It is almost impossible to describe the extraordinary feeling when you first sit behind the steering wheel of a modern Rolls-Royce, and ecstasy is not a bad word to use, and it certainly describes the feeling when you first drive one.
One of the benefits of editing a Lifestyle Magazine like The Vintage Magazine, is that occasionally, you get the opportunity to experience one of the great joys of life, in this case driving one of the most luxurious vehicles which money can buy, a Rolls-Royce ‘Ghost’ extended wheelbase model, assembled at their factory on the Goodwood Estate, in West Sussex.
The Rolls-Royce assembly plant celebrated 10 years of production at Goodwood on 1st January, this year, 2013. This was evidence, if it were needed, of BMW’s foresight in building this ‘state-of-the-art’ assembly plant on an estate which is famous for its racing circuit and hill climbs, and which has been revitalised by the introduction, by Lord March, of the Festival of Speed in July, and the Revival meeting in September, both of which attract capacity attendances of 145,000 car enthusiasts per day.
The first Phantom was rolled out of the new plant one minute past midnight on 1st January 2003. The production of the luxury car was initially one per day, rising to three per day by the end of 2003. In total, Rolls-Royce has produced more than 5,000 Phantom Sedans, Coupés, Drophead Coupés and Extended-Wheelbase Limousines from the Goodwood factory.
The Rolls-Royce facility at Goodwood serves as the headquarters, design, manufacturing and assembly centre for the venerable brand, and in the year 2012 Rolls-Royce sold 3,575 cars, which is vindication that BMW has proved to be a more than effective custodian of this great ‘marque’.
Today, with a product range spanning two model families, Phantom and Ghost, and six models, the company’s craftsmen and women hand-build up to 20 cars each day to meet increasing global demand. Each Rolls-Royce passes through up to 60 pairs of hands before leaving Goodwood. These belong to the skilled craftspeople and technicians who expend 20 days and undertake 2,000 individual operations to create Ghost Extended Wheelbase.
Since opening in 2003, the factory has been expanded twice and now covers 242,000 square feet. It employs 1,400 workers, half of whom work in the wood and leather shops, where the bulk of the ‘personalisation’ takes place by some of the most talented craftsmen in the world, resulting in breathtakingly beautiful interiors.
We arrived at the Rolls-Royce factory at Goodwood, at 9.30am on a Thursday morning to collect our ‘charge’ for the next 48 hours, a gleaming two tone Rolls-Royce Ghost, extended wheelbase model, which was an imposing sight sitting outside the Reception area.
We completed and signed all the documents required to be lent such a unique car for 48 hours. This is an awesome responsibility when you realise that you are responsible for over £250,000 worth of car, so we all paid great attention when being given our ‘familiarisation’ session to make sure we knew what all the instruments did!
I then took the wheel for our stately progression back home to Hampshire, which gave me an hour to get used to driving this extraordinary machine which is capable of propelling 2.5 tons of automotive engineering from zero to 62 mph in 5 seconds, which is a truly a stimulating experience and, if it were possible or indeed legal, a top speed of 155 mph!
However, on this first drive, I took it very gently, and enjoyed the highly sensitive, but very confident handling, as it hugged the bends on one of the most beautiful roads in Britain, climbing over the South Downs, between Chichester and Petersfield via Chilgrove, and South Harting, passing the National Trust property at Uppark en-route.
I descended to Petersfield, and followed the A272 towards Winchester, and headed for home which is an agricultural estate right on top of the South Downs, a few miles east of Winchester, where, on entering the mile long drive, on a clear day, you can see the Isle Wight in the distance with the Solent sparkling in between the mainland and the island.
We drew up outside our cottage, and the Ghost occupied the entire lawn in front of the house, and whilst we enjoyed a cup of coffee on the steps leading down to the house, our photographer got busy with his camera.
Fifteen minutes later we were heading towards The Grange, at Northington in the Candover Valley. The Grange belongs to Lord Ashburton of the Baring family, but this stunning Palladian mansion had been built for another banking dynasty, the Drummonds, with parkland designed by Capability Brown including the obligatory lake. Sadly, the house had become almost completely derelict when in 2000 it became the venue for the Grange Park Opera company.
Grange Park Opera was the brainchild of Wasfi Kani, and has become a huge success, and she had kindly given us permission to bring our Ghost over there at noon so that Doug Garvie, our photographer, could get some good photos in front of The Grange, before the opera attendees arrived later in the afternoon. You can read all about the Wasfi and her involvement in creating Grange Park Opera in my recent article in The Vintage Magazine.
By a happy coincidence, our friends and neighbours had arranged many months ago to take our traditional annual summer Opera Party there on the same day that we were loaned the Rolls-Royce Ghost. So we arranged to meet our fellow opera lovers in front of our own ‘big house’, at the heart of the estate, for a photo opportunity before leaving for The Grange.
All Dressed Up for a Night at The Opera
On the drive to The Grange, the car drew many admiring glances as we passed through Alresford, up the Candover valley, and into The Grange, and such admiration was even easier to understand when you were actually driving this immaculate car, which boasted many interesting features.
