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DROP DEAD GORGEOUS

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 Thu, Sep 4, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

© All photos by Harvey Schwartz

DROP DEAD GORGEOUS By Harvey Schwartz

It's great to see that Roll-Royce is building the ultimate in luxury, along with superb driving dynamics. The all-new 2008 Roll-Royce Drophead Coupe Convertible is a driver's car that you will appreciate more each and every day you slide behind the wheel. The larger and heavier Rolls-Royce Phantom Sedan is usually found with a hired chauffer at the wheel. Launched at the Detroit Auto Show in 2006, the Phantom Drophead Coupe Convertible is the second new model from Rolls-Royce since BMW Group took ownership of the marquee in 1998. It is a perfect marriage of BMW power and performance with Roll-Royce signature design and interior craftsmanship and luxury. The two-door, four-seat convertible is a less formal interpretation of classic Roll-Royce design. Using the lightweight rigidity of an all-aluminum spaceframe, it marries modern technology to a sleek, streamlined convertible body. Its exterior lines echo the timeless styling of the great Rolls-Royce cars-a long hood, large diameter wheels, short front and long rear overhangs, and the signature dynamic line descending along its sides. Inside, the design emphasizes the airy openness of top-down driving, embracing the elements and creating a stunning interior.

The car has been carefully crafted to be aesthetically pleasing, yet practical too. The finest wood, leather, chrome and brushed steel have been used where most appropriate. Form and function share equal billing. The simplicity of the design belies a car built to provide years of effortless service. The car offers owners an unparalleled convertible experience, combining compelling drivability with exceptional engineering, technology and design-handcrafted from the finest materials to an exceptional level of quality. The exterior of the car is both stunning and brilliant; it is the largest convertible on the road. Every exterior panel on the car is new, echoing the car's style but with carefully considered proportions more suited to the shorter body. From the raked front end to the sweeping rear, every aspect was studied at length to ensure that the finished car looked purposeful. There is raw beauty emanating from the car with materials used in a way that emphasizes their natural charm and there is immediacy to the exposed elements of brushed steel and solid teak. Bleaches, stains and lacquers were shunned as far as possible in favor of more natural finishes. You hands touch only chrome, leather and wood. Other materials, such as the brushed steel, are used as architectural detailing, giving the whole car a sense of visual tactility. Chief designer Ian Cameron states it best, "The Phantom Drophead Coupe Convertible is about emphasizing the essentials of pleasure. Above all, we were determined to make this car a joy to live with. Rolls-Royce is the opposite of stiff formality. Why would you design and build a car like this and not make it fun to drive?" The profile of the car is fundamentally transformed from that of a conventional four-seat convertible by the inclusion of front coach doors. Evocative of the classic sports car profile, they add considerably easy entry and exit for rear seat passengers as well as for the driver and front passenger. Just as important, they also add significantly to the overall strength and stiffness of the body as they allow the construction of an uninterrupted A-pillar. These coach doors are only found on Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

At the front sits a new, more rakish grille, giving the car a more casual air while retaining its classic looks. Finished in steel, the center fins are polished while the surround is brushed to match the optional brushed steel hood and A-pillar. The grille is hinged at the top in order to give way in the event of a low-speed impact. On top sits the Spirit of Ecstasy, remodeled using advanced computer software. Today she has a more lifelike appearance, with clear definition of her features. Finished in stainless steel, she is also available in silver or gold. At the push of a button the statue drops down and a door slides over the opening for extra security. The front end of the car is more streamlined that that of previous Rolls-Royce cars. Slim front LED side lights sit above round, High Intensity Discharge driving lamps that are self-leveling, and feature power washers. The front bumper is integrated into the design, further softening the look. A discreet camera sits underneath the license plate to provide an excellent split-screen view of the road ahead, via the on-board monitor, to help when parking or when pull out of a side road. One of the best visual clues to the cars character can be found at the rear. The picnic boot is the very essence of automotive affability. The only type of its kind on any convertible, it offers easy access to the luggage compartment as well as providing comfortable outdoor seating for two adults. The substantial hinges can hold up to 300 pounds. The 11.1 cubic feet of space, enough to hold three sets of golf clubs, and this space remains intact whether the top is raised or not. Two of the most visually stunning options are the teak decking for the rear hood cover and top trim, and the brushed steel hood and A-pillar. First seen on the 100EX concept car in 2004, these are signature elements of the Phantom Drophead Coupe look. The brushed finish of the hood and A-pillars mimic the classic Phantoms of the '20s and '30s but with a delightful 21st. century twist.

