Recently, DriveLife caught up with the owner of a Rolls Royce Phantom – and not just any off-the-shelf Phantom. This Phantom was built for car shows, and before coming to New Zealand, had traveled to Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, and Malaysia.
But first things first; why would someone spend what it costs to buy the average house, on this car? “Why? For one, because it was there,” said the owner. “But before the Phantom, I had Bentley Brooklands 2-door coupe, which was the high-powered coupe of the Bentley Arnage. The Brooklands had 1050 Newton-metres of torque out of its 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V8, an engine that started life with Rolls-Royce, who purchased it from General Motors in 1959. I didn’t like it very much. The Arnage I had before it was a much better car. With the Brooklands, I felt like they started to try and be a bit too clever with things like satnav, a hands-free phone and other new, emerging tech, and things like that had issues. I enjoyed driving it though, but it was only any good if you were going over 120 km/h.”
Initially, he wasn’t looking at the Phantom, instead taking out the new Rolls Royce Ghost that had just come in. “I quite liked the Ghost and thought it was lovely, a better car than the Brooklands. But I didn’t do anything about it, then one day, Rolls Royce rang me and said ‘we have a car here you should have a look at’. They had secured it from Rolls Royce in the UK.”
Technically, this car is a Phantom Series 2. Rolls Royce renamed it Phantom 7 to line up the naming convention with the older Phantoms. Since this is a later one, it’s actually a Rolls Royce Phantom 7, Series 2.
As mentioned, this specific Phantom was built to tour car shows around the world, as well as being used as a press car. “It’s funny, it was used in a road test in Malaysia, and the guy testing it thought the pen holder in the glovebox was a bit strange. He didn’t realise it was a humidity controlled box to keep your cigars in. Maybe not quite the right type of journalist to test a Rolls Royce.”
So how did a car built for car shows make it to New Zealand? “When it had finished all the motor shows, it went back to UK,” says the owner. “There it was used as Rolls Royce’s chairman’s car, complete with chauffer. You can still just see where the chairman always used to sit on the left hand side in the rear, as the leather on that side is a bit more creased. ” Rolls Royce New Zealand imported the car, but before it came to New Zealand, it went back to the factory where the specs were upgraded to New Zealand requirements.
Back to the showroom in Auckland, and the car had arrived with 7,000km on the clock, and the current owner went to check it out. “I had a look, and it was bloody gorgeous. Then I had a drive of it, and the performance was surreal. One of the things that endeared it to me is that it is one of the rarer cars that has the factory fitted optional handling pack, I think it’s called Dynamic Handling Pack. Among other things, it has extra reinforcing struts bolted through parts of the chassis. They are beautiful pieces of machined alloy that look like works of art in themselves.”
The Dynamic Handling Pack means his Phantom has 30% harder air springs (that came out of the Phantom Coupe), and a Sport button on the steering wheel instead of a Winter button. There’s also changes to the throttle response, gearbox response, and subtle changes the weight of the steering, as well as suspension response. “The whole car changes its profile, and it also has a slightly smaller steering wheel too which I like. Once you get used to its size, you can get comfortable with its handling characteristics.”
And so, what’s it really like to drive? “At 100km/h, you waft along, and its only Achilles heel is that fact it’s on 21” bespoke tyres, that are made especially for Rolls Royce by Goodyear. They are a run-flat tyre, fine on smooth tar seal but horrible on New Zealand’s coarse chip roads.”
“They are rumbly, and grip in the wet could be better.” That’s not ideal when you are driving a car weighing over 2,500kg.
At this point, I’m wondering why he bought such a big car. Six metres long, 2.5 tons, and fitted with a 6.75-litre V12 engine. That’s a lot of car. “Was it a sensible purchase? Nope. Was it a rational purchase? 100% not. But what the hell.” Fair enough, and I can relate to those thoughts.
But why this specific Phantom?” I liked the colour, I liked the trim, I liked the fact it was built for motor shows so it came with extras I wouldn’t otherwise order, like white instruments with polished stainless steel jewels for the pointers – normally a $14,000 option. It’s got the starlight headlining, and bespoke wood interior trim using 3 types of wood with stainless steel inlay. the leather is unique too, with contrasting stitching and an extra leather colour. That makes it a very special Phantom.”
