It’s not often a Saturday morning is as anticipated as one I experienced recently. Following an invitation from potentially the most esteemed of British automobile manufacturers, a company one does not simply order a car from, but commissions said vehicle to be built. Yes, this Saturday, a rather grey, drizzly and misty affair, I was to be the guest of Rolls Royce at the delightful Daylesford Farm near Stow on the Wold.
With a range of cars to experience, this would be a whirlwind of test drives of such style that I pondered for quite some time over what to wear… after all, one wouldn’t want to sully the Rolls Royce name with an inadvertent fashion faux pas!
But on to the cars.
First up: the Phantom
With carpet so thick it feels like there’s a pillow on the floor, I take my seat and stretch out. And out. And out. This thing is simply enormous. But that isn’t enough, you can’t describe the back of the Phantom as big. It’s a lounge; a well designed, luxuriously comfortable lounge with the most beautiful and softly upholstered materials that I have ever experienced in a car.
But then this is so much more than a car. It’s a unique environment in which one gets transported from a to b. The gentleness of the suspension makes it feel like the car floats on a cushion of air and it handles the potholes and unevenness of the Cotswolds roads as if it was sitting on the softest of sand.
It’s powered by a 6.7 litre twelve cylinder beast of an engine that puts out almost 600hp. But it’s a mere whisper, such is the sound insulation worked into every element of the build. This is a car that you are driven in, not a car that ones drives oneself in, you have someone to do that for you.
My driver was (as it happens) a racing driver, Howard Fuller, so I suspect he could handle the car a great deal better than I could so I was more than happy to be chauffeured around the lanes surrounding Daylesford Farm.
Everything is tailored not only to your individual tastes (there is no options list for a Rolls) but to your experience as a passenger.
Phantom done, we head back to base and it’s time for me to take the wheel of the Dawn Black Badge. Specced up at more than £370k, this will be the most expensive car I have driven.
Dawn: a new beginning
Quite simply; it’s stunning. With the same V12 power under the incredibly long bonnet, a soft top that seems like a coupe when it’s closed and yards of beautiful stitched leather the Dawn is every bit a drivers car where the Phantom is to be driven in.
This is the Black Badge version so everything is tighter, more responsive and somehow tamed. But barely. Push it a little harder and the difference is evident. A slightly more aggressive note from the exhaust and a commanding view of the road in front of the Spirit of Ecstasy. Had the weather been up to scratch the hood would have been down so that engine note – it’s a growl really – would have been more all-encompassing. As it was it was the perfect backing track to the feel of the car.
This is a big drop-top. Make no mistake. But it feels much more manageable than the dimensions would suggest. The technical material of the dash – carbon fibre infused, naturally – is a great setting for the instruments that are all as well engineered as the car itself. The craftsmanship is clear and the price tag, while high, is well matched to the experience of driving it. It feels constructed with skill, care and precision.
Nothing is out of place, everything works and it feels like a new type of motoring. Impressed as I exit the beautiful piece of engineering craft, I spy the next challenge. In all honesty, the car I was most looking forward to… the coupe-esque Wraith.
Beauty and brawn
With sweeping GT looks and poise, you’d be forgiven for assuming the luxurious feel of the other models will be missing from the Wraith. But you’d be wrong.
Again from the Black Badge range, inspired by the dark side you might say, the Wraith has a more urgent note to its growl; a warning if you like, that you could push this further, harder and it will respond.
With torque and power in abundance, the Wraith is as at home on the track as it is on the road. And considering this is still a two tonne plus car, that’s an impressive achievement on its own.
A true Grand Tourer, it combines comfort and space with the ability to eat up the road in big chunks, spitting out the miles behind like the machine that it is.
While it may be the more affordable (in some respects) Rolls Royce, it will still set you back upwards of £300k depending on your choices. Again, no option list is available, more a custom fitting service as you would expect from a Saville Row tailor. The Wraith is very much an extension of your own image.
Finally: the true icon; the Ghost Black Badge (naturally)
Probably the most known name from the pantheon of gods that Rolls Royce has created over the years, the Ghost is pitched to be the perfect balance between the Phantom and the Wraith – equally suited to be driven in by your chauffeur, or to take the wheel yourself.
I chose the latter. Partly because it’s what I do, but also because when I saw it, I fell in love. My previous excitement to get behind the wheel of the Wraith, while still present, had faded when I saw the Ghost. It had a quality that was akin to those pictures where you can either see a vase or a pair of faces. At one and the same time, it looked like a comfortable lounge in which one is wafted along in resplendent comfort, and also like a tamed beast – a growling supercar at heart, wearing a tailored suit ready for anything.
It handled perfectly – its size not seeming out of place on Cotswold B roads, although the truly amazing air suspension by this point was beginning to make me feel a little sea sick. The technology behind the springs is designed to deliver the passengers to their destination without the appearance of having moved, but on pot-holed B roads, it was up against it challenge wise. While effective in smiting out the bumps, on twists and turns it seemed a little too cushioned.
I’m sure that this could be adjusted in the central console system, but I was too keen to drive these cars than play with the settings.
And this car was a dream to drive. It captured all the best elements of the others, and rolled them into one. The comfort and ultimate luxury of the Phantom, the feel of a truly connected drive of the Dawn and the GT practicality of the Wraith, all wrapped up in the heritage of the Ghost badge.
And that’s important. Yes the price tag is big, there’s no getting past that, but these are not simply cars that transport you from one place to another. Commissioning a Rolls Royce means more than that. That’s why there’s no option list. You create something that is unique. That speaks to you. From you. I was discussing this with the team from Rolls Royce and they told me some stories of their clientele. One in particular stood out.
A gentleman who piloted Spitfires in the Second World War requested that a number of dials from his aircraft were used for the dashboard of his Rolls. A request that, naturally, Rolls Royce obliged. That means that somewhere, there is a Rolls Royce driving around with dials and gauges that saw action in the Battle of Britain.
That is what makes Rolls Royce what it is. Quite simply, the Best of British.