The rear teak decking epitomizes the careful design and attention to detail seen throughout the car. It is as functional as it is beautiful. Teak was used because of its inherently hardy properties and its resistance to moisture and decay. Special techniques were developed in the Rolls-Royce wood shop to preserve the appearance of a fresh, unprocessed finish, the aim to have a final deck that was as close to natural timber as possible. More than 30 individual pieces of teak go into each deck, protected by a specially formulated blend of oils. As with all the woods and veneers used by Rolls-Royce, it is sourced from sustainable forests by a team of specialists. It is recommended that the teak be oiled several times a year. The convertible top is the largest of any modern convertible. Its acoustic is exemplary, with five layers of insulation material between occupants and the outside world. Lined with cashmere blend, the structure is more like a custom-made, wool suit than a traditional fabric roof. Rolls-Royce was keen to use a fabric rather than a folding hard-top for several reasons, not the least aesthetics. As Ian Cameron describes, "There is nothing more romantic than driving a convertible in the rain at night and hearing the drops hit the roof. In meetings with our customers we realized that they felt the same way." A further benefit of the tailored, soft-top is the relatively small space required to stow it. The interior concept revolves around the idea of an indoor/outdoor space: an all-weather passenger compartment that combines the practicality required for convertible driving with the sumptuous elegance expected of Rolls-Royce. Rather than take inspiration solely from the automotive world, Chief Interior Designer Alan Shepherd looked elsewhere. "In 2004, when we were designing the 100EX, we visited a boatyard in Southampton where one of the famous 1930s America's Cup J-class yachts was being restored. We were struck by the variety and uses of different materials throughout. All of the J-class yachts have a tremendous sense of purposeful elegance about them, and this was something that we were keen to emulate." The car has been designed in which to enjoy the elements. The all-weather surfaces of the interior have been designed to take what nature can throw at them. "We didn't want owners to feel as if they had to pull over at the first spot of rain" says Cameron. To this end, a number of notable features can be seen throughout the interior. First, the seats have no ridges in them, giving a smooth surface so that moisture can be wiped clean. In place of traditional floor mats, wholly more practical sisal mats are used. Even the carpet itself employs 21st century materials designed to deal with the moisture and humidity encountered in many areas of the world.

The front seats are slimmer than the Phantom sedan's but still offer an uncompromised degree of comfort and support. Integrated seatbelts are mounted directly onto them, while active head restraints and front/side airbags give further protection to the torso and head. The driving position is set deliberately high to give a commanding view of the road over the long hood, and the curved rear lounge seats offer an intimate, social environment for passengers. Rear legroom is excellent and marks the car out as a true four-seater. The exceptional Lexicon Logic7 audio system has been specially designed for the car taking into account the differing acoustic properties of the convertible. It features a 420-watt, nine-channel amplifier, 15-speakers including two floor-mounted subwoofers, six-in-dash CD player, AM-FM-Weatherband radio tuner with an auxiliary input for an external audio device. The interior is simply amazing and comes with these standard features not mentioned above: full-leather with natural grain and pre-shrunk hides, book-matched figured veneer or non-book-matched straight grained veneer wood with contrast detailing, brushed steel waist-rail finishers, power-closing assistance for the coach doors at the push of a button, power automatic soft close for the coach doors and the two-piece split picnic tailgate, electrically adjustable front seats with lumbar support, memory settings and heat, power tilting/telescoping, leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel with tilt-away feature, automatic climate control, laminated front glass with climate control glazing, self-righting wheel centers, control center with foldaway controller and 6.5-inch monitor with integrated controls for telephone, navigation system, audio/entertainment system and vehicle configuration, satellite radio system, Bluetooth wireless technology for hands-free calling, voice-recognition system for select vehicle controls and park distance control, front and rear.