The Iconic Spirit of Ecstasy; a Modern Take on the Famous Rolls Royce Grille; Self- Righting Wheel Centres; V12 Engine, Power is Transmitted through an Eight-Speed Automatic Gearbox!
For instance, at what appears to be the end of the bonnet , suspended a few inches above it, is a hologram comprising two circles, the first indicating the speed limit in the area, and the second one, what speed you are actually doing, which is incredibly helpful in the urban environment, where speed limits change constantly.
There are more gadgets and luxuries which you had no idea you wanted until confronted with them, like the pair of Rolls-Royce Teflon-coated umbrellas slotted into the front doors, such a good idea! As passengers, one can sit back and relax in the lounge seats covered in sumptuous leather, ones feet sinking into deep pile carpets and simply enjoy the sheer opulence of it all with the latest in-car technology falling easily to hand, extending ones legs to make the most of the extra legroom whilst being bathed with natural light from the panoramic sunroof.
Whilst exploring the various buttons alongside the rear passenger seats, the girls came across ‘M’ which when pressed started the massage function to their great delight and much giggling was heard from the back seats.
The sound system which one would expect to be excellent did not disappoint, an audio system delivering 600 Watts through a 10 channel amplifier and 16 speakers produced a quality of sound at any volume!
When I was a child, there was a wonderful Rolls-Royce advertisement which had the simple, but highly effective one line, which said:
‘At 70 mph in a Rolls-Royce, the only sound you can hear is the ticking of the clock!
Well, now there is no ticking of the clock to distract you, and you are being transported on what feels like a bed of air! The perfect environment to soak up that trademark of the Rolls-Royce brand: silence.
Anyway, the Opera was the perfect place to show-off this thing of beauty, and it looked quite regal surrounded by the supporting cast of Mercedes, BMWs , Jaguars, Range Rovers etc, and due deference was paid to this elegant lady.
This reminds me of a wonderful poem involving Rolls-Royces by Hilaire Beloc:
The Rich arrived in pairs,
And also in Rolls-Royces
And spoke of their affairs
In loud and strident Voices
The poor arrived in Fords
Whose features they resembled
And laughed to see so many
Lords and Ladies all assembled
The people in between
Looked underdone and harassed
And out of place and mean
And horribly embarrassed
This perceptive analysis of the then English class system clearly identifies the Rolls-Royce as the means of transport of the aristocracy, and nothing has changed, except there is now a ‘New Aristocracy’, defined mainly by financial success, especially in China, the Middle East and Russia where the growth of the ‘new rich’ proceeds apace.
And, in many cases, their reward to themselves for achieving this goal is to order a heavily personalised Rolls-Royce, as the ultimate status symbol.
This is why, for the first time in history, Rolls-Royce sold more of their cars to China, in 2011, than to the USA! However, America regained the top spot in 2012 and looks set to maintain this place of honour for a few years yet.
As a consequence of this rapid growth in demand, Rolls-Royce has greatly expanded their factory at Goodwood, and in the past few years have opened new car showrooms in Japan, Thailand, China, India, and the whole Asia-Pacific region.
Sales have also boomed in Latin America, and the former Russian republics, and in the year 2012 Rolls-Royce sold 3,575 cars, the third consecutive year they have broken sales records.
It is also worth noting that three out of four Rolls-Royces built and sold around the world are commissioned with bespoke personalisation, and the customer demand for the world’s pinnacle of automotive tailoring has helped propel the ‘marque’ towards three consecutive years of record sales.
Much of this impressive growth over the past five years has been due to the dedication and single-minded focus on quality and service exhibited by all of the 1 200 people who work at The Home of Rolls-Royce at Goodwood.
I spoke with Richard Carter, who joined Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in March 2009 as Director of Global Communications.
Richard began his BMW Group career at BMW South Africa where he was General Manager, Group Communications and Public Affairs, for the 11 years prior to 2009.
Richard, who is a lawyer by profession, held a number of diplomatic positions including postings in Washington and London as well as serving as Presidential Press Secretary to President F.W. de Klerk during the run-up to South Africa’s transition to full democracy in 1994.
He considers it a great privilege to have been appointed Director of Global Communications for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, arguably the most prestigious manufacturer of luxury goods in the world. “These are very exciting times for the company. We are growing and expanding our business worldwide and in doing so we are attracting an entirely new, younger set of wealthy customers”, Richard told me.
I met Richard at a drinks party at Arundel Castle last December, and we had supper afterwards at a nearby Italian restaurant, which was a really enjoyable evening, and it became evident from our conversation that he was an anglophile who enjoyed country sports and the British way of life as well as the cut and thrust of international business. He had found the perfect job!
“We have a remarkable international team at Rolls-Royce, comprising over 20 nationalities. This mix is reflected on our Board where we have a team of Germans, Brits and South Africans guiding the company” said Richard. “But it is important to all of us that the essential “Britishness” of the Rolls-Royce brand remains uppermost in our customers’ perceptions of our products.” “After the recent massive growth in our company we have set out our stall for steady, sustainable, well-managed growth into the future.”
