Oh, to be a passenger in life: sedate and serene, coddled and climate-controlled. In the modern world, we’re fast becoming drone passengers. We lurch from train to taxi, waiting obediently between each phase, in an insufferable no man’s land. Paddington has become a grey wasteland on the upper deck. Commuters and weekend warriors wait in neatly formed rows, brandishing phones, typing endlessly into their devices about how life-affirming travelling on the 15:00 from Didcot was, how pleased they are with the perfect, symmetrically-shaped croissant they ate, and how they just had to share it with every living being for all of eternity.
I’m beyond aggrieved with the consensus that everyone needs to be heard digitally or otherwise. That banality needs to be celebrated, because the world needs another picture of the meal, beverage or holiday you just consumed. But thank the Titans, I have found sanctuary from the proletariat influencer din. It weighs 2.5 tonnes and runs almost silently.
I get asked quite often by friends who I don’t see frequently for a yearly highlight reel. ‘What’s the most interesting place you’ve been?’ What forkful was the most flavoursome?’ ‘What toy had the most bragging rights?’
Then it comes, like a weighty tome landing on the desk: ‘What have you driven this year?’ It’s the single hardest question to answer without falling into a three-hour conversation that inevitably leaves the person that posed the polite query looking for an armed evac. I always start by talking about the leviathan that is Rolls-Royce. Not because of the brand recognition or the ticket price, but because you have to be incredibly foolish to argue that Rolls and Royce weren’t engineering pioneers.
From the 10hp to the 103EX, “Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it.” Sir Henry Royce. People never fail to be enamoured and awestruck at the sight of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. No other badge garners quite so much affection and respect as the twinned RR. When you are driving something naturally aspirated and Italian or British of the two-seat variety, your ability to pull out of a junction safely is entirely dependent on the size of the chip on the shoulders of your fellow motorists. In a Rolls-Royce Phantom, the ocean metaphorically parts.
As part of our series of films with Cooke lenses, we asked the ladies and gents in white coats at Rolls-Royce if they could make available a marque that would befit our interest in helping them get ‘The Cooke Look’. What the team suggested wildly exceeded our expectations. Allow me to introduce the 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom – Gentleman’s Tourer. When the Phantom arrived, its iced gunmetal and silver satin bonnet finish were met with instant approval from the director of photography. ‘My god, it’s matte, I love it”. If you’ve ever tried to film a car, you’ll know the ongoing saga of ensuring your DOP, camera operator, director, first AD, runners, support crew and cast are absolutely not in the reflection of the car’s paintwork. Millions of pounds are spent every year on colour grading and post-production to remove the unsightly cast and crew staining otherwise perfect shots. ‘How big is the boot?’. I thought that a strange follow-up question from the DOP. Why would that matter in the context of filming? ‘I just wondered if you could fit equipment in it’. I could see our man was trying to turn the almost six-metre Phantom into the world’s most expensive grip truck. ‘It’s big enough to fit you and a camera op provided you don’t struggle, but not a three-metre tripod, no’.
The eighth-generation edition of the Phantom is a flagship. It has to be. The Phantom is the company’s Spirit of Ecstasy, if you will. At the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, Rolls-Royce chose to exhibit three distinctive Phantoms, each commissioned by patrons of the company with the Rolls-Royce bespoke team. That being said, I very much doubt anyone’s assistant calls the Rolls-Royce team to convey that ‘they would like it in navy, TTFN’. Part of the procurement process is, indeed, specifying your Phantom to one’s unique tastes and proclivities. In this case, the Gentleman’s Tourer harks back to the Phantom II Saloons of the 30s, when owners would take their typically standard wheelbase, four-door marques on long journeys cross-country. Imagine a Rolls-Royce Phantom II gracefully gliding along the Furka Pass, Aspinal luggage in the boot, dry Martini in hand.
The modern incarnation of the Gentleman’s Tourer has striking 22-inch alloy wheels accented in iced gunmetal. The dash has an inset gallery finished in ruthenium, a metal so precious that only 20 tonnes of it are mined annually. When you consider that 2,500 tonnes of gold is dug from the earth every year, you get a sense of perspective.
You can, of course, put whatever you want into the ‘gallery’ that runs the length of the car’s dashboard. My initial thought was how long before someone goes all Damien Hirst on it and opts to put a monocled python in there, set in perspex, thus redefining taxidermy as a forward-thinking profession once more.
The Spirit of Ecstasy also features prominently and, in addition to being up lit on the bonnet, she’s also embossed into each door panel. The interior is a rather Tom Ford-style affair with the owners’ love of performance aircraft shining through. Piano black veneers accented by a silver pinstripe are the order of the day, paired with selby grey and anthracite leather. For most, the Phantoms showpiece isn’t the Spirit of Ecstasy hunkering down into the bonnet for safety or the expertly crafted V12 engine, but the Starlight Headliner. Fitted with some 1340 fibre optic lights, each ‘star’ is set at a different depth and angle to give the impression that the heavens are twinkling. Typically, this can take 9 hours to craft if you’re going for something simple—say, for instance, the constellations exactly as they appeared over the Goodwood factory on the day that the first New Phantom was unveiled. Easy right.
