Written by Sasha Orman
“The Drophead is a car that needed to happen for a long time.”
It’s certainly a stunning car, proudly displayed in the showroom window with sunlight gleaming off the brushed steel hood and teak wood deck. But why is the Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe necessary? As Nick Jones at La Jolla, CA-based Symbolic Motors would explain to me, this Rolls Royce is more than just a pretty face.
First, it fills the hole left in Rolls Royce devotees’ hearts when the Rolls Royce Corniche was discontinued a decade ago. First produced in 1971, the Rolls Royce Corniche was the Rolls Royce brand’s first foray into convertibles – since its inception, it continued to win over Rolls Royce collectors with each incarnation throughout the model’s impressive 30-year run.
When the ultra-luxurious Rolls Royce Phantom was launched in 2003, one year after the last Rolls Royce Corniche left the assembly line at Rolls Royce’s Goodwood factory, it wasn’t long before Rolls Royce fans were itching for a convertible.
Rolls Royce did make some changes along the way: as the name suggests, the Rolls Royce Drophead Coupe is somewhat smaller than its brother, the Rolls Royce Phantom. Inspired by 1930s-era racing yachts, the Rolls Royce Drophead Coupe features the sleekest and sportiest Rolls Royce silhouette to date.
That said, a sporty Rolls Royce is still a Rolls Royce – which means plenty of room for comfort and long-held Rolls Royce traditions like hand-embroidered upholstery, rear-facing coach doors housing hidden umbrellas, and custom veneers carved from a single piece of wood. It’s this dedication to classic luxury car design that keeps long-time Rolls Royce clients coming back for more.
“Most of the time,” says Nick, “if a guy’s buying this car, he probably had a Corniche. Going back, he probably had a Silver Seraph or a Cloud. It’s more about the repeat business and the repeat customers – they like to see that kind of thing in the car. It makes them feel like, ‘okay, I’m still in my Rolls Royce.’”
One might suppose that Rolls Royce’s emphasis on tradition would come at the price of progressive technology. This would be wrong. While the Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe pleases Rolls Royce traditionalists with form that hearkens back to cherished standards, its state-of-the-art functions offer a different kind of allure to a whole new generation of potential Rolls Royce customers.
This new high-tech side of Rolls Royce is due in no small part to hefty funding from BMW Group, Rolls Royce’s parent company since 1999. “When Bentley and Rolls Royce split, Rolls Royce was acquired by BMW – so now you have unlimited amounts of resource, money, technology, and advancements to build a fantastic car.”
The boldest example of Rolls Royce technology is the recently announced Rolls Royce 102EX, a test model for the first luxury electric car. But new tricks are also peppered throughout the Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. Case in point: the Rolls Royce signature analog clock.
“When you turn the car on,” says Nick, “that actually rotates around and a navigation screen is behind that. If you press the organ stop to the left there, it’ll flip over and show you.” I follow the directions, and the clock fluidly disappears into the Rolls Royce Drophead’s dashboard to reveal the hidden display.
“Little things like that,” Nick points out. “It’s like James Bond.”
Other modern Rolls Royce features include LED running lights and doors that gently close at the touch of a button. Even the famous Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy emblem, while visibly unchanged and as iconic as ever, has undergone a high-tech makeover behind the scenes.
“When you lock the car,” says Nick, “[the Spirit of Ecstasy] drops down and a plate slides over it. It’s also got a spring retainer in here – if you yank it hard enough, it automatically sucks down and the plate slides over. It’s pretty steal-proof.”
It also perfectly captures the spirit of the Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe as a whole: classic design that Rolls Royce purists can appreciate as their own, with innovation working hard just below the surface. Rolls Royce is doing progress right, and it’s a beautiful thing.