Private Preview 2003: Land of the Three

The Maybach’s introduction this summer was as subtle as a turbocharger. A Sikorsky helicopter dangling four cables hovered over the Queen Elizabeth 2 while it made its way into New York Harbor. Workers onboard the cruise ship clipped the cables onto a glass case, and the Sikorsky slowly rose, lifting the case and its contents off the boat. The QE2 sounded its horn, and an enormous company banner unfurled from the bottom of the case. The Maybach had arrived.

Once on the ground, the car was driven through downtown Manhattan, along streets closed off by New York police, into the Regent Wall Street hotel lobby. There, a 10-piece chamber orchestra provided the fanfare while a spotlight shone on the car. “We have traveled 5 million miles and have carried many celebrities and guests over 33 years, but we have a very special guest on board this time,” QE2 captain Paul Wright declared the night before the ceremony, addressing the automotive media assembled at Manhattan’s Harvard Club via video conference from his ship. “It is a special honor for all who work on board to transport this luxurious car.”


Subtle the captain’s comments weren’t, but understatement seems inappropriate when discussing the 2003 offerings from Maybach (pronounced “my-bock”), the sister brand to Mercedes-Benz that had been dormant since 1941. The same can be said for the new models coming from Rolls-Royce and Bentley, perhaps the two premier luxury marques, each of which is intent on distinguishing itself from the other once the two marques part ways on January 1. (Rolls-Royce will become part of BMW, while Bentley will remain under Volkswagen’s ownership.)

An Unparalleled ’Bach Seat

Pageantry aside, the Maybach’s arrival on a vessel the size of the QE2 seems befitting for a vehicle that stretches over 20 feet in length, more than three feet longer than Mercedes’ S600 flagship sedan. In fact, the car’s official designation is the Maybach 62; like a boat, it is named for its length (6.2 in meters). Yet, as with the most expertly crafted yachts, the car’s design masks its size, distinguishing it from an unsightly stretch limousine.

Company officials predict that many Europeans will hire chauffeurs for their Maybachs, but Maybach brand specialist Mark Ramsey believes American owners will want to drive the cars themselves. “In the U.S., the market is more targeted toward owner-drivers,” Ramsey says. “People see the performance and want to try it.”

Whoever drives the car will enjoy the clout of a twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter, 550-hp, V-12 engine that will thrust the stately sedan from zero to 62 mph in 5.4 seconds. The car is equipped with an automatic 5-speed transmission that is bundled with Touchshift; tap the shift lever to the left or right to shift manually.

While the Maybach 62 boasts the muscle of a perfor-mance car, the interior is the highlight of the sedan. Open the rear door, which swings out to an 85-degree angle, nestle into the back seat, and you’ll swear you’re flying first class aboard British Airways. Push the appropriate button and you can recline, extend the leg support, lift or lower the seat cushion, or activate the massage system. Instead of cupholders, the Maybach offers sterling silver goblets that click into retaining clips on the rear console, allowing you to store a full flute without risk of spills.

The rear compartment also contains a DVD player, two TV monitors, a six-disc CD changer, two telephone systems, and two folding tables lined with napa leather. Interiors can be customized to include accessories such as humidors, and owners can choose from 100 wood trim options, including burr walnut, amboyna, and cherry. “An owner might put his family crest on the dashboard,” Ramsey says.

Each Maybach owner will be paired with a personal liaison manager who will be available around the clock (just push a button on the car phone) for services ranging from repair consultation to resort reservations.

Classy Coupe

Bentley’s original plan was to release a four-door version of the V-12 titan, but a sedan would have gone head-to-head against its own Arnage T, so officials at the British marque retooled their strategy to focus on a sportier car.

The result is the GT Coupe, also known as the Continental (in tribute to the R-Type Continental of the 1950s), a vehicle that might tempt the Tifosi to reconsider their 575M Maranellos. The exterior has flowing curves like the R-Type and broad, powerful hips, but also features crisp, stout lines that lend the coupe a bit of edginess.

The 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12 block pumps out 550 hp, giving paddle-shifters enough power to barrel and knife through highway traffic without a hiccup. A spoiler between the trunk and the rear window lifts electronically to create downforce on the vehicle. The car will also be equipped with all-wheel drive, a first for Bentley.

The GT Coupe, which will arrive in the United States late next year, will share parts with the Volkswagen Phaeton, including suspension components and the satellite navigation screen. But unlike VW’s upcoming luxury sedan, which will be built in Germany, the Bentley will keep its home in Crewe, England. The GT Coupe is one of only three models in the revamped Bentley lineup; saloon and convertible versions of the GT Coupe are also in the works for future release.

Rolls’ Rebirth

Fred Fruth, Rolls-Royce general manager for public affairs, becomes apologetic when asked about his company’s new car. He is not allowed to comment on the sedan until January, when Rolls-Royce moves under BMW ownership. “Until that magic date, all our communication activities are still rather limited due to our agreement,” Fruth says.

That hasn’t stopped some information from leaking out of England. The saloon, code-named RR 01, will feature an aluminum body and a V-12 engine that BMW will supply. (The engine will not be shared with any other BMW models.) Assembly will take place in Goodwood, Rolls-Royce’s new English home, where some 450 craftsmen will also stitch the leather, construct the car’s wooden components, and apply the coats of paints.

The marriage seems perfect: The combination of BMW’s technical wizardry and the traditional coachbuilding prowess of Rolls-Royce promises to produce a supe-rior sedan.

Bentley, www.bentleygt.com

Maybach, www.maybach-manufaktur.com

Rolls-Royce, www.rollsroycemotorcars.co.uk

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