3 years

AIRBORNE

Banker’s Ghost

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Any Rolls-Royce is a feast for the senses. But this model, with a base price of Rs 3.5 crore, is an experience in a class of its own

Rolls-Royce epitomises fine motoring. It is a car that announces your arrival with a regal flourish, a call to attention quite distinct from the brash growl that lesser carriages produce. The Rolls glides into the limelight with a soft whispery burble from its twin chrome exhausts. Riding one is to get a feel for what Aladdin would’ve felt surfing the gentle breeze on a magic carpet.

The Rolls-Royce Motor Company believes that while form and function should blend perfectly, there should be no compromise on luxury. This is why all Rolls-

Royce cars are custom built. God, the company insists, is in the details.

While every Rolls-Royce model offers an extensive list of options, the company’s bespoke programme allows you to create a car that is so utterly personal that it would literally be unique—your own creation. You may specify any feature you fancy, whether or not there is a precedent for it, and if it’s possible on planet earth, it shall be done. At the company’s Goodwood plant in England, I have seen firsthand how each car is painstakingly put together by hand. To guide this process, each car has its own ‘manifesto’ with the customer’s name masked to maintain the company’s famed tradition of anonymity. There does exist an assembly line, but the detailing is done to individual specifications. Even the body paint is mixed finely to develop the exact shade desired, which could well come to be named after you.

You can ask for removable accessories. If you want designer luggage to go with your car, for example, it will be custom made to your taste in leather, wood and so on, with your monogram embossed on it, and designed to fit with perfect elegance in the boot of your new Rolls. On a visit to a leather shop with artisans working on such suitcases, I noted an impressive dedication to finesse. In the woodwork section, where trims are designed by hand, one customer had even sent across wood from his private forest that he wanted gracing the dashboard of his car.

All of which explains why you can’t price a Rolls offhand. You have a base price for each model, and from there on you are billed for what you want. The famous Rolls-Royce Phantom has haunted Indian roads for several years, but what’s hot property right now is the Ghost, which was unveiled across global markets—including India—only in late 2009. The base price of the Ghost’s Extended Wheel Base variant is Rs 3.5 crore, and the company has already booked enough orders from India to send its artisans in England into a flurry (despite which, delivery takes about two or three months).

Positioned as a Rolls-Royce that you can enjoy driving as much as being chauffeured in, the Ghost is quite another set of wheels altogether. The rear cabin offers just the luxury you’d need after a stressful day in the boardroom, even as therapy and thrill roll into one as you get behind the wheel for a weekend drive.

What hits you first are its design lines, which, while leaving you in no doubt of its flying-lady lineage, exude a decidedly sportier stance. The Ghost EWB is 170 mm longer than the Ghost, and most of this extra length has been spent making the rear cabin roomier (with the car left no heavier than 30 kg). Your leg space has been stretched from 160 mm to a knee-reflex-testworthy 330 mm. It’s no wonder, then, as I hop into the rear of the Ghost and then immediately into the rear of the Ghost EWB, it feels like an upgrade from Business to First Class. Being chauffeured around has its charms for sure. Sipping champagne with an abandon I wouldn’t otherwise dare on Indian roads, reducing potholes to a mere abstraction under the wheels, is an experience in itself.

Yet, for all that, I prefer being at the wheel myself. So I slip into the driver’s seat, which I finely adjust to my height and reach, and then feast my eyes on the instrumentation and panelling. What I see is a masterful blend of tradition and technology. While you can configure the Rolls through its futuristic multimedia interface, the push-and-pull knobs to open and close the air-conditioning vents remain delightfully old world. As also the antique 1930s’ font used for the switchgear and instrumentation.

I press the engine start button, and the Ghost EWB comes to life with a creamy whisper. The only sign that its mighty V12 engine is idling is the power reserve meter. For all its heft and presence, the car is surprising fun to drive. Smooth, stately and calm, you have to roll your wheels along only a short distance to know why a Rolls is a Rolls. Though the 6.6 litre twin turbocharged engine (same as that of the Ghost) is designed to unleash 563 horses in the crankcase, I depress the pedal in complete assurance of the safety of my neck. The car surges ahead with that celebrated ‘whoosh’ of a Rolls-Royce, with a massive yet calm and composed delivery of power to the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic gearbox.

The traffic I leave behind seems to dissipate into the depths of the rearview mirror, and I can’t resist a glance at the speedometer every five seconds or so: the Ghost EWB is already devouring 2 km every minute.

Venturing into Mumbai’s rush-hour traffic might seem akin to taking the Titanic out for a spin in the village pond, but a Rolls always handles more like a magic carpet than a ship. The steering is quite accurate, and I get a distinct sense of connect with the wheels, which gives the car a reasonably sporty feel. In fact, weaving my way through Mumbai’s dense streets is a pleasure. Yet, while Johnny English did swing a Rolls-Royce around the Swiss Alps in Johnny English Reloaded, you really wouldn’t want to attempt corners that leave the Ghost EWB’s large rear end sticking out. The only sticky situation I face is when I slip into some of the city’s narrow lanes. It’s here that I realise the true dimensions of the car.

Switch places with the rear passenger, and it is like being in the lounge of a spa. As the characteristic coach-style doors softly click shut, you find yourself in a cocoon, a soundless chamber of serenity. You can recline if you want, airliner style, or have the entire rear cabin customised for any other purpose. You can have an office on wheels, for instance, with foldout writing tables. Or a mini movie theatre with an HD screen and surround sound. Or a concert hall, with perfect acoustics. Or your cosy little afterwork watering hole, with a bar designed to stock your favourite poison.

I usually can’t read anything in a car because I get a headache, but aboard the Ghost EWB, I can scan the tiniest of newspaper print with ease. Even the share price listings. Getting Rs 4 crore odd to spare would take quite a Sensex-trumping stock portfolio.