It couldn’t be anything else. Even when the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy is out of sight, the new Phantom looks every inch a Rolls-Royce.
Yet this is not one of those fashionable ‘retro’ designs, a blatant copy of a previous model lightly updated for a new audience. Instead, it achieves instant recognition thanks to its authentic proportions and the adaptation of traditional Rolls-Royce styling features – such as the long bonnet, strong ‘C-Pillar’ behind the rear doors and the discreet rear window. To this is married 21st century engineering integrity.
Design work on what was known as the Project Rolls-Royce began in early 1999 in the most unlikely of places – a former bank situated near London’s Hyde Park.
Behind the unassuming facade, hand-picked teams of top designers and engineers turned the offices into a studio and started work on creating an all-new Rolls-Royce motor car. Despite the top-secret nature of the enterprise – and the fact that they were at the heart of one of the busiest capital cities in the world – security was never a problem. At the end of every long working day, drawings and sketches were locked away in the old bank vault.
In all, five teams of designers occupied what was known within Rolls-Royce as ‘The Bank.’ They were led by Ian Cameron, Chief Designer of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, with three working on the exterior and two on the interior.
‘Our basolute priority was to create a motor car that was clearly a Rolls-Royce even when the radiator grille was not in view. More than this, the new car had to stand apart from all others on the road,’ said Ian.
Inspiration was everywhere – Hyde Park is close to the affluent Mayfair and Belgravia areas of London, natural habitats of the Spirit of Ecstasy. Here, it quickly became aparent that all Rolls-Royce models share a sense of proportions which, in turn, leads to the air of authority integral to models from the marque. it was this ‘authenticity’ that had to be incorporated into the new model.
By knowing from the outset precisely what was needed from the Phantom to be considered a true Rolls-Royce, the design team were able to design the new car in a remarkably short space of time. From defining the architecture of the car to producing the final design took a matter of months.
In May 1999 another secret facility, this time a modeling studio, was opened in nearby Holborn. Known internally as ‘The Bookshop,’ each exterior team turned two of their design proposals into 40 per cent scale models: large enough for valid decisions to be made but small enough to be quickly modified.
From those six themes, three were then modeled at full scale before, in December 1999 – barely a year after work started the final design was chosen.
Work on the interior design, meanwhile, continued in a virtual world. Using the most up-to-date and sophisticated computer-aided design (CAD) software and simulation tools available, the design teams created their interior concepts.
The use of computer-aided design allowed swift convergence between interior and exterior designs – in other words, the teams used computer simulations to ensure that what they were proposing would be reflected in the dimensions of the exterior package.
A new chapter in the long and illustrious history of Rolls-Royce had begun.
The Authority Concept
One feature found on all Rolls-Royce models and accentuated on the new Phantom is the elevated seating position, which gives the driver a feeling of authority.
As well as a commanding view over the long bonnet and wings to the top of the radiator grille and the Spirit of Ecstasy, the driver and passenger enjoy a feeling of security by sitting higher than usual – the driver’s line of sight is midway between that of a conventional saloon and a large 4×4.
Known internally as the ‘authority concept’, the two major objectives of the design are to make the Rolls-Royce Phantom easy to drive and extremely comfortable to ride in.
A relaxed and entirely natural driving environment is enhanced by the precise alignment of the driving position behind the steering wheel and the pedal, unlike most modern day vehicles. Switchgear follows traditional Rolls-Royce principles of simplicity and clarity and although there are many new features and functions, complexity has not been increased.
When applied to the rear passenger compartment, the authority concept provides a number of benefits and some unusual features. Raised ‘stadium’ seating the passenger compartment means those in the rear sit higher than those in the front. And they have the benefit of a virtually flat floor which allows them to move easily from one side of the car to the other, enabling the passenger to exit the car at the curbside, for example.
But perhaps the most unusual feature takes its cue from some coach-built Rolls-Royce motor cars from the past: rear-hinged coach doors.
As they were creating the Phantom, the designers looked at the best way for passengers to get into and out of the rear compartment of the car and rejected conventional rear doors.
Instead, they overcame legislative obstacles and developed independently opening rear coach doors.
When coupled with the rectangular architecture of the doorframe coach doors allow all but the tallest to simply walk into the rear compartment, turn and sit. Once seated, a passenger in the rear compartment will notice that the seating is positioned far back in the body, alongside the rear pillar, offering greater privacy than in most modern day vehicles.
Another surprising feature can be found inside the coach doors themselves. Each rear door houses an umbrella, which can quickly be released when leaving the car during a rain shower.
All in all, it’s a profoundly different experience.
At the heart of the new Rolls-Royce is a naturally aspirated 6.75-litre V12 power unit, purpose-designed for the Phantom.
Remarkably compact, the all-aluminum engine has four valves per cylinder and twin overhead camshafts per bank. Among its advanced features are direct fuel injection, fully variable valve lift control and variable valve timing.
Direct fuel injection has been used to increase power and torque without having to increase engine capacity or resorting to turbocharing – the on-off power delivery of a typical turbocharged engine being quite unsuitable for a Rolls-Royce.
Its power figure of 460 PS (453 bhp) is dramatic enough. But it is the level of torque – the engine’s pulling power – that really impresses.
In line with the Phantom’s desired waftability, the engine has been developed to produce high levels of engine torque at low engine speeds. More than 75 per cent of the engines power is available from 1,000 rpm adding to the experience of effortless performance.
In practice, no matter what speed the car is doing, there is always a huge reserve of power on tap, ready to provide instant overtaking ‘oomph’ when it’s needed.
To sprint 0-60 mph takes just 5.7 seconds and the Phantom will continue accelerating to its electronically limited maximum of 149 mph (240 km/h).
But this performance doesn’t come at the expense of fuel economy. Variable valve lift and variable valve timing together ensure the engine is always running as efficiently as possible.
This means instant throttle reaction, smooth running and outstanding fuel economy. Over the EU extra urban cycle, the Phantom returns 25.7 mph, a remarkable figure given the motor car’s size and performance potential. Over the combined cycle, the figure is no less impressive 17.8 mph – with a 22-gallon fuel tank, a potential range of 400 miles between re-fills is within reach.
Smooth power delivery is also helped by the transmission. Power is fed to the back wheels via an advanced electronically controlled ‘shift-by-wire’ six-speed automatic gearbox specially tuned to match the engine’s characteristics.
In normal use, the Phantom starts off in second gear and quickly changes up as speed increases for maximum comfort. But once the kickdown facility has been activated, the full performance potential is unleashed.
Sir Henry Royce would have been impressed.
Price this car:
MSRP: $328,750 – $328,750
Invoice: not available yet
Source: Rolls-Royce Press Release