By Mark Maynard
It took the city of Vancouver, Canada, seven years to lay an infrastructure for the winter Olympic Games.
It took BMW five years after it bought Rolls-Royce to launch the new flagship Phantom, and it started with nothing.
When BMW bought the Rolls-Royce brand for $66 million in 1998, it “acquired” a piece of paper, a name, a badge, a radiator mascot and a rich history — but not much more. The new owners had the right to build an automobile with the Rolls-Royce name on it, but there was no factory, no workers, no craftspeople and no design. But much can be accomplished with the correct connections.
An 84-acre corner of land was purchased from the Earl of March that lies within view of his Goodwood Motor Circuit. It is famously known for the Festival of Speed, the revival of historic motor sports, horse racing, vintage planes and more.
Now, seven years after the debut of the larger-than-life Phantom, Rolls-Royce has added a second car, the 2010 Ghost.
If Phantom is the world symbol of ostentatious wealth, Ghost can be described as ostentatious austerity, said interior designer Alan Shepherd over dinner at the car’s recent U.S. debut in Newport Beach, Calif.
“The car should not compete with driver,” he said. “It is a stage to present the person who drives the car — to pay the owner a compliment.”
The Ghost, with rear-hinged back doors, is 17 inches shorter than Phantom and weighs 5,445 pounds at the curb. While smaller, it fits the boot-print from the classic Rollers before BMW ownership.
It is still a large car, with more rear legroom (42.3 inches) than front. At $245,000 to start, it is a step up in cost and size from the BMW 7-series, Mercedes-Benz S-class or Audi A8, but almost 13 inches shorter than the Maybach short-wheelbase.
The car shares about 20 percent of its components with the BMW 7-series, but those parts are concentrated in functional hardware, such as wiring, brakes, suspension, heat-vent-AC and the differential. The engine is unique to the Ghost and the unibody is not shared.
The name Ghost recalls the model from the early 1900s “and is not a name to toss about,” Shepherd said. The new model represents a fusion of craftsmanship with science, he said.
Like the Phantom, about 300 workers and craftspeople lay hands on this car in the assembly. Among them are leather cutters and stitchers, pinstripers, paint polishers and wood-veneer matchers.
“It is quite easy to do these things with plastic,” Shepherd said. “Natural materials are a huge task. Some of the crafts come from the early Egyptians and Phoenicians.”
The only robots in the factory are in the paint booth — between each of the five layers a worker machine polishes each coat. It will take about 20 days to complete a car.
Rolls-Royce is keen on this model because it could double or triple sales. The Phantom had around 1,000 sales worldwide last year, a third of those from North America. California represents 40 percent of U.S. sales, with New York and South Florida close behind.
The company jokes that it engineered the global economic meltdown so that it could offer this new model just as consumers globally are thinking smaller and avoiding excessive shows of wealth. While the Phantom has a reputation as a chauffeur-driven car, Ghost is more of a driver’s car, the company says. It expects many sales to come from existing Phantom owners but to also reach a new base of buyers. At last count there were 1,500 preorders.
Ghost isn’t just slightly smaller and slightly less expensive, it is also slightly more approachable, Shepherd said.
“Ghost is about reaching to a better place without people giggling and pointing at the car,” he said. “But it doesn’t lose intrinsic values.”
The old ways of quaint and eccentric British pomposity are long gone with the German owners caring for the brand. It is a technologically advanced car, but only with such electronics and innovations that help and facilitate without frustrating and angering. There is no complicated central controller to access car and cabin controls, but there are electronic efficiencies and many features are accessed by hard buttons and switches. For example, a series of buttons beneath the audio controls appear to be station presets, but they can be used to set direct-dial phone numbers, audio selections or other preferences.
Exterior designer Ian Cameron has set a stately stance that is muscled in presence and poise. The jaw-forward face peers through robotic-like eyes that shoot cold glances from LED beams.
The car sits soundly on 19-inch Goodyear run-flat tires. Rear haunches channel the lunge of 563-horsepower, which is twin-turbocharged from the new 6.6-liter, direct-injection V-12.
