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Car reviews - Rolls-Royce - Phantom - sedan

The Car

23 Mar 2004

WHEN BMW became custodian of motoring’s most famous automotive moniker on July 28, 1998, the independent German maker not only embarked on a four-year development program to produce the 21st century Phantom sedan, but also had to establish a brand-new company and manufacturing plant at the home of Roll-Royce, Goodwood, West Sussex, on the south coast of England.

Apart from ensuring the first Rolls-Royce produced under BMW ownership would still be hand-built, in traditional coach style by British craftspeople, the process employed latest technology to produce the BMW’s own rendition of the classic Rolls-Royce concept.

Dubbed Phantom, which takes its title from a succession of so-named inter-war models and will spawn a series of forthcoming variants including convertible, long-wheelbase and armoured versions, the result is a thoroughly modern interpretation of the traditional Rolls-Royce shape, draped over a full aluminium spaceframe structure.

It presents classic Rolls-Royce shape comprising a long, tall bonnet and radiator grille, an even longer wheelbase, short front and long rear overhang, solid aluminium A-pillar and a thick C-pillar that offers rear-seat passengers the ultimate in privacy and safety. Riding on a expansive 3570mm wheelbase, the Phantom body measures a huge 5834mm long, 1990mm wide, and an equally imposing 1632mm high.

The four-door, five-seat Phantom weighs more than a full-size SUV at 2485kg, yet - thanks to a purpose-built 6.75-litre 60-degree 48-valve V12 and six-speed ZF automatic transmission - sprints from standstill to 100km/h in a Commodore SS-like 5.9 seconds and has a top speed of some 240km/h.

Phantom produces peak power of 338kW – about double what a high-performance Subaru WRX produces - and a whopping 720Nm of torque (about three times the WRX’s output) available at just 3500rpm, three-quarters of which is on top from just 1000rpm.

Dwarfing many previous Rollers, Phantom employs double wishbone front and multi-link rear self-levelling air suspension, rides on massive 20.5-inch alloy wheels with Michelin rubber and is the first car in the world to feature PAX run-flat tyres as standard.

Phantiom is unique in offering items such as independently opening, rear-hinged suicide doors (or, as Rolls-Royce prefers to call them, coach doors) to make entry/exit as "easy, comfortable and graceful as possible", floating and synchronised wheel centres that ensure all four RR badges remain upright at all times, a pair of Rolls-Royce umbrellas concealed in each rear door cavity and a retractable Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet mascot.

Inside, Phantom features heated rear theatre seating for three, with the option of fully adjustable individual seating for two. Standard items include an on-board monitor with television and satellite-navigation, heated and double-glazed side windows, electronic rear blind, acoustic parking sensors, violin key window buttons and soft-retracting leather "duchess straps" instead of grabrails.

Despite the $985,000 pricetag, the options list still features items like a full wood dash (including upper dash and instrument panel), rear-seat DVD player, rotating rear footrests and electronic curtains. As it is, everything in the standard Phantom is either leather, wood or carpet.

GoAuto had the chance to drive the only 2004 Phantom that took place in the marque’s 100th anniversary roadshow in Australia alongside 300 other historic Rolls-Royces, before it went on to Pebble Beach in California for the actual centenary on May 4, then back home to the UK.

Production was ramped up from one car per fortnight during 2003, with maximum capacity of five cars per day achieved by November 2003. The 500th Phantom was built on January 13, 2004, with 300 having already been delivered to customers.

Rolls-Royce’s Goodwood plant has the capacity to produce more than 1800 Phantoms annually but hopes to sell 1000 examples per annum over the life cycle of the vehicle. That’s in line with historic Rolls-Royce production, which has seen only 100,000 versions built in the company’s 100-year history.

Of those, more than half are expected to be sold in the US, with at least 15 per cent bound for the Middle East, 15 per cent to be sold in the UK and a further 15 per cent for the rest of the world, including Asia-Pacific.

While Rolls-Royce is reluctant to divulge details of its customers, it’s known Australian Rolls-Royce distributor Trivett Classic has delivered two Phantoms in Australia and one in New Zealand since the first car was delivered globally on January 1, 2003.

Trivetts has taken delivery of a full-time demonstrator and has two further Phantoms currently on order – one of which is a Centenary Edition Phantom, of which only 35 will be built.

Australia’s first purpose-built Rolls-Royce showroom will officially open in Sydney on April 14. Currently there is a four-month wait for Phantom customers and Trivett Classic hopes to sell eight to 10 Phantoms in Australia in 2004 – at a price of $935,000 plus on-road costs, which vary according to the state between $30,000 and $60,000.

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Currently there are 61 Rolls-Royce dealers globally, with 70 planned

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