It is the last gasp of the coach-built automobiles, a car that invites admiration and envy among those who see it. Most folks have never ridden in one. They rarely see one drive by.
It is the Rolls-Royce.
The folks at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars recently allowed me to drive a Rolls-Royce Corniche, which gave an opportunity to slip into a brief “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” mode.
With a base price of $369,000 (plus gas guzzler tax, luxury tax and sales tax), this convertible cost more than most houses. Many people haven’t earned that much in a lifetime, let alone spent it on a set of wheels.
So I tried not to think about money. Better to think like the buyer I would imagine would own such a car.
So I yanked my best imitation of a Palm Beach look — an Armani shirt and fine wool pants. A set of cool shades helped block out the sun during a perfect weekend. My charade was complete.
Opening the heavy door and stepping inside, one finds plush wool carpets, burled walnut and leather that all scream expensive car. The GM-spec rearview mirror and flimsy transmission lever say something else.
The ignition is on the left and a quick twist brings the massive 6.75-litre V-8 to life, with a sound much like that of a classic V-8 GM motor.
I leap onto the interstate and put on an airs, a casual disregard for those pointing at my car, looking over with a knowing smile. I am surprised no one attempted to shoot me for just being obnoxious. Certainly the overhead valve engine, rated at 325 horsepower and 544 pound feet of torque, moves this monster of conspicuous consumption with an ease quicker than the factory-claimed 0-60 mph time of 8.5 seconds.
80 mph? No problem.
The Corniche has an ease and heft about it that lent the car an air of unflappability. And the ride? It’s certainly cloud-like, helped with all sorts of computer-controlled dampers and automatic ride height mechanisms to ensure the Corniche’s occupants are comfy. Cornering has a bit of a wallow, so this isn’t a sports sedan.
But it certainly is quiet. The climate control is whisper quiet, without the annoying fan noise that bedevils so many other cars. The buttons are scattered without much thought to ergonomics.
There are no cupholders. The front seats have electric motors to power the seats forward, allowing rear seat access without effort. The convertible top is made nicely and lowers by holding a button. Sadly, the rear window is made of plastic. But these things don’t really matter. This is a Rolls Royce. To the car’s owners, that is all that matters.
I continue my journey, piloting this behemoth around, sure that most people who see me thought that I had some large trust fund that mums and daddums left me, allowing a privileged life. I wish that were the case. I need a large cash stash just for the gas station.
The EPA rates the car at 12. 6 mpg city, 20.4 mpg highway. I get the car on Friday and fill up the tank. I fill up the tank on Saturday. I fill up the tank on Sunday. Certainly, this is a car an Arabian oil sheik could love.
But my driving experience is not trouble-free. This is, after all, a product of the remains of the British Motor Car industry. On Saturday morning, a light flashs “low mineral oil.” I would have preferred it flashed “good morning” or “hail Britannia.” For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out just why a car would need mineral oil. Was the car constipated? Was the ghost of the infamous Lucas electrical system playing tricks?
I look in the glove box, and all I find is evidence that the car was registered to Volkswagen. “This is one expensive Volkswagen,” I thought.
Saturday night at a dinner with some fellow troublemakers, I show off the overgrown Volkswagen, particularly the 6.6-cubic-foot trunk. It’s then that I notice a trim panel, which I remove. Believe it r not, the car’s air-conditioning system is located there, just like an American car of the 1950s. But, beside it is a bottle of mineral oil.
The next day, I open the hood, something a Rolls owner never does. All I see is plastic cladding. So much for refilling the mineral oil.
I drive around a bit more, but the love affair begins to wane with each flash of a dashboard light. I’m tired of the pointing, the stares, the envy. I’m tired of being in a vehicle that is so obviously expensive and ostentatious. There are many people who can afford this car, but don’t feel the need to advertise it.
It is embarrassing.
But, there is nothing else quite like it. Once, there were many cars like this. American cars like Packard, Cadillac and Duesenburg. I now have some inkling of how those cars felt in their time.
Soon BMW will own the Rolls-Royce name, while Volkswagen will own the Bentley label and Crewe, England, factory. But it doesn’t seem to matter who owns what.
These cars are anachronisms, somewhat oblivious to changes in the world. They’re delightful to look at and a pleasant curiosity. But has their time passed?
Yes and no.