Goodwood, West Sussex - The Phantom VII limousine was a significant car for Rolls-Royce; ever since 1925 the Phantom has been the company’s flagship model, conveying VIPs from Queen Elizabeth to the mayor of Durban in stately pomp and ceremony.
But the seventh-generation Phantom was also the first Rolls-Royce to be developed under BMW ownership. Fly or fall, it would set the standard by which the new company and its leader Torsten Muller-Otvos, would be judged.
Just like the 1925 original, the Phantom VII was developed in almost paranoid secrecy; then lead engineer Ernest Hives told Rolls-Royce workers the company was developing a new armoured car for the Middle East market and went so far as to leave bits of armour plate lying around the factory where they could be seen by curious visitors, while the new car was designed and built at a temporary ‘skunk works’ nearby.
In the same way, in 1998 project leader Ian Cameron and the development team for the Phantom VII set up shop in a disused bank building in the middle of London, with just five years to design, develop, engineer and test a new banner carrier for the evocative slogan “The Best Car in the World”.
They got off to a good start, with a bored and stroked, 6.75-litre version of BMW’s iconic six-litre V12, its intake and exhaust plumbing set up to run whisper-quiet, and conservatively tuned to provide ‘adequate’ power in true Rolls-Royce tradition. The rest of it was all new, built on an aluminium space frame, trimmed and finished to a standard that would have had crusty old Sir Henry Royce nodding his head in approval.
Just three days after the new Rolls-Royce plant at Goodwood opened on New Year’s Day 2003, Cameron and his team took their new car there for its world premiere - and the new Rolls-Royce was up and running, including its legendary electric clock, powered by a synchronous motor so as not to disturb the serene ambience of the cabin with an intrusive ticking!
Fast forward to today…
But that was 13 years ago, and BMW has let it be known that the next-generation Phantom VIII is almost ready. Meanwhile, the very last Phantom VII, a long-wheelbase limousine commissioned by a keen Rolls-Royce collector, has been created in the Bespoke workshop at Goodwood to celebrate the golden age of travel, when the first Phantom was the gold standard of automotive excellence.
It’s finished in a deep blue, set off by a hand-painted twin coachline with an ocean liner motif at the shoulder, pinstripe tyres and a solid silver Spirit of Ecstasy figurine.
All the wood veneer trim has been panelled in marquetry to depict a stylised 1930s ocean liner, reflecting this customer’s fascination with art deco design. The powder-blue leather trim has layered embroidery in different shades of blue to evoke the movement of the sea, while the the lambswool carpets have been hand-cut for a wake effect.
Even the clocks - one on the dashboard and one on the partition wall - echo the style of the radio clocks that adorned the grand ocean liners. Each one’s 24-hour bezel sits proud and, just like HG Well’s time machine, can be rotated in either direction. Silently, of course.