Rolls-Royce arrived in the 21st century a few years after the rest of us. The 2003 Phantom Saloon, including a direct-injection V12 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission inside a hand-welded aluminum frame with a whole lot of hand-stitched high-grade leather and veneers in between, re-established Rolls-Royce as one of the most desirable car names in the world.
Praise from the auto press and significant sales figures were reassurance enough for the marque’s new parents — the BMW Group — that their interpretation of automotive excellence and luxury was right on the rich man’s money.
Since then, there has been the addition of the Extended Wheelbase version in 2005, the Drophead Coupe in 2007 and the Coupe the following year. In 2009, Rolls-Royce launched a new model, the Ghost.
With the Series II, Rolls-Royce has updated and refined the product based on customer feedback, and also to include new technology.
The front and rear bumpers have been “re-styled.” LED “adaptive” headlamps which automatically alter the beam to suit driving conditions are now standard on all models. The V12 engine stays but is now connected to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and rear differential. The satellite navigation system has been updated and is displayed on the new 22-centimeter center display. A new camera system makes parking the boat-sized Phantom a little less stressful.
“The world is moving increasingly quickly, particularly when considering new technologies and connectivity, things that are integral to the lifestyles of Rolls-Royce clients. So it was important that we applied sympathetic and evolutionary updates where warranted, but more radically overhauled things that were clearly unacceptable in a pinnacle car,” said Nigel Wonnacott, product communications manager at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
“The most obvious example was the satellite navigation system. Phantom Series II now boasts one of the most technologically advanced sat navs of any company, as well as a new 360-degree camera system to aid maneuvering, new smart-phone cradle and USB ports.”
It is the Saloon and the Coupe that I, as a guest at an international media event in Nice, France, had the opportunity to drive. Driving a Rolls-Royce is an equally exciting and nerve-wracking experience. The Saloon is 584 centimeters long and 199 centimeters wide, and it weighs 2,560 kilograms. When navigating a claustrophobic cliff road above the French Riveria, you don’t forget those figures. But it is a dream to drive — it’s powerful, responsive, smooth and the cabin is opulent and quiet.
Even when cruising through Monaco, playground to the rich and famous, people stare because a Rolls-Royce is a symbol of wealth. A Rolls-Royce will cost you half a million dollars; transportation fees, taxes and bespoke features bring the price tag to seven figures. While price alone puts a Rolls-Royce in a league of its own, it is quality, power, craftsmanship, customization and prestige that entice the world’s high net worth individuals with an appetite for luxury to hand over a personal check.
History, too, plays a role. Rolls-Royce is a 100-year-old marque with a reputation for quality and exclusivity.
The brand was founded by a couple of British men who cared as much about engineering as they did about design. Charles Rolls, a businessman selling cars in London, and Henry Royce, an engineer manufacturing cars at a factory in Manchester, met in 1904 and began the early development of what they imagined to be the ultimate in luxury motor vehicles.
In 1906, they established Rolls-Royce and unveiled the 6-cylinder Silver Ghost (originally named the 40/50 hp), which helped established their reputation for quality.
“Rolls-Royce managing director Claude Johnson — sometimes described as the hyphen in Rolls-Royce — and Charles Rolls himself were enormously well connected in media, government and royal circles,” Wonnacot said.
“Both recognized the power of PR [public relations] and marketing and Johnson in particular was instrumental in creating and then nurturing the reputation of the company. It was his idea to plate the first 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce in silver and aluminum, and to then present this “Silver Ghost” for the first time at the 1906 London motor show.
“He subsequently issued a very public challenge to all other carmakers, inviting them to pit their models against the Silver Ghost in a 15,000-mile [24,000-kilometer] endurance trial. No one accepted. So it was probably the positioning of the original Silver Ghost that first started to cement the company’s reputation for prestige and its position at the very pinnacle of automotive aspiration.”
Rolls-Royce is a storied brand whose heritage is difficult to convey in just a few paragraphs, though director Martin Scorsese is planning to make a film about the founders and the brand. The duo’s obsession with fine design and engineering has been well-documented, particularly that of Royce, who famously said: “When it does not exist, design it.”
Though both founders passed away early in the brand’s lifetime (Rolls died in 1910; Royce in 1933), Rolls-Royce went on to build some of the world’s most iconic luxury cars: the Phantom I (1925); the 4.3-liter, four-speed transmission Silver Dawn (1949); and the 4.9-liter-engine powered Silver Cloud (1955). In the 1970s, when Rolls-Royce Motors was separated from the aero-engine division due to financial issues, the company produced the Corniche Convertible and then the Camargue (1976), of which just 534 were built in 11 years. The Silver Spirit was the car to bring Rolls-Royce in to the 1980s when Rolls-Royce was bought by British company Vickers.
All of these cars wore the brand’s key characteristics: a luxurious interior, the long bonnet and squared grille with interlocked R-R badge and the Spirit of Ecstasy ornament riding on the bonnet. These features continue to be a part of the 21st century Phantom and Ghost models, even after the BMW Group took over the trademarks in 1998.
Before launching the Phantom in 2003, it seems as if BMW had been incubating all of what Rolls-Royce was and meant in the 20th century while simultaneously preparing to design an entirely new car. Out of their newly established factory in Goodwood, West Sussex, Rolls-Royce produced the Phantom — classic British design and character with German credentials.
The technology and gadgets are incorporated without being too flashy or crowding. Given the power the car possesses, the absence of outside noise and vibration inside the cabin is impressive.
“The aluminium spaceframe plays a major role,” Wonnacott said. “Precision hand-welded, this is incredibly strong, lightweight and is largely responsible for the enormous sense of calm and well-being experienced by occupants within the cabin.
“The spaceframe is complemented by double-wishbone front suspension featuring optimized mounts to minimize vibrations through the steering wheel, while multi-link rear suspension complete with anti-lift and anti-dive technology aids stability under heavy acceleration and braking.
“Spring dampeners and anti-roll bars maintain comfort without loss of agility while self-leveling air struts compensate for different loads within the car, making continual adjustments as the weight of fuel decreases, giving drivers the ability to place the car through turns with absolute precision.”
These days, there are noticeably more Phantoms and Ghosts rolling through Jakarta, their presence coinciding with increasing wealth in the archipelago. Indonesia is an increasingly important market for Rolls-Royce, and last week it officially launched the new Phantom II series here. It was the brand’s first event for the Series II in the Asia-Pacific outside of China.
And somewhere in this city, there are also two of the 100 models that were built to celebrate the brand’s centenary.
Keep your eyes peeled.