It is one of those memories that has stuck, in all its technicolour glory. A tungsten-coloured Silver Spirit Mark I. Racing green coach line. Cream leather seats outlined with navy blue piping. Brilliant chrome and acres of glossy burr walnut trim on the doors and dashboard.
I recall stepping into the back of that Rolls-Royce 31 years ago and being consumed by the entire sensory experience, from the heady scent of the leather from Connolly – a legendary tanner that also supplied the skins for the benches in the British House of Lords – to the pure serenity of the ride, punctuated only by the occasional squeak of the hides rubbing against one another whenever the car went over a bump. And, of course, the raw, childlike excitement of simply being cocooned in one of the most expensive cars of the era.
So, when the communications guy from Rolls-Royce’s Asia-Pacific office offered me the keys to the carmaker’s latest flagship for a road test, I surely had to say yes… but “would you mind terribly if I asked that you do the driving instead”?
After all, this 5.8m-long beast is best enjoyed as a privileged back seat passenger – although ludicrous rumours persist to this day of Phantom owners who actually pilot their limousine.
In the lap of luxury
The car in which I am being pampered today is decidedly more modern. Yet the continuity is palpable. As I run my fingers over the glorious hide, I am satisfied that the seats remain as plush as ever. I still feel guilty treading on the thick-pile lambswool carpets with my shoes on and, yes, those plus-sized C-pillars that shielded me from the gaze of then hoi polloi have also survived the intervening years.
Egress, however, has become more theatrical. Rolls-Royce calls it “the embrace”, but if you can forgive the hyperbole, you can see what the fabled carmaker is getting at. The signature coach doors – those rear-hinged portals that made their comeback with the last-generation Phantom and is now de rigueur on the brand’s vehicles – mean that I can enter and exit the car the natural and civilised way: facing forwards. These are then shut via whisper-quiet motors, which can be activated via the door handle by a valet, or inside the car by pushing a button on the C-pillar.
Thus ensconced, I am in a world of my own. I could spend hours gazing out of the window watching the scenery scroll by. Or, had I the pleasure of the company of a loquacious companion, we could indulge in a tete-a-tete, made conducive by the careful angling of the rear seats designed to reduce neck strain. Or I could nurse a glass of Dom Perignon, kept at the requisite 8 deg C in the cooler, while watching the telly, which is cleverly secreted behind the wood panelling when not needed.
A unique platform
And, because I am not famous/rich/wanted and my chauffeur is not extricating me from hyper-enthusiastic fans/kidnappers/the cops, I am unlikely to spill my bubbly either. The Phantom benefits from a bespoke new platform called the “architecture of luxury” designed from the ground up by and for Rolls-Royce alone. In other words, not shared with the rest of the parent group’s brands.
The expensive endeavour delivers dividends. It does away with the compromises inherent in platform sharing, allowing Rolls-Royce to engineer a stiffer, lighter body using high tech aluminium. And there is also that smart suspension. It processes minutiae like the surface of the road ahead, steering input and wheel acceleration to make a gazillion calculations per second to keep the car perfectly level. If Aladdin’s magic carpet were real, I imagine riding on it would feel exactly like this.
The 130kg of sound insulation and special foam-filled tyres (I shudder to think how much it would cost to replace them) are but the cream on top. Legend has it that when the white-coated Rolls-Royce boffins first reviewed the road and vibration test results, the sound levels recorded were so low, they had to check whether the instruments were calibrated correctly.
Creating a silent cabin is not as straightforward as it appears. Eliminate one source of noise – for example, the wind buffeting against the A-pillar – and suddenly the whoosh of air emanating from the vents becomes painfully audible. I am happy, then, to report that the Phantom has reached the holy grail of quietude. I heard nary a peep from the upholstery, regardless of how rough the roads were.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Singapore. 29 Leng Kee Road. www.rolls-roycemotorcars-singapore.com