I've driven the Bentley Continental GTC convertible which was amazing but the Drophead Coupe Convertible is on a higher level of comfort and luxury. Perfectly matching the Rolls-Royce design and interior are excellent power and performance dynamics from BMW. The engineering challenge was to make this convertible the one with the highest degree of torsional rigidity throughout the body while keeping weight down. Tens of thousands of miles were driven over rough roads to identify and eliminate potential problems. The result is a spaceframe chassis that makes the car perhaps the most rigid in its class. A clear indicator is when looking through the rearview mirror it shows no vibration at all, even at high speeds. A great deal of this is due to the modifications around the triangular A-pillar. The entire windscreen surround was designed to be an integral part of the rollover protection system. Consequently the A-pillar struts run right down to double-layered floor of the car. Additional aluminum extrusions have been utilized, along with wider side sills. The rear haunches have single extrusion beams running at waist height on either side. In all, more than 460 feet of weld go into each car, 65 feet more than the Phantom sedan. Incorporated into the rear spaceframe structure is the concealed rollover protection system which deploys from within the rear head restraints in just a split second in the event of an accident. All of the body panels are made of aluminum and composite material for strength, lightweight and a long life. Further adding to occupant safety, frontal impacts are absorbed by crumple zones directed into Y-shaped chassis members and the main understructure-the strongest part of the chassis. Side impact intrusion is minimized by the double-skinned floor construction, strong side sills and integral side impact bars in each door. Additional braces above and below the engine bay and under the rear axle add further rigidity to the spaceframe.

The spaceframe is constructed at the BMW center for aluminum competence in Digolfing, Germany. Manufactured to within a tolerance of just 0.004in., each spaceframe is welded entirely by hand. They are then checked by a computer-guided machine to ensure absolute accuracy. One of the more interesting problems encountered by the engineering team was the proximity of the optional brushed steel hood to the aluminum front fenders. These materials are not normally used alongside each other due to the adverse corrosion effects of aluminum on steel. An integral part of the testing process was a 20-year old DeLorean car. Manufactured with stainless steel body panels, it provided an interesting case study into the long-term durability of the material. All of the panels used on the car are unique to this car, representing some of the 1,300 new parts used. Unlike the Phantom sedan, the front fenders have been constructed from aluminum using the 'superform' technique, in which aluminum is heated to the critical temperature before being literally sucked down over a mold to form the large, complex shape. The Drophead Coupe Convertible is unique unto itself, as no other convertible manufactured in the world today comes close to its styling, interior comfort, convenience, luxury or safety. The car's advanced aluminum spaceframe is at the heart of its refined, dynamic driving experience. As I said before, this is a driver's car, no chauffer needed, thank you. Lightweight and exceptionally strong, the car feels more nimble than it should. Its inherently rigid frame is essential in isolating vibration and maintaining the hushed interior calm associated with Rolls-Royce. The car is shorter than the Phantom sedan by 9.8-inch so turn-in is quicker and sharper, making for a more agile driving experience.