Rolls-Royce is more than happy to accommodate customers ideas, of course. One owner specified his coat of arms, another the brand’s logo. In a world where we as a species are moving further than anyone thought possible towards total automation of our daily lives, I for one take solace in the fact that the good men and woman of Rolls-Royce are still handcrafting heart-stopping details.
As aforementioned, when someone asks that inviting question ‘what have you driven this year?’ you can expect a full-throated response. However, here is where we part from our typical editorial programme and take on the shoulder tightening responsibility of taking care of an owner’s Phantom. Do not have any delusions: the usual, polite, accommodating and diplomatic nature with which I converse with people who would like to touch, sit in or photograph a car in my care was replaced with kid gloves, made from real kids. As I watched a group of four friends’ usually polite and demure children go from sitting quietly for a photo to effectively covering their hands in goose fat. I was compelled briefly to push the panic button. ‘Shoot first, ask questions later’ I thought. My furrowed brow and wide-eyed expression was enough to have my friends usher the children out of the car with the speed and vigour of a family watching me load a silenced pistol whilst whistling Danny Boy.
I don’t believe we’ve ever had a vehicle detailed so frequently during our tenure. The pressure of needing to get the shots we wanted and return this titan of a marque back in one piece aside, there was more than enough time to experience the Phantom as driver and passenger. Or as chauffeur and CEO if you will. So, I was intrigued to find out how I would take to it around the Cotswolds, with it being decidedly left-hand drive.
Frankly, there are very few driving experiences to compare the Phantom too. The last time I drove this particular marque was 6 or 7 years ago, through central London. Suffice to say it was about as enjoyable as you would expect driving a 19-foot vehicle in rush hour traffic to be. The Gentleman’s Tourer was practically made for the tree-lined country roads of the Cotswolds. To go from country pile to pub if you will. I couldn’t help but feel that the previous Phantom was more a passengers’ car though. This might have had a fair amount to do with people asking me who I was driving.
“This suit is tailored by David Minns, I will have you know, and it does not come with a driver’s cap”. I admit my first experience with a Phantom all those years ago was incredibly special and I dressed appropriately. I felt a three-piece was befitting for the occasion, and in some ways showed my adoration for this prodigious automotive. I shudder at the thought of people experiencing a Phantom in training shoes or in clothes from the gymnasium, but that’s the elitist me peeking out toward the egalitarian masses.
I had largely planned to experience the Phantom VIII as a passenger this time, but as so much has changed on the VIII, I felt I owed it to the artisans at the Goodwood Plant to really get under its skin. It’s a tough life, I agree. Let’s start from the ground up. We’re looking at a new platform for the 2018 Phantom, one that benefits from an all-aluminium space frame that’s 30% stiffer than the previous incarnation. Any weight saving, however, has been swallowed as the new Phantom is, in fact, heavier than its predecessor. There is a new suspension system and a new aluminium V12 engine offering a 25% improvement on the torque-to-weight ratio and full torque available from just 1800rpm. Once I had got used to slipping the moorings on my new land yacht, the driving seat became an incredibly calming place to be. Once you accept that nothing else on the road holds a torch to your marque, nothing can even tempt you to deviate from your journey. I actively slowed down when faced with an invitation from certain motorists to play up to their circus. Such was my sense of sanctuary at the wheel of the Phantom, the outside world became a rather distant memory. Until you open the window, of course, and realise that you are actually in a vacuum. It’s a lot like popping the cockpit of a Typhoon doing Mach 1: it makes you remember that, even with the Phantom’s incredible looks and charm, you are still human.
Despite all this calm and serenity, the Phantom can certainly shift that 2.5 tonne tail feather when it needs to. Presumably, when you realise you are late for supper with a dignitary more titled than you. It doesn’t matter who you are, when something this large with a 6.7-litre engine moves at pace, you have to applaud it (something I did often from the rear bench seat).
I enjoyed nothing more than watching the world go silently by with my morning coffee day after day. The Phantom isn’t without the modern conveniences of technological development, of course, appropriated throughout the cabin in a clandestine way to ensure the brand’s golden-age ethos was adhered to. Two multimedia screens are stowed behind the picnic tables along with the rotary infotainment controller, which folds nicely away out of sight.
Now, having taken full advantage of both options, would I opt to drive or be driven if I were facing the tough life of owning a Rolls-Royce Phantom? That is, indeed, the toughest of conundrums. Ultimately, the interior of the Phantom is an incredibly beautiful place to be, whether as a guest or as a driving owner. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a Rolls Royce on a multi-country jaunt, and there really are no marques that compare to it for taking down large swaths of land. I actually managed to get a close friend out of England and back without a valid passport, purely on the merits of the marque some years ago (a moment which will live in infamy, I assure you).
For me, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Gentleman’s Tourer is more than a luxury marque. It’s more than a demonstration of the company’s design standards and it’s more than an illustration of their mechanical prowess. It’s the ensign of style; the absolute unwavering standard. Godspeed.