Our focus on the latest Rolls-Royce Phantom explored only a singular facet of this remarkable car’s creation; the ‘Gallery’ feature that allows owners a place for bespoke artworks embedded in the dash. The car launched with seven unique commissions, including works from Thorsten Franck, Liang Yuanwei, Richard Fox and Helen Amy Murray. It was the fluid sculpture of London studio Based Upon that caught our eye, but truth be told, every aspect of the Phantom is something of a creation story, from the impressively engineered platform that sits beneath the imposing bodywork, to the extraordinary complexity of the internal craftsmanship and the little flourishes of detail design that abound.
As we noted, commissioning a high-end luxury car like a Phantom has become more and more like specifiying a house or a yacht; a collaborative creative process with limitless options. The new car is the eighth model to bear the Phantom name, but you can sure that practically no two car in this 92-year lifespan has been completely identical. From the very earliest days, the Phantom wasn’t so much a mode of transport as a platform for sybaritic self expression, the self-proclaimed ‘best car in the world’ that existed in a field of its own for most of its life.
It’s getting crowded at the top, so Phantom needed to move on. Not that there was any particular wrong with the seventh generation model, a titanic cliff face of an automobile, crafted with enormous assurance at BMW’s DesignWorks studio in order to represent the essence of what was, back in 2003, the complete reinvention of the brand. Fourteen years later, the newest machine to bear the Phantom name was revealed. Unsurprisingly, this is still a monumental piece of automotive design, more akin to a small building than a piece of private transportation. The Phantom has always been about superlatives – price, scale, technology – so Rolls-Royce’s designers and engineers have had to work hard to make light work of a heavy brief.
The result will grace the smartest forecourts, rivieras, and private driveways for a generation. Overseen by Rolls-Royce’s design director Giles Taylor, the new car achieves that rare mix of maintaining tradition without jettisoning modernity, swathing the cabin in the traditional mix of leather, wood and chrome, emphasising the architectural and sense of space. The bodywork is evolutionary, not revolutionary, yet retains the undeniably imperious stance that puts the Phantom a head and shoulders above the rest.
New Phantom deliveries begin in early 2018, but already change is afoot. Rolls itself is readying a high-riding 4x4, code-named ‘Cullinan’, for launch later next year. And more to the point, given the Phantom’s decade-plus lifespan, could this be the last conventional model before the luxury car evolves into something altogether different? We won’t get behind the wheel – and into that back seat – until later in the year.