I know what you are all thinking; if you had one, you’d use it to pop down to the dairy to get some milk. But at the size it is, maybe not. “I take it to Auckland regularly, in fact I only use it on the open road. The trouble with a car this big, you have to know your destination. it’s not something you pop down to the shops in – it’s difficult to park so you have to really plan ahead.”
Enough talk – time to go for a ride. We headed out to the back roads of Taupo, gliding along effortlessly, with the owner behind the wheel. A quick look at the speedo from the passenger’s seat, and I see we’re going about 50km/h faster than I thought we were. Yes, there is some tyre noise, but overall this really is one surreal ride.
The fit and finish of this car has to be mentioned. It is incredibly well built, everything seems perfectly made, fit lines are tight, and all switches (and there are many of them) feel fantastic to hold. Even the air vent off/on pull knobs don’t directly close the vent; they are connected to micro switches, so you don’t have to strain yourself to close the air vent ‘manually’, which would be far too taxing. It’s touches like this that make the car what it is.
The wood used in the car looks amazing. There’s plenty of it too, and call me old school, but I still like wood in a car. I can see what the owner means about the seats. For a car with this much potential of speed, there’s not much side support. But then, that’s not what the Phantom is about. It’s all about wafting along, and it does that like no other.
The owner pulled over, and we wondered around the outside of the car, popping the bonnet to look at the alloy bracing, as well as that gargantuan 6.75-litre V12. I’ve always loved suicide doors (or ‘Coach Doors’ in Rolls-Royce speak), and the Phantom does them well. Actually, if you sit in the back seat and have forgotten to close the door – or your chauffer forgot to – there’s a button you can easily reach which will close the door for you.
I jumped (carefully) into the back seat, and as you can imagine there’s loads of room in there, as well as big screens for watching DVDs, or you can even have the Satnav map up on either or both of them. There’s so many buttons everywhere, I lost track of which button does what.
Every part of this car is beautifully made. I looked over it, finding little detail features where Rolls Royce have gone the extra mile to make it just so – like the wooden-framed mirrors with hidden lights set into the rear pillars and the sheepskin floor mats encouraging passengers to take their shoes off.
Time to head back, and the owner asked me if I wanted to drive. My gut reaction was the cost of the car (substantial) but the Car Guy in me won; hell yes!
The steering wheel feels just perfect in size, I sure wouldn’t want it any bigger. Interestingly the thumb-holds are on the lower part of the wheel, and apparently this is where Rolls Royce believes you should hold the wheel – at 20-to-4.
I looked out over the huge bonnet, and hit the gas. It may be quiet, but you get the sense that this car can move. I expect it could cruise at 220km/h on the autobahn all day long. Well, until it ran out of gas. The owner tells me he gets around 15L/100km on the open road drives to Auckland. Really, that’s not bad for the size of the engine, 12 cylinders to feed and the weight of the car.
It can really move. Jabbing the gas pedal hard (is that allowed in a Rolls Royce?) sees the car vaulting forward, and a quick check of the speedo and I’m going far faster than I thought I was. It’s completely deceptive of the actual speed versus your perceived speed. Corners start coming up and I’m advised to turn in early – a requirement of the very long wheel base and the fact that the front wheels are set well forward. Of course I don’t, and it’s a messy corner. The next one arrives, and I turn in much earlier, and the Phantom sails on through it, actually handling quite well, for what it is. There is some body roll but it all feels very controlled.
It’s still the acceleration that’s mind blowing; it feels a bit like there’s a quiet jet turbine connected to the gas pedal, ready to propel you forward very quickly at your command. This is a car where you’d need to use cruise control, to stop those flashing red and blue lights becoming too common.
We get back to the owner’s house, and check over the car once more. It’s big, sure, but it’s also so very special. I can really see why he purchased it; the history, the look, the performance, the fit and finish – all perfect.
Now that his Phantom has done 20,000km, has he got any desires to upgrade to the latest model? “I’ve got no desire to go buy a new Phantom. It’s impressive in terms of looks, but for me a little too glitzy. The new one handles better due to four-wheel steering and has far better seats that hold you in place. But no, I can’t justify buying the new model. Even with the new model’s twin turbos and cylinder deactivation, I’m happy with the Phantom 7.”
The thing is, us car guys say things like that all the time. And just in case you don’t think this Phantom owner is a car guy since he owns this huge beast of a car, he also has an original E30 M3 tucked away in the garage, and it’s like brand new.
But that will need to wait until another time.