is staggeringly abundant, also provides the same misconception as does all the other systems on the Rolls. The feelings that radiate are very much the same regardless if you are the driver or a fortunate passenger. In this application, one truth remains the same in both the animal and automotive world. It's good to be the king!
Further details on the Phantom can be found at www.rolls-roycemotorcars.com