They have not driven the latest and greatest from Rolls-Royce, and most haven't even seen the real thing, but they just know they have to have a Drophead Coupe. Even if it costs them a whacking $1.2 million.
The Australian list price for the new ultra-luxury four-seat convertible is $1.19 million — before you go tripping into the sort of special toys and finishing touches that most Rolls-Royce owners will want for their new car.
What does that buy you?
Apart from the badge and the winged lady mascot on top of the best-known grille on the road, it buys one of the most outrageously rewarding cars in the world in 2007.
The Drophead Coupe is a glorious way to go open-air cruising and would be the best way to make a jaw-dropping arrival at any five-star hotel or invitation-only event anywhere in Australia, even if the other invitees made their entrances in a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, or even a Bentley.
It will also power to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds and has a top speed of 240km/h — as if those numbers really matter.
“There has always been a pinnacle of the motor industry, and we have responded by positioning this car back at that pinnacle,” says Rolls-Royce Motor Cars chairman Ian Robertson. “I am sure there are many sceptics who said, `Rolls-Royce, made by BMW, we'll see', and now they can see.”
Typical buyers are likely to have around $15million in play money, five to eight cars in the garage and could be aged anywhere from 17 to their 70s. Robertson mentions the two Saudi princes who recently bought Phantoms for their 17th birthdays, as well as high-profile Australian Phantom owners John Laws and Lindsay Fox.
He also has numbers on the number of dot.com millionaires, Chinese entrepreneurs, Australian resource barons and even the 1000-plus money-market successes who received bonuses of more than $2.5 million in London last year. Robertson says about half of Drophead Coupe owners will be new to the Rolls-Royce brand, a big breakthrough for a company that is going through some of the most dramatic growth in its history.
It built 805 cars last year, has a rash of new models in the works and is expecting to deliver more than $100 million worth of convertibles this year.
“We're planning to do 100 to 120 (more) cars this year,” Robertson says. “Our total production this year will be an increase, although 900 might be stretching it a bit. So somewhere around 850 or a little above.”
It is almost impossible to put the Drophead Coupe into any sort of realistic perspective, but it is a wonderful car that lives up to the Rolls-Royce tradition and also pushes the envelope. It all starts with an aluminium spaceframe chassis, which makes the Rolls-Royce convertible as rigid as anything in the world without a roof.
The features climb through air-suspension and a 6.7-litre V12 engine and six-speed automatic, to the finishing touches of brushed steel, nautical teak, wood veneer, sumptuous leather and even a five-layer convertible top trimmed with cashmere.
And there is lots of high-tech stuff, including electronic stability control, anti-skid brakes, a one-touch top that opens or closes in 25 seconds and the Rolls-Royce version of BMW's finicky iDrive.
But buyers are more likely to be won by the analogue clock, the electric buttons to close the suicide doors (“We prefer to call them coach doors,” says Robertson), the custom-made umbrellas, a “picnic table” boot, which will hold 170kg, and 20-inch alloy wheels with centre caps which never turn, so as to keep the Rolls-Royce logo upright and central at all times.
The Drophead is not the most beautiful car on the road, but it has a brutal elegance. The side-on view is more like a luxury motor boat and, for the first time in the company's history — the grille is tilted back slightly, for smoother airflow and pedestrian safety. But Rolls-Royce insists the Drophead Coupe is a still a car to be driven and enjoyed.
On the road there is no denying it is a brilliant car, despite a nose which would look right at home on the front of a new Kenworth truck and the difficulty of parking with the top up.
Rolls-Royce ran the global press preview in Tuscany, in gorgeous country with surprisingly challenging roads, which reflected the quality of the basic engineering and the incredible attention to detail you have to expect in a car with such a price tag.
The Drophead is no sports car, yet it can be punted along surprisingly briskly and never turns unruly or ugly. The best way to drive is to conduct the car using a couple of fingers on the narrow-spoked wheel, easing it through turns and occasionally uncorking the 338kW for some fun on the straights. It is a giant — 5.6m long and 2620kg — but it can be nimble and has ideal suspension design and control for the worst road conditions.
The Drophead is also quiet with the top down at 160km/h, has boot space for three sets of golf clubs and can easily hold four adults in exceptional comfort.
The dirt burst proved that the Drophead coupe is rock-solid, composed, dust-proof and relaxing on a road that would have had a Commodore or Falcon sliding, bumping and bucking. And the airconditioning and satnav was great. The BMW? It felt cramped, cheap and unrefined after the Rolls-Royce, yet it is still one of the world's very best cars.
So the Drophead, despite the price, 18.8 litres per 100km consumption, outrageous styling and the sort of people who drive Rolls-Royces, is a great car at a time when the cars of the world have never been better.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe
Price: $1.19 million
On sale: now
Body: two-door convertible, four seats
Engine: 6.7-litre V12, 338kW@5350rpm, 720Nm@3500rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
Performance: 0-100km/h, 5.9sec; top speed, 240km/h
Fuel: 18.8L/100km (as tested)