Living the High Life

Two weeks ago, I managed to briefly experience how the other half lives. Actually, I gained a glimpse of how the other 0.01 percent of us drives. On hand at the International Motor Press Association’s Spring Brake outing – yes, it should be Spring Break, but this is a motor press group – was a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé. In the press materials, Giles Taylor, the director of design at Rolls-Royce, describes this convertible as "a contemporary take on the timeless romance of open-top motoring." That, it is.

Accompanying this car and ready to provide a wealth of information and support was Oleg Satanovsky, who works in product communications for Rolls-Royce. His task of providing enlightenment on the vehicle started with the operation of the rear-hinged doors.

The official line on these doors is that they allow "elegant entry and exit to and from the rear lounge seat." They also make it very easy to gracefully enter the vehicle and get behind the wheel.  The fact that these doors are difficult to reach when fully opened isn’t a problem.  An easily accessed button activates a power-closing feature, which is available on both doors.

Driving this car is an experience. Somehow, it manages to isolate passengers from road imperfections without depriving the driver of a feel of the road, an amazing feat.  The 6.8-liter V-12 engine provides plenty of power and acceleration is quick and effortless. The 463 horsepower and 531 lb-ft of torque on tap propel this six-ton car with amazing grace and ease.

The body, paint and interior are works of mobile art. “It takes 60 people 28 days to build the car,” says Satanovsky. He adds that fabricating the exquisite wood trim, leather and metal used for the interior is a dying art. “No art school teaches this,” Satanovsky says.

To make up for this lapse in the British educational system and to keep these skills from dying out, Rolls-Royce has an apprenticeship program. The company takes in 20 apprentices at a time and after several years of training, the top performers will be offered full-time positions.

The workmanship is incredibly good. All the wood trim is bookmarked. In addition, Rolls-Royce keeps and catalogs samples of the wood it uses in each of the cars it builds. As a result, the factory can provide a replacement wood trim piece with a grain pattern that matches the original perfectly in the event of damage. Satanovsky notes that it takes a team of craftsmen a full week to produce the wood trim while another team requires a week to do the leather work.

The paint glistens, as well it should. The car is wet sanded by hand after each of the five coats and it takes five hours of polishing to finish the car once the clear coat finish is on.

Pinstriping, if the buyer desires this added step, is done by hand by Mark Court. It takes him four hours, and he uses squirrel hair brushes. On a dual pinstripe, the top line is three millimeters wide and the bottom line is five millimeters. Studying to learn the trade is his apprentice, who also happens to be his son.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé is not just a heavyweight, but also exceptionally large. This four-passenger vehicle is 220.8 inches long and rides on a 130.7-inch wheelbase.

The cost of the vehicle I drove was $501,000. Fortunately, my trip was completed with no dings, no scrapes and no errors. I shudder to think what even a minor body repair would cost on this car.

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