The new Rolls Royce Ghost is not built with completely bespoke underpinnings – the basic architecture comes from a top-rung BMW sedan. The idea is straightforward – you can make a much better business case for a new car when components are shared across as many models as possible. By bringing down development costs, Rolls Royce and BMW could afford to produce a second model line (the same planning gave the world the Bentley Continental and the VW Phaeton) – one that is smaller, cheaper, and more accessible than the imperious Phantom, which might be too flash for the discerning plutocrat. However, I doubt any potential Phantom customer actively chooses a Ghost.
But sharing parts with something as pedestrian as a BMW presumably violates the sense of luxury of this Rolls-Royce, which is supposed to be in the same atmosphere of luxury goods where only tailor-made, custom design is accepted. This probably has a lot to do with feelings about manufacturing and mass-production, but somehow it doesn’t translate onto 63rd and Madison.
For decades in the middle and late 20th Century, Rolls Royces were objectively terrible cars, prone to breakdowns and constantly behind the times with extremely long runs of single body styles and interior fitments. Still, the flying lady on the front is hard to match for a symbol of luxury. A new Rolls, one that looks up-to-date, one with fresh chrome and no sense of worn-out, depreciating wealth is wonderfully striking.
I am by no means particularly qualified to judge any of the details that stand out on this car, but they kept me swept up in its projected mystery of riches and moneyed distance from the lower classes.
Though this thought never came to me while I was absorbed in photographing this Madison Ave Rolls, now I can’t help but contrast this Ghost to an old Silver Spur – the ‘baby’ Rolls-Royce of the 1980s.
This car was a regular addition to one summer back home in Davis, CA, when the house across the street was getting extensively remodeled. The contractor had a thing for flash cars, perhaps because he loved them, or perhaps he wanted to immediately display a sense of success and capability to potential clients.
This Silver Spur, while certainly imposing in its day, probably also had a good aura of nouveau riche wannabe to it even when new. Today, as a luxury car that costs less than its winged herald implies, the Silver Spur conveys an image of greasy inappropriateness that I imagine the Ghost will in twenty years or so.
And though this might seem a condemnation of these two Rolls Royces, nothing could be farther from the truth: that they seem insufficiently engineered or priced to match the stature of the Rolls-Royce name only speaks to the deep fascination resting in that emblem. In spite of any material flaws, or tarnished history, depreciation or low-rent attainability, a Rolls-Royce projects a sense of inaccessible luxury. No matter how affordable or middle class these cars become, that wealthy distance from normalcy will still shine forth from an upright, proud face.
I imagine a Rolls Royce would still look like luxury sitting in a junkyard. Tear out is chrome grill, batter and dent its sharp creases – it is still a Rolls-Royce, no matter how cynically or cheaply it is made.
On the other hand, all fortunes are subject to change, and the history of automobiles has seen more prestigious names than Rolls-Royce disappear into obscurity. If you wonder how strongly the flying lady might stand in coming decades, please turn to Ate Up With Motor’s article on Packard’s first step down the pricing ladder, the 1930s One-Twenty.
Alternatively, a glimpse at a possible future for Rolls-Royce can be found in this Curbside Classic of a 1951 Packard.
In addition, the fantastic Hyperleggera has an account of a strange encounter with an out-of-place Silver Spur as well. It’s a great read.