Having recently crested the wave of my 39th year on Earth, and having well and truly made it in the sphere of automotive journalism*, I figured that it was time to do the inevitable. Yes, it was time to decide on the right specification for my Rolls Royce Phantom.
Press releases from Rolls Royce Motor Cars always follow the same formula. They open with a brief declaration of how their duty is to serve a rarefied upper echelon of society that has exquisite taste and deservedly lofty expectations (I fall precisely into that category, as the Rover 800 on my driveway testifies), and go on to demonstrate this fact by revealing a new car with a headlining that’s even more festooned with fiber-optic lights than the last one, and that has a 3D-laser etched hologram of a bunch of daffodils in the dashboard because that’s what the elite demands. They’ll then close with a statement from the CEO about how he relishes licking his clients’ brogues clean.
Such servile behavior is actually a license to print money. Yes, they’ll bow to every indiscriminate whim of their clientèle, but it’s handy that the topic of money is such a vulgar one to breach, isn’t it? “Oh, anything goes, Sir” might be the party line, but full and timely remuneration will be expected, as an agreement between gentlemen. I understand that, and will, of course, settle my invoice promptly. My demands, though, might put my contractor in Goodwood to the test.
Let’s start with the basics. The shape of it. Well, the bodyshell is okay; I prefer the proportions of the previous model; its Peterbilt lines were more authoritative yet somehow more dignified than today’s Phantom, but it’s not really fair that Rolls be asked to dust off long-retired tooling just for me. I’ll leave the grille unaltered, too (why wouldn’t I want that chromium portcullis at the prow to mark my arrival), and while the slitty, LED headlights are a bit nouveau, I accept that they’re probably quite good at chucking out light, and they may remain.
What certainly may not, though, are the Ferris wheels on which the Phantom rolls, for several reasons. Firstly, alloy wheels are the kind of thing that somebody adds to the order form for their Ford Escort in a vain attempt to set it apart from other examples of the breed; secondly, I want as much tyre sidewall as possible in a further effort to reduce road noise and secondary ride flaws; and lastly, huge alloy discs are likely to be frequently cheese-grated by impacts with roadside stonework during the kerb-crawling sessions that I’ll be using the car for. In their place, I’ll take 15-inch steel wheels like the Silver Shadow had, and will simply throw the metal trims away if they get dented in action.
Inside, my attention will be mainly focused on the rear compartment, for this is where I’ll be spending most of my time, save for the occasional explorative stint behind the wheel when breaching the terms of my parole and traveling sans chauffeur. What I want, nay demand to see is a complete absence of electric controls. When I bought my country house, its 18th-century structure consisted of nothing but stone and wood. Its contents have no doubt changed and evolved over the years, but its actual physical makeup is inert enough to as serviceable now as it was when built, and no doubt my descendants will find the same is true when my days are up. Put simply; there’s nothing to go wrong. Furthermore, the electric operation of menial tasks doesn’t serve luxury, but laziness. None of the windows in my house are electrically operated, so why should they be in my car?
While we’re stripping out the electrical components, I’m feeling ultra-puritanical right now, so let’s go ahead and rip out the audiovisual equipment, too. My Gulfstream VI has a full-on Mark Levinson custom install, and it’s only any use when at a total standstill and running on shore power. It’ll just about cope with the APU running, but you can forget about it when airborne. You can hear that it’s running, but it’s no good for music; anything at a lower register than spoken word just blends into the background. No, when flying, I take a damn good set of Sennheiser cans with me, and I’ll take them in the Rolls, too. And, since buying a laptop computer is pretty much an annual habit, and a brand-new retina display and Bluetooth feed will do a better job of providing entertainment than anything Goodwood can install, that’ll do for me.
What I do want, though, is an icebox. Not a fridge, there’s no point carrying something that heavy and complicated; a well-insulated ‘box will do just fine. I doubt very much that any journey I make will be between places where there isn’t a freezer, so I’ll just take icepacks to keep my sandwiches and champagne cold. That’s what I already do on my dayboat. Obviously, my big boat has a freezer; you need to keep the caviar on ice when making long deep-water passages. On the Herreshoff, though, all I want is to keep my beer cool. I will want a nice, rousing espresso once out of port, though, and the same will be true on the road. So, I’ll ask Rolls Royce to install a stove, gimballed to keep it upright when the road gets choppy.
Another important point is that, while I concur that space is one of the greatest luxuries one can have in a car, the Phantom’s yards of rear legroom seems a little wasteful in the car’s standard configuration. There have been cars with more, of course; that gross leviathan the Maybach 62, which is now thankfully out of production, but at least that foul, stretched Hyundai Sonata gave you the choice of putting that space to good use, thanks to a Lay-Z-Boy recliner mechanism in each of the rear seats.
A nice idea, but one that was ruined in the case of the massive, vulgar Mercedes by the seat closely resembling a dentist’s chair, and to recline on one of those is a distinctly unluxurious experience. No, I shall insist on a traditional sofa-bed, with comfortable but durable cloth upholstery. With a manual mechanism, of course.
That’s pretty much all I demand in terms of fixtures and fittings. My final request, though, might be a little trickier to accommodate. I’ve drafted my wish-list several times, now. I’ve always rejected the BMW-derived V12 engine; it’s too complicated, too reliant on sensors and computers, but I’d had the devils own job trying to decide what to replace it with. Initially, I toyed with asking Rolls to build me one of their old inlet-over-exhaust straight sixes that were so smooth and dependable in the pre-V8 days – it is, after all, this engine that powered the Wraiths and Phantoms that have been passed as heirlooms through generations, and I’d very much like the same to happen with mine. That’ll be my son’s car, one day, and his son’s after that. I can’t help but think, though, that to rely on fossil fuels would be to dramatically reduce the useful life of a new car.
Yes, for all my insistence on deleting all electrical the convenience features, I nevertheless want electric motors to power my Rolls Royce. As cities grow ever less tolerant of any form of internal combustion, and I want my car to be welcome anywhere, I feel it’s my only option. Right now, it’s silly to hedge any bets, too; it may still prove that hydrogen fuel cells win the day, but the electricity generated by those cells will be sent to motors anyway. What I want, then, is a car with electric motors in place, but enough space baked into the structure to accommodate the very best battery technology available, or, if it becomes prudent to do so, for a hydrogen fuel cell to be installed. And, when today’s battery technology becomes outmoded, for the new cutting edge to be installed in its place. You remember when cars used to have DIN-sized slots for a radio, and you might have swapped its AM radio for an FM cassette in 1985, and then, in 1993, a CD player? Exactly that. A big slot for a battery, which can be replaced later on for a better one.
That’s pretty much it. I’m sure there’s other tinsel and garnish that I can decide on closer to delivery, but that’s how I’m shaping my commission. Shouldn’t be a problem; after all, Rolls Royce understands the needs and demands of the world’s most discerning luminaries better than any other marque, and ought to be only too keen to prove it.
*Actual extent of “made it” may vary from the advertised amount.
[All images are non-rights-managed and were purloined from various corners of the internet, except for the lede image, which was edited by the author to suit his demand for steel wheels with metal hubcaps.]