Thursday, 10 May 2012

Daddy's Rolls-Royce


Number one daughter on left waves a toffee-wrapper. Number two has missed out what number one is chewing. Neither is impressed with the Rolls-Royce Silver Spur.

RRM1 is a cherished registration Rolls-Royce Motors keeps for press demonstrators, sold afterwards, no doubt, to customers who wouldn’t like to think they’d been handled by mere hacks. Or ignored by toffee-chewing daughters.

Relaunching the Blog I have spent two months working on a series of four ebooks, a Vintage Archive Tetrology, Quadrology Quadrille even, Eric Dymock on Cars 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992. They are collections of road tests, features, my choice of 100 best cars, in short the entire year’s output, save for the major books, TV and radio scripts, and some other items that did not seem very interesting. Watch this space. One is already in the public domain, Eric Dymock on Cars 1990 is available from Amazon at an introductory price.

What did I write about the Rolls-Royce in a business magazine?

If you have to ask the price, they say, you probably can’t afford it. But so that the company accountant can send off the cheque, a Silver Spur, is £62,778, give or take a personal foible or two such as special body colours or fancy figured leather. A more modest executive might go for a Silver Spirit at £55,240, four inches shorter, which means less room in the back but otherwise not a lot different. There is an up-market Silver Spur at £68,278 for captains of industry, or one of the better-off aristocrats who may not want a hand-built Phantom, or company chairman who wants a glass division to keep the chauffeur from overhearing. This has a small, well-equipped but discreet drinks cupboard; Rolls-Royce prefers the term cocktail cabinet, perhaps nostalgic of an era when all cars had leather seats, and nobody thought of a facia in anything other than figured veneer.

Without being unkind, other aspects of the Rolls-Royce are just as old-fashioned. Frederick Henry Royce began his working life in the Great Northern Railway Works at Peterborough; locomotive engineering dies hard at Crewe. Silver Spur doors clunk shut like those of railway carriages and locknuts hold things together in impressive engineering orthodoxy.

Well, it was 1984. Daughters have grown. Search Velocette on the blog for number one, Charlotte. Here she is at Goodwood Revival, suitably Vintage-clad.

Number two Joanna now has to share toffees with number two grandson Jasper.

To see other grandson Teddy: - search blog:- Number One Grandson.

Silver Spur continued:

More modern cars go faster and handle better. Some are more comfortable and soak up road bumps more smoothly. Yet there is no car in which it is better to be a passenger. Keen drivers  can by-pass Rolls-Royces; they would be better with a Daimler Double-Six at less than half the price, or even a decent Mercedes-Benz and spend the change on something else - high living, or a Porsche for a favourite secretary.

Yet if you want a badge of success or a symbol of prestige nothing else will do. Even cars of the same price but lesser merit won't do - they merely mark you down as eccentric, flashy or, perhaps worse, both. Rolls-Royce merits of longevity, build quality, luxury and finish barely require repetition. They are the justification for the price tag and a judgement on their value depends on the circumstances of the buyer.

A more fundamental question, perhaps, is whether the maker is serving its own interests by a policy of engineering extravagance in the face of increasingly formidable opposition. It is all very well having the world’s most valuable prestige symbol, but are there enough customers left who simply want to ride around in the back? Their numbers have been diminishing and the trend seems likely to continue. It is not as though the Rolls-Royce is wholly dull. It has a top speed getting on for 120mph and will reach 60mph in ten seconds, a reasonably lively performance.

Its best achievement is probably the way it insulates, almost isolates the occupants from road rumble and traffic noise, difficult without building an immensely big and heavy car. Success in this even seems to elude Mercedes-Benz although the Daimler Jaguars manage to be at least as quiet as the Rolls-Royce. Yet it is a car that imposes its own driving regime. It is big and heavy, and it is difficult to disguise its own momentum if you drive it fast. It is better to slow down and opt for grace and style. Rolls-Royce will argue they build cars to be driven that way because that is how the customers want them. But the fact remains that you can drive a Mercedes or a Jaguar slowly if you want to, the comfort is undiminished, and most drivers enjoy the choice. I doubt if Rolls-Royce would know how to make a car that handles well, such are the conflicting requirements of the great weight of railway engineering. Such luxury and refinement might simply be unattainable.

“Porsche for a favourite secretary” sounds patronising. It was 1984. I wouldn’t write that now.

Royce, railway engineer, a vocation shared with WO Bentley.

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