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  1. Luxury
September 1, 2006

Waft in Space

By Spear's

The new Rolls-Royce Phantom is smooth, damn smooth, says Hugh Warrender

It was a proper Dornford Yates moment. ‘Morning, Hugh. William here. I’m sure you’re not too busy, so I’ve arranged to send the Rolls around to your office at 11 o’clock to take us off for a quick steam at the Bath & Racquets, before we meet Phoebe for lunch at Mark’s.

And I wont take no for an answer.’ He had hung up the phone before I could reply. As it happens, I was quite busy, and given the chance, ‘no’ would have been my answer, but there was nothing to be done.

Good to his word, my assistant Victoria announced William’s arrival at 11 o’clock sharp; off I went. There one the street he was, standing next to a gleaming 2005 model Rolls-Royce Phantom, black, but not quite – a unique colour I was later to find out is called Black Kirsch. Dave Osman, the driver sent by Rolls-Royce to chaperone us for the day, was respectfully holding the door open and the game became clear.

I was to write a piece in praise of this legendary modern day road-liner. My curiosity peaked, I was asked to produce my driving licence, which of course I didn’t have. I called up my assistant to bring it down.

‘Do you like my new car?’ I asked Victoria, as she descended the stairs. A sharp intake of breath, hand to mouth, and brief pause. She then said: ‘That’s not your car. You can’t have gone and bought a Rolls, I just can’t believe it.’ Dave played along nicely, producing a clipboard. ‘Just sign here, sir.’

After a moment to ponder, her composure returned. ‘No, I just can’t believe it. You couldn’t have b ought a Rolls without me knowing, you’re too helpless,’ and turned on her heels to get back to work. Am I really that transparent?

And so the day began. Dave’s manager acquired a shade of 007’s Q as he went though his tour around the car’s formidable array of controls and gadgetry. ‘Are you familiar with the controls of the Phantom?’ he asked as I stepped into the driver’s seat.

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At this point, I thought it was worth mentioning that I am, in fact, the proud owner of a 1989 Bentley T2 and am not altogether without an understanding of the consoles of luxury cars. ‘Er… that’s nice, sir, but I think you’ll find things have moved on a bit since then.’ And how!

A little background would be useful at this point. The Phantom is powered by a Greenpeace-tickling 6.75-litre V12 engine that puts out 453bhp, which, touring around Mayfair, makes for about 11 miles to the gallon. Its top speed is limited to 149mph, as the tyres will allow it to go no faster – a fact which points to the characteristic typical of almost every aspect of this automobile: understated.

Yet there is no modesty in the G force-inducing 5.7 seconds it takes to reach 60mph – useful when evading Mafiosi henchmen on a jaunt around Moscow, no doubt. Not that would notice: the ride is so smooth – an experience Rolls-Royce terms ‘waftability’.

Column inches prevent me from going into the many other superlatives that emerged when analysing the Phantom’s finer technical points – so let’s just say it’s the dog’s, in every sense.

There is buffed-chrome button for everything conceivable, whether to raise the car a few inches to allow for poorly maintained roads, or to control the graphic display of you surroundings on the LCD screen as you reverse into a parking space.

As many as 20 Bavarian cows had to find their way to dinner plates to provide the upholstery. Quick sharpener before a visit to the mother-in-law? Look no further than the refrigerated armrest in the back seat for your pre-mixed Vodkatini.

All very impressive, but what’s it really like to cruise around in? We’d been in the car for an hour already and the Bath & Racquets steam room awaited us. Moreover, I could see William’s finger-tapping on the mahogany table in the back and realised that my inarticulate techie ramblings were keeping from answering the real question that was burning in his mind: is the Phantom truly ghetto-worthy?

We found at as we turned in Berkeley Square and Dave nudged the soft-glide dial beneath the stereo display to bring into force the 16 speakers and two sub-woofers (that, I’m led to believe by persons in the know, were personally requested by Prince Harry as standard kit). I felt the spirit of Notorious BIG come back down from heaven and join us on the back seat.

You can’t help but notice how everyone stares as you drive around in the Phantom. Dave had some wisdom on the issue: ‘You see, sir, the men, they’re looking at the car. The ladies, though, they’re looking to see who’s in the car.’ Sorry to disappoint you, ladies – it’s only me.

Pulled up outside the Bath & Racquets, William was taking a few snaps of the beast for posterity when a builder on his lunch break shouted: ‘Oi! Wanna take a picture of me nicking it?’ ‘Unlikely to succeed,’ said Dave, and we were to imagine the Colditz-like security measures taken by its Anglo-Teutonic designers.

Conversation in the steam room was sparse. William asked me: ‘Have you ever had a business meeting in a steam room?’ ‘No,’ I replied, my mind having already moved on to Mark’s Club lamb chops and the waiting Phoebe.

However many oligarchs, rap stars, or African dictators find their way onto the Rolls Royce client list, there is no more suitable passenger in a Rolls Royce Phantom than a classic Anglo-Irish beauty like Phoebe Manners – Kimora Lee Simmons and J-Lo, eat your hearts out.

This Rolls Royce is pure British beauty at its best, and it was hard to tell whether it was Phoebe that complimented its beauty or vice-versa. Walking into Mark’s Club, I knew better than to think that any of the staff there might be impressed with my ride (the Rolls, that is).

But, to a man, they all sneaked a peek, and I even extracted a ‘Nice car, sir’ from Bruno Rotti, the former maitre d’ of Clardige’s – high praise indeed! I could see they didn’t think Phoebe was too shabby either, but they kept quiet about that. A delicious lunch with old friends ensued. What more could I ask for?

Well, there was one thing. The old girl’s consumption around town had made me pretty thirsty myself. As I pulled up outside my local, The Australian, I braced myself for the barrage of Anglo-Saxon vernacular that was a dead certainty from its regular clientele.

Before I stepped out, a spot of rain touch the windscreen and Dave quipped: ‘Not to worry, sir.’ As he opened the rear-hinged door (nice touch), he popped out a mahogany-handled umbrella that nests in a specially created receptacle in the door. I later found out that the air-conditioning system actually blows over the replaced umbrella to ensure that it’s dry for the next use.

There was a stunned silence from the locals with their pints and the word to describe it was ‘respect’. Just like the pints of Stella Artois I felt obliged to buy them all under the circumstances.

The next morning, a glorious June day, it was time for a road trip to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire to see what the old girl could get up to on the M4. After burning up the motorway, hogging the fast-lane feeling as if I were Mr Toad taking ownership of a brand new Riva, I arrived at Sudeley, which was hosting a contemporary art show in its rolling lawns and gardens.

Within minutes of parking, an envious Henry Dent-Broklehurst emerged, saying he wanted to test the Roll’s ‘off-road’ capabilities. ‘What do you mean?’ I said nervously. ‘Oh,’ replied Henry, ‘let’s drive this boat across the lawns and scare the life out of some of my art trippers!’

Instead of scaring anybody, we found ourselves the object of fascinated curiosity, as people thought we were producing a display of performance art. Seeing the Phantom at Sudeley was clearly more exciting to many of the punters that the Damian Hirsts or other priceless exhibits in the gardens.

At £294,000 (gun ports, cocktail cabinet and bullet-proof glass are extra), the Rolls-Royce Phantom is reassuringly expensive, but worth every penny. If only for the looks you get.

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