by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img via Flickr ::: 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental Keller Sports Saloon
NESTLED comfortably in Leicestershire, roughly two hours car journey up the M1 from London, rests a magnificent castle – the foundations of which were originally commissioned by no less than William the Conqueror circa 1095 A.D. Apart from holding off enemy forces and securing the countryside, Rockingham Castle played a lighter role this last weekend in hosting the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club Annual Rally & Concours. For true Royce and Bentley connoisseurs, the event was in all likelihood without peer – as a thorough representation of pre and post war cars bowed and stood tall for a large, appreciative gathering.
To have a look at the many models represented click the below link for a comprehensive presentation.
by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img Rolls-Royce ::: Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II
FIDDLING. It can make or break a good thing. Ever work on something for so long and then say, wait, maybe if I just…put it… like… that… and voila! You’ve botched it. The whole package knocked because ya had to fiddle. Well, that’s not quite what’s happened with the Phantom but we can see that history is repeating itself at Rolls-Royce.
Don’t get me wrong. Team Goodwood had to do something. The original (new) Phantom has been with us in more or less the same form since BMW relaunched Rolls-Royce in 2003.
The less expensive, BMW 7-series based Ghost has since taken center stage and now encompasses the bulk of Rolls-Royce sales. Ghost features new gadgetry, newer iDrive, a sleeker interior and resembles a similar relationship between Mercedes’ E-Class and the S-Class – the lower priced model steals the flagship’s thunder by the simple virtue of being the newer car with newer stuff.
In that respect, the Rolls-Royce Ghost is still ahead of the Phantom Series II, which we’ll call, Phantom 2.0. Phantom 2.0 still makes do with a BMW V12 that makes 100 less horsepower than the Ghost’s BMW V12.
And according to Rolls-Royce, aside from a new 8-speed transmission and rear differential which combined provide a 10% boost in fuel economy (which the owner could care less about), Phantom 2.0 is essentially unchanged from Phantom 1.0.
Except, that is, for one key difference. The headlights. No other attribute can so radically change our perception of a car’s appearance than its eyes. It’s like swapping green contact lenses for blue ones. You put those on and its like the world sees you as a new person. Well, here’s where history has repeated itself.
Rolls-Royce was right to keep Phantom and its two door variants essentially unaltered. They were expensive to design and are essentially brilliant as they stand. They’ve got an easy five more years of shelf life before a more radical adjustment is needed. And where we’re at now is similar to where Rolls-Royce was in the 60s and 70s.
You had the big, bulbous Silver Clouds which segued to the chopped and channeled Silver Shadows. Silver Shadow is analogous to the Ghost and the Phantom is analogous to the Silver Cloud based Phantom limo that sold alongside the Shadows through the 70s.
Back then, to prepare Rolls-Royce clientele for the enormous shock that the smaller, more modern Silver Shadow would doubtless bring, they altered the headlights of the Silver Cloud III; swapping out the two circular units for twin sets of double Lucas sealed beam units. This, at the time, had plenty of Royce owners raising their Holland & Hollands in the air.
That’s unlikely to be the case today because most of Rolls-Royce customers are now new money and new money don’t give a S#!t about how something looks so long as it makes a loud status statement. It all falls under the same principle that has so many Hollywood stars checking themselves into rehab. What should be a private period of reflection is used as a publicists’ tool for getting their client’s name back into the headlines. All press is good press and therefore it doesn’t matter how strange a car looks so long as it’s new.
Well, lucky for Rolls-Royce, most of the world won’t notice, much less care that the Phantom’s headlamps have gone from recessed rectangular units stationed above beautiful, circular Xenon discharge bulbs to flat boxes divided by a horizontal bar of LEDs above another row of horizontal LED signal lights. To be honest, I’m not sure why I do either except that something struck me funny about the change.
For one, it’s very similar to early conceptual drawings from 2002. Presumably, Rolls-Royce designers thought the new headlight arrangement inferior to the 2003 solution. And then there’s a historical context, too. Some car from Rolls-Royce’s past. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first but then it dawned on me.
By Gunnar Heinrich
IF you succeed in wading through the syrupy period context, bypass the unimaginative title, and forgive the production’s artistic license in casting Ingrid Bergman as a rich, bullheaded American widow named Gerda, then somehow you’re able to sit through watching The Yellow Rolls-Royce.
And the reason you will is not for cinematography. We’re talking early 60s, so like the 70s the picture tends to wash with a brownish-grey cast.
Nor will it be for the magnificent cast’s performance – everyone from Rex Harrison and Jeanne Moreau to George C. Scott and Shirley MacLaine seems to bring their b-game. It’s not their fault but rather the movie’s boilerplate romance-story framework.
Where this film speaks to car people, particularly collectors, is in how it portrays a very simple but true notion: classic cars are time capsules to our own histories.
From mere moments such as a wedding to entire lifetimes, a car of robust and lasting build quality like an old Royce has an inherent transcendent quality that registers like a personal journal.
Physically, a classic car that’s not been fully restored to concours- grade falsity wears its history like the patina of an old wooden bowl or the weathered facade of a marble edifice.
The Phantom II in The Yellow Rolls-Royce is in its greater context a beautiful and (like us) imperfect representation of an earlier ideal in personalized travel.
But it’s in the micro context, how these individuals lived and how the car filled drastically different roles in each life that proves fascinating and affirming- a carriage to Ascot, military transport for “freedom fighters”, and a widow’s limo – it’s the human condition transported via four wheels, a pushrod straight six, and cow hide.
As car people we can identify.