Wind of Change: the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé
by Michael Ehrhardt
So it’s finally happened. What was presented as an audacious design study on the 100EX experimental vehicle has actually gone into series production on the Phantom Drophead Coupé. What invariably used to meet with stern rejection, indeed even repugnance, in the boardroom at Rolls-Royce has now been officially blessed. The matter in question is the holy grail, the icon of every Rolls-Royce for more than 100 years: the massive radiator grille, always modeled on a Greek temple and upon which the Spirit of Ecstasy sat veritably enthroned, telling everyone on the road quite unambiguously: this is not just any car ... this is a Rolls-Royce!
In contrast to earlier attempts by even renowned car designers to modernize the Rolls-Royce radiator grille, the team around Ian Cameron has indeed succeeded in coming up with a design that graces the face of the Drophead Coupé and can by all means be regarded as a modern interpretation of the classic design. The actual radiator grille has been reduced to a chrome mask rounded off at the top corners and integrated into the rounded engine hood, which has been extended downward. Conscious of the audacity of changing the traditional radiator grille though, it has been slanted discreetly backward.
Admittedly, the front is something of an acquired taste with its slit-shaped fog lamps and the big headlights below them, but its lines somehow come across as more harmonious and fluent than those of the Phantom Saloon.
It looks futuristic, maybe still also searching for the final new face to be carried by the Rolls-Royce of the future. Streamlining is the name of the game and, if one lines up the Phantom Saloon beside the Drophead, it does indeed appear more traditional with the classic radiator grille. Here the figurehead still has a proper plinth, whilst on the Drophead Coupé - set back a little and robbed of her plinth - she now has to perform a balancing act on a downward slope. She looks small and no longer as prominent as she used to be.
Despite all that, even the Phantom Drophead Coupé is immediately identifiable from all sides as a Rolls-Royce. The first glance when looking at the car from the front belongs – and that’s how it should always be with a Rolls-Royce – to the radiator grille, which is at its most striking when the brushed frame is not (as on the car presented here) extended further back across the hood.
The size of the vehicle is, as befits a Rolls-Royce bearing the name of Phantom, enormous and all-prevailing. The roof is presently the largest cloth roof anywhere on the market and, with it closed, the Drophead Coupé appears really weighty because of its particularly high waistline and low side windows.
Like all convertibles, the car is at its most beautiful when open. With its elegantly flowing hips it even looks a little sporty and, if the customer orders it separately, the folding roof is concealed under a splendid teak cover. This, incidentally, is left in its natural state ex-works, and over the course of time - like teak garden furniture - acquires a corresponding patina.
Indeed, the Drophead Coupé, in line with the “surrounded by the elements” motto of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, is for a car of this class quite close to nature and here and there is in fact a little miserly with the opulence otherwise on offer.
First there is the trunk lid consisting of two parts. The upper lid is simple to operate; pressing a button on the key opens up the trunk space itself, which at first seems really small. In fact, though, it is a baggage compartment with a false bottom, allowing smaller bags to be nicely stowed under the main load area. At least one big suitcase will easily fit in the trunk itself. That should do the job for a stylish trip for two to Cannes.
To open the trunk still further, there is a button on the outer wall flap to fold this down as well. Once folded down in this way, one can enjoy the unique experience of a real seating area, on which, for instance, one can savor one’s picnic. Sadly, though, this car has no button or motor to protect one’s hands from dirt, and the paint from scratches and greasy palms, when closing the trunk lid. The outer wall and lid must unfortunately be folded up and down by hand.
The theme of nature persists in the interior too, which is actually really easy to enter and leave without contortions thanks to the rear-hinged doors. In particular, this relates to the foot-mats in sisal, which according to the maker can quite happily become wet or full of sand from time to time, as they only need to be shaken to become clean and handsome again. If you prefer things classical, you can of course still order deep-pile carpets for this car. The new Coupé, incidentally, will boast carpets again as standard, though with short pile.
Having taken one’s place on the very comfortable seats, everything else of importance becomes familiar from the limousine. Only in the middle armrest is the button to operate the roof, which by the way one can only close again when one has stepped on the brakes! Looking out over the long hood, you realize that it drops more strongly than on the saloon, because the Flying Lady is no longer completely visible. But the view to the front of the car remains clear and one can quite easily estimate its width.
The familiar V12 is, of course, started with the press of a button. And even with the Drophead Coupé, the incredible quietness and suppleness of the engine is fascinating. With the roof closed, hardly a sound penetrates the interior as you glide along. It’s like being in a coupé.
With the roof open, one perceives only a slight fan noise from the front – as long as the car is still standing. Once the vehicle gets under way in this condition, the slogan “surrounded by the elements” quickly becomes reality. Those old convertible feelings are rekindled as the wind first strokes one’s hair and at higher speeds softly ruffles it.
That makes the car really fun, and it is a true treat to glide, yes hover, through the landscape, because that incomparable and typical Rolls-Royce feeling of “waftability” is there in the Drophead Coupé too, even if the suspension has been designed to be somewhat stiffer than on the saloon. Any unevenness in the road is practically non-existent or is ironed out, and there is not the slightest of trembling to be felt in the bodywork.
With the Phantom Drophead Coupé, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has succeeded in creating a fantastic automobile, about whose looks one may argue but whose driving experience takes place at such a high level that even the greatest antagonists will recognize after a test drive that this car is a worthy successor in the tradition of superb convertibles from the house of Rolls-Royce.
Specification of the car shown:
Créme Light / Navy Blue
Metal Steering Wheel Spoke
Text & photos by Michael Ehrhardt
Translation by Marie Cavalieri, Marketing Support of Kuhnke Automation GmbH & Co. KG