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FINE ART

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 27, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

FINE ART

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Recently, art works of famous of painters Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol were stolen from the Scranton, Pennsylvania Everhart Museum. The value alone of the Pollack paintings is in the neighborhood of $12 million. Jackson's art, best known for his application of paint that looks like it was spattered wildly across the canvass, is highly regarded in the art world, while others fail to see the art or the value.

Coincidently, the Rolls Royce Phantom is as similar to the typical car as a Pollack or Warhol is to a poster at Aaron Brothers. Picasso, Da Vinci, and millions of others share a common bond with paint and canvass, but not all paintings are created equally. Hence, the designation of fine art.

While it is safe to say that the basis of the Rolls is similar to many cars with glass, metal, plastic, rubber, leather, and paint, are all a part of the final automobile. The differences couldn't be more pronounced.

The 2006 Rolls Royce Phantom is not simply a car. The Phantom can only best be understood as art. Be it from behind the wheel or the passenger's seat, this is not an automobile that has a black and white purpose in life. No, the Phantom is meant to be experienced.

I don't want to sound like we don't appreciate the attributes the Phantom offers it owners. The truth be told, this is beyond my expectations on many fronts.

On a postcard perfect Southern California day, we have the opportunity to explore both the luxury as well as the performance this motorcar affords. Saddled in the driver's seat, I pilot the massive machine to 130 MPH (on a closed course in OC) - and it's about as drama free as cruising at 60. The noise entering the interior is minimal. If it wasn't for the poor condition of the roadway, the noise otherwise might have been nothing at all. The rush of energy propelling a carload of four to these speeds is amazing. Yet, the poise is maintained throughout, allowing us to carry on a conversation without any squirming or needless elevation in our voices.

The stability of the auto is exceptional at all speeds and conditions. The thin-rimmed steering wheel is both a reflection of the car's heritage as well as a disguise of the vehicle's performance and agility. Rolls Royce is so confident about their product, they actually set up a short, coned slalom course as well as a moose avoidance course (no actual moose were harmed in this demo). I am hesitant about this, after all this is not a Lotus or even a Jaguar. Out on the runway at the former El Toro Marine Base we come to realize that the Phantom can't rewrite the laws of physics, but it does an unbelievable job of trying to do just that. I am thinking this will certainly roll over as we weave back and forth at a fairly good clip. The Goodyears do howl, and the big car does sway, but it never loses control and the cones escape being flattened like a field mouse under an elephant's foot.

I never expect under the typical lifespan of a Phantom that it will ever be subject to such abuses. The point is, this is engineered to exceed expectations. Each element is thoughtfully designed, and then crafted in a manner that blends the old world with the new.

Even the extruded hand welded aluminum space frame (which includes 150 meters of MIG welds in more than 2,000 separate locations) is so overly built they don't anticipate the need for updating this structure in the foreseeable future. Rolls expects the lifespan of this model to last ten to twelve years and will remain a contender to all superluxury vehicles. Today, most typical manufacturers give their products a build cycle of half of that or less.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and the Phantom is no exception. The entire process is made to cater to the buyer. When a mere 400 or so units are sold each year, the relationship between the company and the buyer is more than close. The executives from the company actually meet with those taking possession of these motorcars. They know who they are and what they like. The end result is a personal relationship that goes beyond the doors of the dealership, and reaches across the Atlantic.

Each owner is unique, and so is each and every vehicle sold. A custom palette of colors allows for a staggering choice of 45,000 different color combinations. The hides used, up to 16 for each car, are enough for a small ranch. The colors and texture options are also impressive. The woodwork is available in no fewer than six different veneers: Figured mahogany from West Africa; burr walnut, birdseye maple and black tulip from North America; and oak burr and elm cluster from Europe.

Pile carpets are covered with the thickest of lambs' wool rugs imaginable in an automobile - able to engulf one's shoes. The headlining is comprised of a wool and cashmere blend. Both provide the refined, super luxury touches that befit this class of car.

