A Drophead to the English Riviera? Well it's more original than taking a Corniche...
We loved the red carpet treatment meted out to our Rolls-Royce Phantom on PH's Geneva road trip
last year, so it seemed foolish not to send an email to the Imperial Hotel in Torquay last month, trumpeting our imminent arrival in a Phantom Drophead Coupe.
We'd decided that taking a Drophead to the English Riviera in January would be a fitting climax to PH Open Season, so were amused (OK, and secretly disappointed) by a return email summarily dismissing the proposal that 'our' car be left by the front door where 'your staff might keep an eye on it'. The hotel car park is £14 per night, we were politely informed. Well, harrumph!
No matter. Presuming that few people amass riches enough to drive a Rolls-Royce by coughing up fourteen quid for parking, we presumed to leave our motor outside the front door anyway. Nobody said a word, but the email neatly proved that 'fings' are not what they used to be, sadly much like the English Riviera itself.
Proving things can
get back to how they used to be is Rolls-Royce (see what we did there?), which under current leadership is fully living up to its grand tradition of helping us (sic), not simply to enjoy the great wealth and privilege that success has bestowed upon our favoured heads, but positively to celebrate it.
We know a handful of PHers harbour sneaking suspicions that even the regular Phantom may be a teensy bit over-ostentatious, and will not be thinking of adding a Drophead to their fleets. To everybody else, we say this. If you've got £320k or a clever accountant, cast reservations aside and pitch yourself headlong into this machine's fabulous embrace. Because for enthusiasts of the disappearing art of motoring at least, life just possibly doesn't get any better.
It takes a certain resolve to take the plunge, granted. But once you've accepted that you're going to stand out from the crowd, and (much more importantly) that frankly you don't give a damn, the Drophead proves insanely seductive.
For my part, I'm startled by the scale of the two door Drophead every time I see it (which is rarely). It's 5.6m nose-to-tail and the PH test car, rolled carefully off its delivery truck by a gent from the Goodwood factory, instantly dwarfed everything in the PH HQ car park. It then compounded the 'look at me' effect with a bright Metropolitan Blue paint job, navy hood, cream interior and optional brushed steel package. And more teak decking than your local branch of B&Q.
At first the colour specification seemed more St. Tropez than Torbay, but familiarity made our hearts grow fonder - or perhaps our initial shyness just wore off. The OH was disappointed to discover a set of tailored sisal floormats between her toes and the lambswool carpet, but was sufficiently impressed with the rest of the kit and caboodle to overlook the matter. When introduced to the buttons that closed the doors, her excitement knew no bounds. (Until she found a drawer on the fascia that would hold her telephone. What is it about 'storage'..?)
So off we went. Roof down, and straight on to the M3 from Teddington, destination the once-revered English Riviera and in hot pursuit of nothing but a good time and a feature length article with pictures.
I'm sure we must have left a 'mixed' impression as we swept past folk in their everyday machines, but to say the ride was an absolute blast would be an understatement. The quoted kerb weight is 2,620kgs (before we got in!), but that's happily no impediment to imperious progress thanks to a mighty 6,749cc V12 with six speed automatic gearbox (that helped us slurp 12-point-something to the gallon). We made splendid time, in fact, and frankly didn't give much thought to the oily bits at all. One of the finer things about Rolls-Royce motoring is that its serenely hushed engine always seems less a part of the specification and more a part of the service. 'Sir and madam require more speed? Why, of course...'
The figures of 453hp, 531lb ft, and a claimed 0-60mph time of 5.7 seconds are impressive, but it's the style of delivery that's really striking. Some performance cars make a play out of appearing to strain every sinew in the quest for acceleration, but a Rolls-Royce simply adjusts its performance to the level required. There's a sort of sliding scale effect, with no fuss, no effort, and no need for the driver to think much about anything other than where to point the nose.
That's not to say that driving the Drophead is anything less than engaging, but the experience is definitely more cerebral than visceral. In most respects it feels very similar to the Phantom saloon, so you get that peculiarly delicate and totally delicious road feel through the thin-rimmed wheel, which makes steering more like playing an instrument than anything else. (In fact when you jump out of an 'ordinary' car, it may take a few miles to get your hand in. In spite of its size the Rolls needs deliberately finger-tip control, so you just ease back your work rate until everything starts to 'flow'.)
Brakes, like everything else, provide seemingly effortless service on demand, which is another good trick considering the physics involved. (I'd like to be able to add a PH-style caveat that they're not ideal for track use, but we resisted the temptation to pull into Thruxton as we piled down the A303...)
The feel of the chassis is very similar to the saloon's too, albeit with settings dialled into the air suspension designed to give the Drophead a little extra agility over the four door. There may be no roof, but there's not a hint of discernible scuttle shake, and the ride is as near to perfectly smooth as anyone but the Princess from the Pea story might require. As a result, it's possible to conduct the beast with an amazing amount of grace, fluidity and speed, even over surprisingly demanding roads, with very little effort.
And with maximum enjoyment - even when we factored in 'The Great Outdoors' in chilly January. Before driving the Drophead, I admit that I'd wondered whether the car might be something of a sunshine special. Beautiful, bespoke, and generally pleasing to the senses, but perhaps windswept and unsatisfying compared to something a little less obviously 'airy' when faced with sub-zero temperatures, a bit of drizzle and a long motorway thrash?
Well, shame on me for doubting the integrity of the people who built it, because thanks entirely to the experiences we've all enjoyed here during PH Open Season, I'm unequivocally convinced that convertible motoring in Britain in January couldn't be any more refined and luxurious than from behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe.
Roof up, five layers of insulation make the Drophead whisper quiet, and that's a situation that doesn't change much when you retract the lid. Even at unusual motorway speeds we were unruffled, composed and chatting in normal tones. The cabin heating is excellent too, and the heated seats... Seriously, you could grill sausages on the cushions, which in January on a windswept Dartmoor is just about the most fabulous temperature setting your backside could aspire to.
Dartmoor? Well yes, we knew the 'Riviera' wouldn't deliver much more than a handful of pretty pictures, and nothing from a driver's perspective, so the intention was always really to go and tour one of our favourite parts of the world in style.
Many of the lanes on the moor are so constricted, and the place in general is so hideously clogged with tourists in the summer, that taking anything of the size and value of a Rolls-Royce anywhere near it then would be a total nightmare. But in January, in a Drophead Coupe, it was utter perfection. Scarcely another car to be seen for miles, and we enoyed a roof-down driving experience that was as near to blissful as we could ever have hoped for.
Which, as I recall, is exactly what 'Open Season' is supposed to be all about!