Icons & Innovators: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars: Bavarian Rhapsody

BMW won its well-documented struggle with Volkswagen for ownership of Rolls-Royce—sort of. A legal technicality gave BMW the rights to the coveted Rolls-Royce name, but nothing more. Volkswagen received everything else, including the factory. Thus, not only did the Bavarian automaker need to design a new Rolls-Royce from scratch, it had to find somewhere to build the car. BMW chose the Goodwood estate in West Sussex—which also hosts the Earl of March’s Festival of Speed—and constructed an airy factory noted for its environmentally sensitive design.

The decision to keep production in England buoyed the integrity of Rolls-Royce, as did BMW’s public affirmations that the cars built on its watch would not be remodeled 7 Series sedans. “A lot of people expected us to do a large, luxurious BMW,” says Marek Djordjevic, the Phantom’s designer. “That only made us work harder to prove otherwise.”

The new Phantom might not share DNA with earlier Rolls-Royces, but the team did its homework, and any enthusiast will recognize the familiar touches. From its high seating position and quiet cabin to its distinctive ride and steering feel, the Phantom is undeniably a Rolls-Royce—but it is better than its predecessors. Performance characteristics such as swift power delivery and strong cornering ability never were associated with Rolls-Royce, which traditionally declined even to state horsepower ratings, but they seem like a natural fit for the Phantom.

Now we have a convertible to look forward to in 2007, and judging by the success of the Phantom sedan, we can wait with anticipation rather than trepidation.

Rolls-Royce, www.rolls-roycemotorcars.com

Photo by ALPINA Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH + Co. KG
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