There's no logical reason for buying a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe but if you have the means, then why on earth not? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
There's a lot to be said for self indulgence and the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe indulges like no other car. Most people won't understand the need for such a vehicle but pity their feeble imaginations. There's a place for logic and a place for cars like this. A healthy mind will keep these places discreetly separate.
To delve into Rolls-Royce's history of elegant convertibles would detain us for quite some time, so let's hit the fast forward button and start at 2003 when Rolls started producing the Phantom from their state-of-the-art facility at Goodwood, a venue infused with rich historical motor sport associations. The Phantom was very much new owner BMW's baby and although most expected it to be a nightmarish pastiche of Britishness, we underestimated the Bavarians. BMW had hired all the right people and were determined to build something other than a bigger, squarer 7 Series. The Phantom saloon has been an enormous success, selling over 3,000 cars in its first four years of production and it has now spawned an elegant open-topped version, the Phantom Drophead Coupe. With similarly beautiful detailing, an imposing profile and the added bonus of al fresco wafting, the Drophead Coupe is a treat for the senses.
More often than not, the engine will have adequate power in reserve. With 720Nm of torque marshalled by a six-speed column-mounted automatic gearshift, the Phantom can accelerate to 60mph in 5.7 seconds and on to an electronically-limited 150mph. A whisper valve in the exhaust system means that at modest speeds the car is virtually silent. With air damping and aluminium multi-link suspension, ride comfort is also superb. The thin-rimmed wheel supplies a surprising amount of information as to what's going on at the front wheels and from a driving perspective, the Drophead Coupe feels a lot smaller than it actually is. Despite that massive bonnet stretching out ahead of you, the Rolls-Royce feels preternaturally nimble. It's helped by a massive serving of torque that arrives at the rear wheels in an instant, helping to make the car feel alert and light on its feet. The hood has been designed to replicate the sort of road-going refinement that Phantom saloon customers have enjoyed and uses five layers of material to deaden wind noise. This also helps thermally insulate the cabin, allowing the air-conditioning to efficiently reach its operating conditions when the hood is in place.
Design and Build
The company claims that this Drophead Coupe is a less formal interpretation of classic Rolls-Royce design than its four-door sibling, and when you inspect the design, it's easy to see what they mean. Customers can specify the car with a brushed steel bonnet and a teak rear deck. To ensure a uniform grain throughout the bonnet, it's first machine brushed and then finished by hand. The steel is almost an anomaly as there's so much aluminium used in the car's construction. The aluminium spaceframe is draped in bodywork 5.84 metres long and 1.99 metres wide and features 20 metres more chassis welding than the saloon. The signature hawkish front lights and huge wheels are present, although the eye is naturally drawn to that teak rear deck. Where it's specified, the elegant wood is reminiscent of a Riva speedboat. The forward opening doors also take a little getting used to. Each car uses 18 hides for its 450 separate pieces of leather. Each of the 60 pieces of veneer is 40 layers thick, glued onto aluminium and finished by hand - there are 2400 slivers of timber in every car. The top of the tyres is 31 inches high, designed to replicate early sketches that indicated the ideal proportion between wheel size and cabin height. The spirit-level flat belt line of the convertible car lends an unusual, distinctly architectural quality to its proportioning.
Market and Model
While the price is quite a pile by most people's reckoning, Rolls-Royce Phantom owners tend to operate in rather different orbits to the likes of me and - from a basis of statistical probability - you. The value proposition thus takes on a rather ethereal quality, the Drophead Coupe becoming an entertaining diversion to blow some disposable income on rather than the culmination of a life's automotive ambition. Despite the relative low involvement of these sorts of buying decisions, that's not to say that owners are undemanding types. The inconvenience rather than the expense of any failure becomes the overriding concern and Rolls-Royce doesn't do inconvenience. Take the interior as an indicator of such. The interior, while traditional at first glance, hides a number of modern refinements behind its luxuriant marquetry. There are 31 switches evident and it's possible to drive the car and control not only the stereo but the climate control as well without opening the fascia. There's also a drawer in the centre that pops open to reveal the telephone keypad and a slide-out door that houses the Rotary Controller. Call it iDrive at the Goodwood factory and you may well be excommunicated. Activate the controller and the clock and its surround fold silently back to reveal a colour LCD screen for the satellite navigation and other custom settings. The heavily chromed spherical air vents are welcome sights, as are the old-fashioned organ stop levers that operate them. The instruments have black faces with slender serif needles and the rev counter has been replaced by a power reserve dial. This reads 100 percent at rest, and indicates how much more power the engine has got to give.
Cost of Ownership
Cost of ownership remains a rather nebulous concern. Aside from the fevered speculators looking to make a fast buck, Phantom Drophead Coupe owners aren't going to be found poring over predicted residual values and wondering whether a Bentley Arnage convertible will make a better sink for their funds on the basis of a few percentage points here or there. Nor are they going to be overly concerned by the car's insurance rating. Outright fuel economy is less important than overall range, the figure that spells the interval between queuing assignments at filling stations with the great undoshed. With a 17.6 gallon fuel tank, this works out at around 270 miles, depending on how heavy your right foot is.
Driving a car like the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe is an acid test of whether you've just arrived or whether you truly belong to the moneyed elite. I know that I can't carry this car off. I don't look suitably tattered in an effortless old money way. But perhaps that's the issue. Perhaps I appear more like a Russian gas mogul, looking to blow some money on a mid table Premiership team. In all likelihood, I look like that shameless popinjay, the motoring journalist, borrowing a car that costs more than his house and thoroughly enjoying it. There's a depth of engineering to this car that's massively encouraging. It fuses the best technology BMW can serve up with meticulous, almost dementedly detailed British craftsmanship. It's big, it's rather brash but above all, it's brilliant. Sold out for its first year and the next before it ever turned a wheel in the public's hands, the Phantom Drophead Coupe's success was always assured.