1998 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur

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$9,548–$47,260

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Silver lady, well-formed beauty, face to the wind. She was standing on the hood of the 1998 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur sedan. I spoke to her often, touched her gently -- with a polishing cloth, to help her retain luster. She shone, but said nothing. Her car spoke for itself.

It was no conversation for practical ears. There is nothing practical about Rolls-Royce. Perhaps, that's why Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd. once again finds itself on the selling block.

Rolls-Royce makes splendiferous cars, but seldom does an equally good job of making money, a deficiency that irks the automaker's corporate parent, Britain's Vickers PLC. The Vickers people are realists. Their primary business is military defense. Weapons make money.

Thus, it's likely that Rolls-Royce will wind up in the hands of a foreigner -- Germany's Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, better known as BMW, being the best candidate at this point. Should no worthy savior step forth, Rolls-Royce, alas, could die, ending a glorious run that began Dec. 23, 1904.

But the lady and I put those thoughts aside during our week together. And why not? A famed hood ornament, she's properly called the Spirit of Ecstasy; and though silent, she clearly wanted to fly -- elegant arms stretched back, gown flowing, knees bent, face to the wind. I happily followed her lead.

Background: A Rolls-Royce is more art than car, more a state of being than an actual entity. It is as necessary, and as unnecessary, as the Louvre, a walk in the park or an evening listening to the jazz of Pat Metheny.

CAPmeisters, Citizens Against Pleasure, need not apply here. This is motorized hedonism at its best. Political correctness, be damned. A sampler:

There is leather and there is Rolls-Royce leather -- supple Connolly leather upholstery that wraps you in rich feel and smell.

Wood. There's lots of it, the finest burr walnut with straight grained walnut cross-banding and boxwood inlay covering center consoles front and rear, and the outer faces of picnic/work tables mounted behind the front seats. Trees fell for this; and I know not whether their demise contributed to global warming. All I know is that the combination rich leather and excellently crafted wood accents made me feel warm all over.

Carpeting. Wilton carpet with lambs wool rugs. Baaa-baaa good.

Engine. Rolls-Royce officials -- the twits! -- routinely refuse to talk about engine details. Suffice it to say that the 6,000-pound test car was equipped with a turbo-charged, 6.75-liter V-8 that moved it from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.9 seconds. And the engine did that work with nary a growl or a downshift.

Safety. Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock backup, dual front air bags, vault-like doors, pre-tensioning front seat belts that pull you close to the seats during a crash.

There's also an electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission, an automatic ride control system to help keep the car stable on rough roads, an automatic engine cutoff system to thwart thieves, and, ahem, orthopedic seats designed to reduce driver and passenger fatigue.

A chauffeur is optional, and is not advisable for people who love to drive. The Silver Spur is a gargantuan mobile; but it's nobody's clumsy giant. This car can move.

1998 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur

Complaint: Plush is one thing. Ergonomics is another; and from a driver's standpoint, the Silver Spur's interior is an ergonomic disaster area -- power window switches located out of the way beneath the cover of the center armrest, window-wiper switch mounted on the dashboard almost out of the driver's reach, ignition switch mounted on the left side of the steering wheel in a mostly right-handed world.

Praise: The overall quality of everything that's in the Silver Spur, even though Rolls-Royce did put some of those things in the wrong place. The plushness of it all.

Head-turning quotient: How could something so square-bodied be so stu ning? Prestige rules! People cooed all over the five-passenger car.

Ride, acceleration and handling: How could something so heavy move so fast and handle so well, even in curves? Blew my mind. Triple aces in all the right places. Excellent braking.

Mileage: Barely 12 miles per gallon. What? You expected something better? Get outta here. Premium unleaded preferred.

Sound system: Ten-speaker, AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with six-disc CD changer mounted in the center console. Carnegie Hall on wheels.

Price: The test model is priced at $189,900. But keep in mind that Rolls-Royce cars quite literally are designer items. People don't order them. They commission them; and they frequently hire their own interior designers to help produce the Rolls-Royce they want. You can wind up spending as much as $300,000.

Purse-strings note: Who buys these things? Rolls-Royce sold 1,029 cars worldwide in the first six months of 1997. Of that number, 549 were sold in the United Kingdom, 225 went to buyers in the United States and Canada, 52 were sold in Japan and 78 went to other Asian countries.



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