Rolls-Royce Phantom (2003 to date) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

Looking for the most civilised form of road transportation yet devised? You're looking at it in the imposing shape of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Used examples tend to be very well looked after, usually low on mileage and a fair sight cheaper than new. It's like no other car on earth. Put aside for one moment the rather depressing truth that BMW can build a better British car than we can and it's hard not to be impressed by the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Most expected a rather unsubtle pastiche of Britishness when the project was announced but the finished item is a corker. Sales have been slowish but until somebody figures a way of motorising the Garrick Club, the Phantom remains the most agreeable way of getting from A to B yet devised. Here's what to look for when buying used.

Models

Models Covered: 4dr saloon, 2dr drophead coupe (6.75 petrol)

History

The big challenge for Rolls' new owners was to make a car that conspicuously wasn't a supersized BMW 7 Series. As such, the Phantom doesn't use any existing BMW floorpan, suspension parts or cabin parts. What's more, the key personnel charged with creating the Phantom weren't drawn from the cream of BMW's rank and file. Head designer Ian Cameron was best known for his work on the current Range Rover and was very aware that Rolls Royces mustn't be seen to be emanating from such a common source as BMW or, as he rather elegantly puts it, "You don't make wine in a brewery." Chief engineer Tim Leverton had also worked on the Range Rover and the Phantom was designed and modelled in London - at a converted bank opposite Hyde Park that used to be Johnny Depp's UK apartment. It really is the most mind-boggling undertaking. An estimated 1,000 cars roll out of the £65m Goodwood plant each year, which at a quarter of a million pounds apiece bring in £250m. The factory itself is an astonishing facility, designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, architect of the Eden Project in Cornwall. The floor was sunk 5 feet below ground level and the roof was landscaped over with grass, leading some commentators to envision a sort of subterranean Blofeld's lair and there is something a little sinister about the silence, the immaculate employees identically dressed in pleated corduroy and tweeds, German vowel sounds occasionally ringing down the line. There's no paint shop, instead there's a Surface Technology Centre. The years since 2003 have seen the factory win many awards and have even seen rare birds nesting on its rooftop. The Phantom has changed little over the years. There have been show cars like the 10EX but it wasn't until 2007 that the Phantom Drophead Coupe was unveiled. This offered raffish open top motoring to those that could afford it and would look utterly brilliant in Cannes.

What You Get

At 5.84 metres long and 1.99 metres wide in standard wheelbase form, there's a lot to cover. The key design features are the hawkish front lights, the huge wheels and the unusual back-hinged rear pair of doors. 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 - 2400 slivers of timber in every car. Two door-mounted umbrellas are finished in Teflon so as not to rot if you store them wet. 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 Phantom is a very tall car, its overall height disguised by such styling sleight of hand. The proportions work well. At no point does this car ever have that coarse stretch limo look that the Mercedes designers who penned the Maybach - the Phantom's only current conceivable rival - have failed to avoid. 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 pop-out door that houses the Rotary Controller. Call it iDrive (BMW's driver interface system) 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 to give.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

A Rolls-Royce Phantom should have been maintained regardless of cost. It should not have balding tyres or minor bodywork damage. The major mechanicals and electricals have proven rugged and the depth of engineering is impeccable. Even the umbrella holder in the rear doors of the saloon is equipped with a fan to prevent the fabric mildewing.

Replacement Parts

To paraphrase an old Rolls-Royce maxim, if you need to ask about the price of parts..

On the Road

The engines are also shipped over from Germany. Their 6.75-litre capacity is a match for the old V8 units, but these are modern V12 engines all direct injection, variable valves and 453bhp without recourse to anything as vulgar as a turbocharger. With 531lb/ft 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 wafting speeds the car is virtually silent. With air suspension and aluminium multi link suspension ride comfort is also superb. You wouldn't expect anything less, would you?

Overall

The Phantom was a massive gamble for Rolls-Royce. The company rather overplayed its hand when announcing at launch that no more than 10,000 examples would ever be built. By March 2007, only 3,000 had been sold which makes them still a very rare sight on the nation's roads, a majority heading to the US and Middle East. Used examples don't crop up too often but they tend to be well cared for, even ex-hire cars (of which there are several).