Details abound with regularity. Take the unique, independently opening rear coach doors, which allow for easy entry to and exit from the motorcar - as comfortable and as graceful as possible. The icing on the cake is a small button on the interior rear pillar that allows the door closure automatically with a simple push. Likewise, the retractable Spirit of Ecstasy, also can lowered out of sight at the touch of a button. A 6.5-inch full color monitor for the satellite navigation is discreetly stowed away behind the classically styled central analogue clock on the dashboard. Once activated, the veneered panel holding the clock swivels to reveal the monitor.

The synchronized wheel centers, which keep the famous interlinked RR badges on all four wheels in an upright position at all times. And details like the purpose-designed umbrellas neatly stowed in the doors are very clever. After using the umbrella, it can be stored even when wet since special drainage channels are incorporated in the coach door. The umbrella canopy material has been coated with Teflon to ensure it will not rot even if stowed when wet. These are further examples of the details and the effort taken to ensure a perfect experience. The numerous innovations place the Phantom beyond the realm of what most would expect from a company that churns out just a few cars a day from the factory.

Rolls goes even further with their Bespoke vehicles, a program they have the ability to produce whatever personalized interior features a particular owner might request from a built-in safe, proper temperature controlled wine storage in the trunk, cocktail cabinets, to a ladies' make-up compartments. This only requires imagination, a little patience, and of course, money.

Like art, you can commission a piece, or you can go to a gallery for immediate gratification. One of the odd aspects of the Rolls products sold in this country is that while a there are countless number of ways to order the Phantom, the vast majority purchase automobiles that have been pre-ordered by dealers as "stock" vehicles. It seems the super-rich don't want to wait for their perfect accessory.

The standard Phantom is still far from conventional. This takes more than 260 manual hours to produce just one car. Most car companies can manufacture enough cars to fill a typical car dealership in the same amount of time.

The pleasure one derives from this isn't measured the same as one would a normal bread and butter car. After all, when you can afford a Rolls, having a garage filled with a variety of other cars is the norm. If you have a sports car in the fleet, it has a dedicated mission in life. Perhaps also a nice sedan or Range Rover for getting people and gear from here to there. Certainly there are undoubtedly other cars fulfill the more practical concerns. So then the question becomes, what does one use the Phantom for?

The Rolls is meant for those special times and formal affairs, or when you want to make an impression. Lets face it, when arriving in a Rolls, everyone takes notice so long as they have a pulse.

On a loop around Newport Beach, Irvine, and El Toro in both the driver and passenger seats, I begin to appreciate the attention to all aspects of the Rolls Royce. The precision and near effortlessness in steering this makes it feel far smaller than it is. The speed sensitive steering along with good feedback, competent brakes, allows the driver to have pleasurable time. Unless one has driven a Phantom, the question might rise as to if a chauffeur should be employed. Those few who have driven this realize that half the fun is being the driver.

By no means are the passengers left out. The ride quality is the epitome of luxury. Every effort has been taken from material choices to the thickness of the side glass to provide an interior that is a world apart from everything else that lays beyond the confines this automobile. The back seat is configured more like saloon in design than that of an auto. From the beautiful veneers that are split to have perfect symmetry (bookmatched) from one door panel on one side to the door on the other, as well as on the dash and folding picnic tray tables, to the air vents, which use solid metal in a paned spherical configuration throughout, no element is deemed unnecessary or too extravagant. The vents are symbolic as they retain tradition in parts that have not just a visual presence but a tactile one as well.

What we don't see is underneath is a little like Disneyland's underground network of tunnels. I don't need to actually have to see how all the details work in order to know that it does. The parent company of Rolls Royce, which is now BMW, has provided some of the assemblies that make this a better product without any obvious signs that make the occupants notice or question the product's origins. I find it a bit of a comfort to know they have the resources of a big parent company to allow Rolls to create the best vehicle possible they can.