Rolls-Royce has opened dozens of new showrooms around the world in the past two years, reinforcing the message that this is the international ‘badge of honour’ for high achievers worldwide.
So, here we have the most English of cars, owned and managed by an extremely successful German company (BMW Group), and with a South African Director of Global Communications and staffed by over 80% Brits – clearly a winning combination!
However, it is the highly skilled British workforce at Goodwood which assembles, personalizes and customizes these elegant cars for their demanding owners, and, thanks to the successful strategies employed by Rolls-Royce, the global market keeps expanding, and the workforce at Goodwood grows to meet this demand.
It is interesting to note that, only a few miles away from Goodwood, at West Wittering, on the south coast, Henry Royce’s design team produced some of their best work. They worked in a converted barn called ‘The Studio’, and the wall of the building now carries a blue plaque, unveiled in 1979, commemorating Royce’s work and his connections with the village.
The next day was the turn of our Motoring Correspondent, George Robinson, to put our Ghost through her paces, but our first stop was a restoration company at Birdham near Chichester, where he had heard they were restoring a 1923 Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce. These early 20th century cars were famed not only for their durability but also for refinement, flair and style, where passengers enjoyed the trappings of the best in coach-built luxury. In developing a Ghost for the 21st century, the Rolls-Royce design team retained these guiding principles.
This particular ‘Ghost’ had enjoyed international fame in the 60s when it appeared as John Steed’s car in the hugely successful TV series ‘The Avengers’ and had also served the former and infamous Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when he used it to give driving lessons to the first female MP, the indomitable Lady Astor, at his beloved Chartwell Estate near Westerham in Kent. Given Churchill’s famous verbal exchanges with Lady Astor, these would have been lively driving lessons.
Possibly the most famous of all such anecdotes reports that Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” to which he responded, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”. Another acerbic exchange of wit between Winston and Lady Astor is when she is purported to have said: “Winston, you are drunk”, to which Churchill responded, “And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning.”
Anyway, George Robinson, quite rightly, thought it would be interesting to photograph the two Ghosts, built 90 years apart, side-by-side to see how car design, and automotive engineering have evolved over the intervening years, and it is fascinating, and frightening how quickly cars have developed.
To give you some idea of the costs involved I list below the basic price of each model but please keep in mind, that a Rolls-Royce is a blank canvass from which customers create highly bespoke, one-of-a-kind motor cars.
These figures therefore represent approximate, base level pricing:
Exclusive of taxes and registration costs:
Ghost: Basic Model: £208,000
Ghost Extended Wheelbase: £240,000
Phantom: Basic Model: £305,350
Phantom Extended Wheelbase: £357,850
Phantom Drophead Coupé: £352,720
Phantom Coupé: £333,130
‘Our’ Ghost car would be close to: £250,000.
One thing which became very evident during our happy few days with this wonderful car is that, under its ownership by BMW, the reputation of Rolls-Royce has been preserved and enhanced, and it is truly one of the greatest Brand names in the world, synonymous with the very best of everything.
For instance, I might describe an antique Clock by a famous maker, as being the ’Rolls-Royce’ of antique clocks. There is no higher praise that you can lavish on something, than describing it as the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of whatever the object of desire is!
BMW are to be congratulated on a fantastic achievement at Goodwood over the past ten years, and Rolls-Royce is now in better shape, financially, than it has ever been.
Furthermore, the design and build quality of these exceptional motor cars, is of the highest order, and they have some exciting new models ‘in the pipeline’, so it looks as if this great British Institution is here to say, and provide suitably ‘bespoke’ transport to the new generation of global capitalists, and high achievers of the 21st century.
It is, quite righty, still a car to aspire to own, and having acquired one, to enjoy all the real pleasures that a Rolls Royce has to offer.
I must admit to being completely converted during the few days we had the use of this lovely car, by all aspects of it, from the design, through to the engineering, and the superb interior. The quality of this motor car only confirms my belief that it is quite simply the best Motor Car in the world.
Sadly, the time came to return this stunning car to its makers, and we drove into the huge courtyard of the factory, Richard Carter’s PA, Amanda Hewitt-Spicer told me as I handed the keys back to her, that several of their employees who saw us take possession of this Ghost, commented on how comfortable and ‘at home’ I looked in it!
Editor and Assistant Editor go to The Grange this year in the style to which they would like to become accustomed!
I wish it was within my budget, but, alas, there is some ‘leeway’ to overcome yet!
However, having ‘borrowed’ this lovely Rolls-Royce, I feel inspired to make enough money to buy one whilst I am still ‘young’ enough to enjoy it, but it might have to be a ‘previously owned’ one! I wonder how much Rolls-Royce want for the one they lent us?
The Editor of The Vintage Magazine
20th July 2013
Special thanks to Doug Garvie, our Staff Photographer, for his wonderful photographs and patience.