The lower center of gravity, combined with the reduced wheelbase and incredibly stiff body produces a sporty ride that is more refined and comfortable. Feedback from the wheels is informs you of the surface but is never intrusive. Imperfect road surfaces go unnoticed while feel through the slim steering wheel inspires you to go faster with confidence. New spring dampers and lighter anti-roll bars have been engineered to maintain comfort without loss of agility. Self-leveling air struts continuously adjust for increased speed and loading in hard cornering, giving you the ability to cut through turns with absolute precision. The front double-wishbone suspension features a hydraulic mount to minimize vibration though the steering wheel. A multi-link rear setup is designed for increased ride comfort with anti-lift and anti-dive technology. With no fixed roof, much of the car's weight naturally sits lower and further forward than in the Phantom sedan, due to the structural roll-over protection built into the A-pillar. Nonetheless, a 50:50 weight distribution has been maintained to further enhance the car's balance while turning and at high-speeds on the freeways. Other heavy components-such as the engine, gearbox, and prop-shaft, for example-sit as low as possible, again contributing to the low center of gravity. Exceptional ride quality and grip is provided by standard Michelin PAX run-flat tires, or optional Goodyear EMT run-flat tires are fitted around lightweight, aluminum alloy, nine-spoke wheels, 21 X 8.5 up front and 21 X 9.5 in the rear. The inclusion of run-flat tire technology removes the need for spare wheel/tire and a jack, freeing up space in the luggage compartment. Since the weight of the large wheels and tires have a direct impact on ride comfort and driving dynamics, Rolls-Royce has developed a lightweight ceramic core to the wheels to reduce unsprung weight.

Ample power is supplied by a 6.75 liter, naturally aspirated, V12 engine that develops 453hp and a massive 531 pound-feet of torque. Delivery is smooth and abundant. Furthermore, with 75 percent of the engine power available at just 1,000 rpm, speed from a standstill is exceptional for a 5,800 pound car, an remains so throughout the rev range. This highly efficient unit uses direct injection and variable valve timing and is mated to a specially designed ZF 6-speed automatic, shift-by-wire transmission. The powerful V12 will accelerate the car to 60mph in under six seconds and on to a limited to speed of 149 mph. It stops in equally impressive fashion using 14.7in. ventilated discs up front and 14.5in. vented discs in the rear. Large alloy, twin-piston calipers at the front and large alloy single-piston calipers at the rear bring the large-diameter wheels to a stop. The system is enhanced with ABS, brake assist. An electromechanical park brake can be applied via a button on the dashboard. For maximum active safety, the sophisticated braking system is augmented by an advanced dynamic stability control system that gives outstanding car control in an emergency situation. Craftsmanship is a hallmark of Rolls-Royce. From the traditional wood and leather workshop skills to the complex welding of the aluminum spaceframe, a 21st. century Rolls-Royce is a blend of hand crafted expertise and high-tech materials and techniques. The all-new 2008 Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe Convertible is not for everybody. Prices start at $407,000.00, and my test car carried a sticker price of $442,000.00. Only 100 of these superb and unique cars will be shipped to the U.S. each year to keep its exclusivity.

© Words and pictures by Harvey Schwartz SUMMARY JUDGMENT Rolls-Royce is back in rare form. For more information about Roll-Royce products, go to rolls-roycemotorcars.com More photos from Harvey Schwartz can be found at autofotos.com

SPECIFICATIONS Name: Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Convertible Price: $407,000 (base) $442,390 (as tested) Engine: V12 Direct Injection 48-valve, VVT all-alloy engine Horsepower: 453 horsepower at 5,350 rpm Torque: 531 pound-feet at 3,500 rpm EPA mileage specs: 11 mpg/city, 18 mpg/highway Drive configuration: Front engine/rear-wheel-drive Transmission: ZF 6-speed automatic Front suspension: Independent, aluminum intensive double-wishbones, air-springs, dynamic, gas-charged shocks, anti-roll bar Rear suspension: Independent, multi-link, aluminum intensive, air-springs, dynamic gas-charged shocks, anti-roll bar Wheels/tires Front: 21 X 8.5 alloy wheels/255/50R21 Goodyear high-performance Run Flat Rear: 21 X 9.5 alloy wheels/285/45R21 Goodyear high-performance Run Flat Brakes: Front: 14.7-inch vented discs/twin-piston calipers Rear: 14.6-inch vented discs/single-piston calipers ABS/BA/EBD/Stability Control/Anti-Roll Mitigation Total length: 220.8 inches Total width: 78.2 inches Total height: 62.2 inches Curb weight: 5,776 pounds 0-60 mph: 5.7 sec.

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