In a short demo on the sound system featuring Lexicon speakers, a division of renowned audio specialists Harman International - a studio standard for mixing and mastering recordings, it becomes only further evident that no stone was left unturned in developing the Phantom. The sound was clear at all ends of the audio spectrum and provided a look at what high end audio is all about. The effect is nothing short of the difference between a scratchy, old LP and a CD coming fresh from the burner. Complimenting the sound system is the ultra silent listening room the auto provides.

The system is comprised of no fewer than nine amplifiers with a total maximum output of 420 watts powering 15 Metal Matrix (MMX) speaker transducers. There are six 25 mm tweeters (one in each door and two in the hat shelf), seven conical 100 mm mid-range speakers (one in each door, two in the hat shelf and a centre speaker on top of the instrument panel) plus two large 217 mm central bass speakers mounted under the front seats, each with its own 16-litre under-floor resonating chamber. To say this is an audiophile's dream machine is an understatement.

The motor is very much a part of what makes the Rolls product a standout. The origins are BMW, but the final product is unlike what you would find in a BMW product. The Phantom's unique requirements differ from even the 7 Series, in particular the need for torque at the very low end to get the big car rolling, and while an engine with a growl might enhance the driving experience of the BMW, a Rolls Royce is whisper quiet. By virtue of having an existing product to work with of high caliber it is possible for Rolls Royce to offer a superior motor without excessive development cost.

When BMW took ownership of the brand several years' back, they essentially bought the name but not the factories (which Volkswagen received along with Bentley Motors). What this means is the Phantom is now being created in a new, modern facility which is a good part of the reason the new vehicle is light-years ahead of the previous models in all respects.

In a short, exclusive conversation with Marek Djordjevic, one of the principle designers of the Phantom as well as the concept convertible that will see production soon, we get immersed in his tireless involvement and participation on this automobile. One of the reasons the Phantom is so bold is due to the corporate culture of Rolls Royce. As an exceedingly small company it provides those involved sharing in numerous aspects of its creation and less tiers of corporate bureaucracy to wade across.

This allows them to be agile and brings to market rapidly an iconic auto without compromising quality or performance. And as Marek points out, he directly has the influence of clients the world over that look to complement their current garage with the fabled British make. This designer's jet setting life that would seem extravagant to some, allows insight that only comes from connecting in-person on a one-to-one basis.

In a mass produced world in which we live the Phantom is a throwback to a time-gone bye. From design, to manufacturing, to delivery, the experience is a personal one. Like art, the Rolls Royce is a special experience in where no two are exactly alike. This is the cherished artwork that doesn't reside in a museum or even in an honored spot above the fireplace mantel. What makes this masterpiece different is it occupies the preferred spot in the garage.

For more information go to www.rolls-roycemotorcars.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $ 328,750

Engine type: 6.75-litre, 60 degree V12, all-aluminum unit, four valves per cylinder (48) twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank (four total), direct fuel injection, fully variable valve lift control, and variable valve timing

Horsepower: 453 bhp @ 5,350 rpm

Torque: 531 lb.-ft @ 3,500 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission type: ZF six-speed automatic transmission 'shift-by-wire'

Suspension: Front: double wishbone front suspension allied to self-leveling air springing Rear: multi-link rear suspension allied to self-leveling air springing

Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 265 x 790 R540 A 111 W Michelin PAX run-flat tire system, Optional: Goodyear Rear: Michelin PAX run-flat tire system, Optional: Goodyear

Brakes: Front: Ventilated discs 374 mm (14.7 ins) diameter, two-piston alloy calipers Rear: Vented discs 370 mm (14.5 ins) diameter, single-piston calipers

Four-channel anti-lock system, dynamic stability control, cornering brake control, electromechanical parking brake is fitted (automatically applied when the gearbox is moved to Park), emergency brake assistance

Overall length:5,834 mm (229.7 ins) Overall width:1,990 mm (78.3 ins) Overall height:1,632 mm (64.3 ins) Curb weight (kg.):2,530 (5,577 lbs.)

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 13/19

Top Speed, mph: 149 (130 for U.S. model, electronically governed)

0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds

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