Rolls Royce Phantom (2003 – 2016)

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The Rolls Royce Phantom, a car that divides pretty much everyone. The first product of the new Rolls Royce company following the brand’s acquisition by BMW in 2003, the Phantom was the company’s flagship from its launch the same year to 2016, but its reputation among fans and customers have kept it somewhat in limbo, be it the styling, the size, the features of its internal design, or even its background origin.

The Rolls Royce Phantom, unofficially known as the Phantom VII, was first considered in around 2000 by BMW prior to the handover of the Rolls Royce brand to them in 2003. At the time, BMW and Volkswagen jointly owned Rolls Royce and Bentley, under the agreement that while BMW provided engines, such as the BMW V12 found in the Rolls Royce Silver Seraph, Volkswagen would build the cars. In 2003, the contract came to an end, and Rolls Royce was split from Bentley for the first time since 1931, Bentley to Volkswagen, Rolls Royce to BMW. As part of the contract split, Bentley would retain the Rolls Royce factory in Crewe, whilst Rolls Royce itself would move to a new factory in Goodwood on the south coast of England. The last Rolls Royce’s to leave their home factory in Crewe, the Silver Seraph and the Corniche V, departed in 2002.

As mentioned, BMW had prepared, and were planning to make their company flagship based largely of the BMW 7-Series, though not exactly. The car is built on its own unique platform, with the body constructed predominantly from aluminium. The dimensions of the Phantom are 5.35ft tall, 19ft long and 6.5ft wide, and weighs 2.4 Tons. The car is fitted with a 6.75L BMW V12 producing 453hp, accelerating this behemoth of a car to 60mph in 5.9 seconds, which is pretty impressive.

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The original Phantom of 2003, distinguishable by its rather large fog lights.

The acquisition of Rolls Royce by BMW also meant the company could be flung into the 21st Century in terms of luxury amenities, the kind of which the later years of the previous Rolls Royce Company had been lacking. While the Silver Seraph was a beautiful car and a capable machine, the car was very much traditional old England, and in the 1990’s this was no longer impressive to the potential market. As such, it lost out heavily to contemporary Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series that cost less and gave more than the Seraph.

The Phantom on the other hand would give you more for your money so that its contemporaries could never compete. The car was available in 44,000 colours, came with rear-hinged ‘coach doors’ for easier access to the back, inside of which were located umbrellas, navigation system with voice recognition, power sunroof, upgraded leather upholstery, rear-view camera, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, 26-speaker premium sound system, 8-disc CD changer, 18-way power front seats, 16-way power rear seats, heated and cooled cup holders, rear-seat tables, outside-temperature indicator, universal garage door opener, power tilt/telescopic heated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio, climate, and navigation controls, power open/close boot lid, power closing doors, wireless headphones, iPod adapter, refrigerator, and air conditioning with 5-zone climate controls.

After a year of no sales, Rolls Royce burst back onto the motoring scene upon the car’s

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The rear styling of the Phantom appeared to follow a similar profile to the previous Phantom VI.

launch in 2003, with a price tag of £250,000. Immediately, the car was lauded by the motoring press for being the best Rolls Royce ever built, and a clear sign that BMW’s influence had brought the company into the 21st Century whilst still retaining some of its old world charm. It would later win Top Gear’s Car of the Year Award for 2003, and would be featured consistently on the show over the following years.

However, while the Phantom was lauded by critics, the traditional customer base were overwhelmed with disbelief, and it, and its derivatives, have almost been unanimously shunned. The first point of contention was the external styling, being seen as bland, boxy and boring. The next was its size, being far bigger than any previous Rolls Royce, even the bombastic designs of the 1940’s and 50’s.

The third was its image. While in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, Rolls Royce attempted to make themselves more subtle by toning down their designs to look more mundane and therefore less conceited, the Phantom screamed that it was a Rolls Royce, being as subtle as a brick through a stained glass window! The Phantom gave an aura of deluded wealth and snobbery that was being enjoyed by the new money, something in the vibe of “Hello world! Look at me!”

For the crime of being considered bland, oversized and dripping with vanity and narcissism, the Phantom was punished by disassociating itself with regular Rolls Royce customers, who preferred Bentley’s more subtle designs such as the Continental and the Arnage. However, it was still very popular with the aforementioned new money, who created a maddening variety of unique designs to fit their somewhat tacky needs. You could get a Phantom gold-plated, in chrome, in velvet, in ultra-reflective red or matte black! The choices were almost limitless, and the new customer base were more than happy to exploit it.

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A post-facelift Phantom with new, more subtle fog lights.

The Phantom gave rise to a huge number of derivatives throughout its construction life, including; the Phantom Drophead Coupe, the Phantom Coupe, the Phantom Extended Wheelbase, the Armoured Rolls Royce Phantom, the Centenary Edition, the Naples Winter Wine Festival car, the 80th Anniversary Edition, the Rolls Royce Phantom Black, the Rolls Royce Phantom Silver, Rolls Royce Phantom Tungsten, the Grey Goose Extended Wheelbase Phantom, the Pininfarina Hyperion, the 100EX Concept, the 101EX Concept, the 102EX Concept, the Peony edition, the Phantom Sapphire, the Middle East Phantom Bespoke Collection, the Yas Eagle edition, the 60th Anniversary Special Edition Phantom Drophead Coupé, the 2010 Paris Motor Show Phantom, the Spirit of Ecstasy Centenary Collection, the Masterpiece London 2011 Drophead Coupé, the Year of the Dragon Collection, the Phantom Coupé Aviator Collection, Phantom Series II Coupé, 2012 London Olympic Games Phantom Drophead Coupé, Phantom Art Deco cars, Home of Rolls Royce Collection Phantom, Celestial Phantom, Chicane Phantom Coupé, Pinnacle Travel Phantom, Phantom Drophead Coupé Waterspeed Collection, Phantom Limelight and the Phantom Metropolitan Collection.

Construction of the Phantom ended after 13 years on February 24th, 2016, with 4,915 examples produced. The Phantom Coupe and Drophead Coupe are to remain in production until a successor car is launched in 2018.