Looking back: 2003 Rolls Royce Phantom

This is the only car in this series still in production. Why might that be?

2004 Rolls Royce Phantom side
Well, progress at this level is slow. Or maybe you believe Rolls Royce who say customers don’t want change to be too frequent. When the coachwork was revised in 2012 R-R said: “Our customers don’t want a new car coming to market too often,” said Richard Carter , Rolls-Royce’s communications director. Or rather, after stumping up more than a third of a million pounds, they don’t want their cars looking out of date when the Mark II version is launched” (wrote the Telegraph in 2012). A quarter of a million pounds sterling. Almost six metres long. So tall you can’t see over the roof. The wheelbase is three and a half metres long. And powering these dimensions through space and time, a majestic 6.7 litre V12 engine producing a not inconsiderable 531 lb ft of torque. Those are the quantities.

2004 Rolls Royce Phantom: mobile.de
2004 Rolls Royce Phantom: mobile.de

The qualities are of peerless attention to detail. Even Clarkson was impressed though we will come to his qualification later. Paul Horrell (for it was he) took a different tack, being unable to envision the Phantom on British roads and being unable to justify the fact the car was five times the price of a Jaguar but not five times better. Both of these chaps manage to get it wrong.

What people have noted about the car is that it’s not perfect but still fantastic. Horrell noted the wind-noise, the BMW 7-series column stalks, the body-roll (noted the Daily Telegraph, Clarkson disagreed). It’s not even the most technologically advanced car in the world. After 13 years a Passat is probably on the same level.

That´s the same mood and feeling as the 70s Silver Shadow: mobile.de
That´s the same mood and feeling as the 70s Silver Shadow: mobile.de

What is remarkable is the enduring appeal of the car anyway. It’s down to the emotional aspects of the vehicle, where engineering serves to satisfy emotional needs. The refinement of the interior and exterior design puts this car miles ahead of its peers. Even if one has reservations about the kind of people who might own one of these, the car lets one lay these aside and reminds one of the astonishing things human hands can produce.

Let’s turn back to Clarkson who contrasted the made-in, designed-in, built-in Britain Humber suspension bridge (it had to be made in Britain) with the designed in, made-in Germany but assembled in Britain Rolls whose very heart, its engine, is made in Munich. He considers the car to be the best car in the world but asks plaintively why it can’t be as British as the Humber Bridge.

The answer is that Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher’s guru, thought heavy engineering and manufacturing were a waste of capital. That capital could be better allocated elsewhere, he argued. Further, heavy industry and engineering were the workplaces of the spine of the Labour party. Destroy those and Labour support would be diminished. Thus, beginning in the late 70s and continuing to this day, Britain’s heavy industry was run down: coal, steel, shipbuilding, aviation, heavy rail.

Of course, they do make more cars now than they did at the height of Britain’s home-grown industry’s powers but they are all foreign owned. Nissan, Jaguar, MG, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and Bentley: non-British owned all. What Mr Clarkson doesn’t realise is the connection between the politics he unashamedly espouses (and to which view he is entitled) and the consequences of those politics: his lovely British cars are all made by firms whose owners sit abroad. That didn’t happen in Germany. France has avoided it until now (the Chinese are in investing in PSA). Even Italian Fiat has bought Chrysler.

If you fancy one of these fine motor carriages it will cost a bit. The one  featured in our photos is in Siegburg, Germany,  going for €109,000 which is the price of a nice apartment in a medium sized German town.

Personally, I would go for the last Vickers Roll-Royce, the Silver Seraph.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “Looking back: 2003 Rolls Royce Phantom”

  1. Whatever it’s faults and foibles, that Rolls Royce is unique in a world of sameness, if that’s a word.
    I’ve always loved traditional RR’s and Bentleys, step aboard not limbo down designs.
    They’re not supposed to handle, they are for comfortable and safe transport of those above such things.

    I’m very impressed by your short and accurate summary of the destruction of our manufacturing industry, and couldn’t agree more, the right and left sides of politics became confused and interchangeable in the 70’s, we, and the British workforce as a whole are all the worse for it.

    Propaganda has sought to blame the unions for that destruction (and indeed they aided and abetted their members being scrapped) but it was the tory party of the time who oversaw it, encouraged it even, just as it was nulabour (doing their worse for the workers as usual) some years later who deliberately opened the doors to unlimited immigration just as we’d finished demolishing our engineering and manufacturing industry and kissed goodbye to real productive employment permanently), fantastic well done everyone.

    The only people who were punished by both party’s actions were working people of all classes, but so few can see it.

    Both parties unfit for purpose and have been since the 1960’s.

  2. Thanks – the politics of Britain’s heavy industry will always be contested. Mr Clarkson is entitled to his capitalist views. He should be consistent and accept that the if a foreign-owned car industry is what capital wants then that is what it should get. Any wish for another outcome is to go against capital’s requirements.
    I view the union-management disputes of the 70s through the lens of class conflict. Ideally the parties needed to agree to compromise to get the best for their firms. But instead I think they both argued for narrow self-interest. The unions seemed to feel all change was antagonistic. The management’s proposals were often cretinous (see Eoin’s history of Jaguar and the riotous story of the Marina).
    I am neither a historian nor an economist. This debate will be a sourcs of lively dispute for decades!

  3. Back to the car, I’ll admit to still loving the Phantom dearly. I don’t think I’d be tempted to actually buy one even if I had the money, but the motoring world is a far more interesting place with the gold-bullion-on-wheels in it.

    BMW got this car right on far more levels than I deemed imaginable back in the early noughties. I’d become accustomed to large, but not gargantuan-size Royces, which increasingly began smacking of American-style badge engineering with each new iteration. The Seraph – I’m sorry, Richard – was far too similar in size to a W140 S-class and far too gaudy to be taken all that seriously. The Shadow had been overwhelmingly successful when it came to boiling down the essence of Rolls-Royceness to manageable dimensions, but successive models failed to convince (unlike their Bentley brothers, curiously).
    The Phantom went back to the earlier concept of RRs not even bothering to blend in. Instead, the Phantom ploughed its very own furrow, and did so in remarkable style. I tip my hat to BMW’s management for greenlighting the Phantom’s spaceframe chassis, rather simply using the E65’s underpinnings. I applaud the same people for allowing Chris Bangle to set up dedicated styling/brainstorming facilities right in the middle of Mayfair and then going with the bold concept cooked up by Ian Cameron, Marek Djordjevic at al. The end result is as uncompromising as a modern motor car could be. One needs to just imagine/park a Phantom next to a Bentley Continental GT or Maybach 57/62 to truly appreciate the scope of the Royce’s stylistic competence and consistency.

    This car already is a true classic, no matter how nasty some of its owners may be. The numbers produced mean it’ll never be an auction level sought-after classic, but that cannot distract from the overall qualities of this exceptional machine.

  4. It is strange the consensus that lifts the current Phantom out of the realm of its contemporary plutobarges and puts it where you can generally look at it without the emotions that normally accompany such a gross display of wealth. But only so far – I agree with Kris that, money notwithstanding, it’s not a car I’d really want to own, for the same reason that a few years ago I decided against the potential bargain/money-pit that is a Bentley Turbo R.

  5. I will always respect BMW for the sheer effort of engineering they threw at the Phantom. Ditto the Range Rover and the original New Mini. Three new platforms, three exceptional cars.

  6. This is not a car I could imagine driving although I relish its bravura modern classicism. The predecessor is scaled to suit my limited willingness to show off. That is why Kris is correct in viewing it as not grand enough.

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