At places like Pebble Beach or a Sotheby’s auction, you might hear a car referred to as “a rolling piece of art.” The new 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom makes that term literal with its so-called “Gallery:” A glass-encased dashboard that becomes a canvas for bespoke, commissioned artworks, from oil paintings or 3D printing to precious metals, stones, silk, porcelain or sculptural elements. Our eyes are boggled, our Hondas appear even more humble and tatty, and we can only say: Fucking rich people.
From SoHo to Shanghai, the upper crust will toast the eighth-generation, roughly $450,000 Phantom, which Rolls-Royce unveiled today at Bonham’s auction house in London. The “New Phantom,” as the British brand calls it, represents the world’s oldest, still-standing nameplate, first introduced by Sir Henry Royce in 1925 as the successor to his Silver Ghost. The Phantom replaces a previous model, the first Rolls-Royce under BMW ownership, that saw about 7,000 built between 2003 and 2016. Offered in standard- or extended-wheelbase form, the latter stretching nearly 240 inches – nearly three feet longer than a typical full-size sedan – the Phantom begins production next week, with owners receiving the first completed cars in early 2018.
Rolls-Royce has been busily scrubbing the “stuffy” from its models, including the lovely Wraith coupe and Dawn convertibles, as its aging audience is replaced by a new generation of royals, heirs, entrepreneurs, titans and money-launderers. The Phantom remains the most literally upright, traditional Rolls sedan. But a progressive streak is evident, especially in the cabin, which takes inspiration from the mind-blowing, autonomous 103EX concept of 2016.
This Phantom VIII adopts an all-aluminum, 30-percent-stiffer spaceframe that the company dubs the “Architecture of Luxury.” That modular platform will support future Rolls-Royces, including the enormous Cullinan SUV that will battle the Bentley Bentayga. The previous Phantom Coupe and Drophead Coupe are dropped from the lineup plan. The company’s venerable 6.75-liter V12 goes the modern twin-turbo route, boosted to 563 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, up from a respective 453 and 531 today. A Satellite Aided Transmission assists the ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox, adjusting gears based on GPS coordinates to keep the engine in its limbo-low sweet spot. It’s all part of what Rolls bills as the world’s most silent motor car, led by that “completely silent engine” that can’t be heard over the ticking of the analog clock inside.
As ever, Rolls’ press release for the Phantom featured more purple prose than Fifty Shades of Gray, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The pomp and occasion of sliding into the Phantom is called “The Embrace,” creating “a detoxifying environment whilst cocooning the occupant in the finest of materials.”
“When in need of space to reflect on issues of import (Ed: Damn those Malaysian factory snoops!) or simply lost in thought (the teak decking on the 160-footer is looking shabby), one’s imagination is inspired by the largest Starlight Headliner ever seen in a Rolls-Royce.”
Center opening coach doors make for easy, chauffeur-guided entry and exit. Both front and rear doors are now automated, swinging with a sensor push on the gorgeous stainless-steel door handles, or from inside at the push of a button. A sweep of wood paneling on the back of front seats is inspired by an Eames lounge chair. Rear picnic tables and theater monitors deploy from that paneling, also electrically operated.
For the first time in its eight generations, the Phantom’s hand-polished, stainless-steel grille is integrated within the bodywork, for a cleaner, modern effect. The winged, motorized Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament gets a half-inch lift in her shoes, and is again available in multiple materials, including frosted glass. A spiffy headlamp graphic houses frosted lighting elements and what Rolls claims is the most advanced laser lighting system of any car, including the ability to illuminate the nighttime road for more than 650 yards. A handsomely tapered, superformed aluminum tail eliminates some unsightly seams, and the roof is more steeply raked.
Rolls says the Phantom’s signature, magic-carpet “waftability” has only improved. “Silent-Seal” tires on 22-inch wheels add a foam layer that reduces tire noise by a claimed 9 decibels. Double-skinned alloys in the chassis floor and bulkhead are stuffed with heavy foam and felt. Add it up, the company says, and this royal sarcophagus reduces noise levels by 10 percent at 62 mph, or 100 kph.
An endless selection of seating arrangements includes an intimate Lounge Seat and a newly introduced Sleeping Seat. Choose the new fixed rear center console for a drinks cabinet with whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and a coolbox. To ensure that occupants don’t strain delicate necks while conversing, seats in fixed-console models are subtly angled. And a pox on plastic: Every piece of switchgear is made from metal, glass or wrapped in leather, including the classic organ-stop vent controls and violin-key window switches. As before, the Phantom aims to hide its BMW-based technology (including a version of the iDrive controller) until you need it, like a Bavarian butler in his mangy quarters. Per the press release, “The eye rests only on beauty, as if in an Art Gallery.”
That new dashboard Gallery is the design tour-de-force, with Rolls’ loftily claiming it has reinvented the dash space for the first time in more than a century. Giles Taylor, the company’s chief designer, says that many owners are art patrons and collectors, and that idea led him to reinterpret the dashboard from a “dead expanse” to a focal point.
“In the 18th century, miniatures were highly fashionable and valuable items of art that allowed their owners to carry images of their loved one with them wherever they traveled,” Giles says. “I really loved the idea of taking your art with you, when traveling, so I acted on it.”
For more mundane matters, the Gallery houses all instruments and infotainment displays, including chrome-surround digital gauges and a standard analog clock, enveloped in black leather; or a bespoke clock with a choice of car-matching finishes. But encased within “an uninterrupted swathe of toughened glass” that spans the full width of the dash, the gallery space also becomes a backdrop for individual artworks, thereby multiplying the personalization options for the Phantom. We’re already picturing the owner who nonchalantly says, “Oh, that? Just a Faberge egg, a little present from Mummy”.
To demonstrate the concept, Rolls has already commissioned eye-popping treatments from artists and artisans. The moveable feast includes an oil painting inspired by England’s South Downs, by Chinese artist Lian Yangwei; a gold-plated, 3D-printed map of an owner’s DNA from German designer Thorsten Frank; and a handmade stem of porcelain roses by the porcelain maker Nymphenberg. Along with such bespoke commissions -- which will naturally cost a princely sum and delay delivery of your Phantom -- company designers in Goodwood, U.K. will offer a Gallery collection of metal, wood, silk and leather treatments for impatient types who’d rather not wait. As for feathering your own nest, Gerry Spahn, Rolls-Royce spokesman, says that a feathered backdrop is another potential treatment.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see other ultra-luxury brands pick up on the idea, which could deliver a three-way boost to personalization, profits and owner pampering. A Phantom is already a rare sight, with only about 500 built in a typical year for buyers around the globe. Now owners can put themselves in an even-more-rarefied group with customization worthy of a Louvre patron, or at least a Long Island real-estate mogul. Wealthy imaginations will run wild, along with egos and budgets: What would a Saudi prince or hip-hop star do with this virtual canvas? The artistic expressions will surely range from the sublime to the ridiculous. To Michael Fux, the New Jersey mattress king and car collector who has commissioned several singular Rollers, we can only say: The ball’s in your court.