British engineers are far more trusting than those from Bavaria, and the Ghost can run wild and free without electronic stability controls getting in the way of a good time. Correction can be just a split millisecond away with Advanced Crash and Safety Management. Other aids include Lane Departure Warning, which alerts to crossing the white line with a subtle vibration of the steering wheel. Night Vision with pedestrian recognition is a usable feature, provided by BMW. And Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go keeps pace with the flow of heavy commuting traffic.
Particularly handy in urban parking situations are a series of cameras that will give views at the front, rear, side and an overhead view. It all helps when parallel parking an 18-foot car with a 44-foot turning circle.
SPEED IS DECEPTIVE
I spent a day driving the Ghost over a variety of roads and a slalom course. I smiled at its grace, luxury and power.
Despite its length and tonnage, the performance is gratifying. The V-12 will push the car to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds amid a forceful whoosh from the well-machined engine note. Speed is deceptive because the cabin is so quiet, a bubble of tranquility amid a teeming society.
The car just wants to cruise at 80 mph, but much higher speeds do not seem unsettling. Full throttle acceleration pokes the beast within and the engine ignites with fury. The force is marvelously staggering from about 50 mph until caution causes the driver to lift the throttle. The top speed is 155 mph.
The eight-speed transmission rolls through gear changes with just enough sensation. There is no manual mode, but the transmission always seems to be in the right gear for immediate power.
The steering stands out as precise to the touch, comfortably weighted but not numb to road sensation. Brake and throttle responses are absolute — not masked by drive-by-wire vagueness.
A four corner, air-bag suspension adapts to turns or evasive maneuvers to provide a centered and controlled ride, but it can also snap to a sport calibration in a split apex. On bumpy roads, the stabilizer bars disengage to let the car ride on a cloud.
Tie all this power together, and the driver can expect 20 mpg on the highway and more with cruise control engaged. Premium fuel only, please.
Criticisms would include large outside mirrors that create billboard-size blind spots. Another gripe might be the door lock/unlock switch on the center console, not of the door panel for easy access. And the biggest challenge may be learning to gracefully enter and exit the rear-hinged doors. But, all things in time.
As the Phantom line includes a coupe and convertible, the Ghost will take other forms, too, but Shepherd wasn’t divulging any secrets. He said to expect something different, as in not a convertible or coupe, at least right away.
“We’re not in the business of churning out Russian dolls,” he said.
2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost
Body style: large, five-passenger, rear-wheel-drive sedan
Engine: 6.6-liter, twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder with direct injection
Horsepower: 563 at 5,250 rpm
Torque: 575 foot-pounds at 1,500 rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Acceleration, 0-60 mph: 4.7 seconds; top speed 155 mph
Estimated fuel mileage: 13 mpg city, 20 highway; premium fuel recommended
Fuel tank: 21.8 gallons
Wheelbase/length: 129.7/212.6 inches
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40.5/41.7/59.4 inches (front head-room is 39.1 with sunroof)
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 39/42.3/55.8 inches (front head-room is 38.4 with sunroof)
Curb weight: 5,445 pounds
Trunk capacity: 17.3 cubic feet
Brakes: 16.1-inch vented discs front, 15.8-inch vented discs rear
Standard equipment includes: four corner air suspension system using multilink aluminum front and rear axles
Safety equipment includes: 10 air bags (including front knee bags), seat belt tensioners, active heat restraints, anti-roll stabilization, dynamic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, cornering brake control and brake drying
MSRP: $247,000, including $2,000 freight charge; price as tested, $280,300
Options on test car: camera system (front, side and overhead), $3,200; silver satin hood treatment, $5,000; picnic tables, $2,800; lambs wool floor mats, $1,000; chrome exhaust finishers, $3,200; adaptive headlights, $1,100; panorama sunroof, $7,000; driver’s assistance system 3, $10,000, includes lane departure warning, high-beam assistance, head-up display, night vision and active cruise control with stop and go
Warranty: four years with unlimited mileage; coverage includes roadside assistance, any required service and concierge service. Six years/unlimited mileage body corrosion
Where assembled: Goodwood, England
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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