In the last 92 years, Rolls-Royce has made a storied line-up of amazing motor cars. I've driven one and it's not an experience I'll forget. But the Phantom is the most storied of them all, and Rolls-Royce is turning its eight great models into an exhibition open to the public in London's Mayfair.
Which cars — belonging to customers, not to Rolls-Royce itself — will be returning to Mayfair for the exhibition has not yet been confirmed. The first car is the 'Fred Astaire Phantom I', owned by the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, and more are to come.
The exhibition itself will run from 27 July in Mayfair, and each week until then Rolls-Royce will reveal the history of another one of the cars heading across land and ocean to be a part of it. You can read a short history of the Phantom, penned by Rolls-Royce, below.
The event itself will also serve as the introduction for the new eighth-generation Phantom, 'the best car in the world' (according to Rolls-Royce, obviously).
Rolls-Royce began producing the Phantom I in 1925. The car was developed in great secrecy, with the project code-named Eastern Armoured Car. This suggested Rolls-Royce was intent on producing the kind of military vehicles used in the First World War, most famously by Lawrence of Arabia. Sections of armour plate were left lying around the factory to confuse curious competitors eager to glean the secret of making the ‘best cars in the world’.
The Phantom I was an instant success. The new 7.668-litre straight-six engine gave the car a fresh spring in its step. When General Motors opened a testing ground in Michigan, it was discovered that no cars could manage even two laps of the 4-mile circuit at full throttle without damaging their engines big ends – where the piston attaches to the crankshaft. However, Phantom I performed with consummate imperiousness and managed that, and more, at a steady 80mph without failure.
Sir Henry Royce’s restless desire to, in his own words, “take the best that exists and make it better” quickly led to the creation of the Phantom II in 1929, this time with a totally new chassis, which significantly improved the handling, as well as a re-designed engine.
The next Phantom, the third in the line, was to be Sir Henry Royce’s last project. He passed away in 1933, aged 70, about 12 months into the development of this next Phantom. The finished model, with its peerless 12 cylinder engine, was unveiled two years later and production lasted from 1936 until the Second World War. The final chassis was produced in 1941, although the war meant it did not receive its coachwork until 1947. No announcement came about a replacement and it looked as if the Phantom was another victim of the war.
In 1950, Phantom IV appeared. The car was originally intended to be a one-off for Prince Philip and the then Princess Elizabeth. However, once seen, a further 17 were exclusively commissioned at the request of other royal families and heads of state around the world. Fitted with a straight-eight engine, it performed superbly at low speeds – essential for taking part in ceremonial parades – and featured the kneeling version of the famous Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet mascot.
The Phantom V was produced between 1959 and 1968 and 516 of this hugely successful model were made for clients including the Queen Mother, governors of Hong Kong, King Olav of Norway and John Lennon.
The long-running Phantom VI (1968-90) carried on the royal connection, notably with the Silver Jubilee Car, a raised-roof version presented to Queen Elizabeth II in 1977 by the British motor industry to celebrate her 25 years on the throne, and later famously used at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
In 2003, a watching world was greeted with Phantom VII, a glowing affirmation of the start of Rolls-Royce’s renaissance at his new home in Goodwood, West Sussex. It was sharply contemporary yet timeless in the manner in which it deftly retained Phantom’s characteristic aesthetic. Built at the Home of Rolls-Royce. an all-new, state-of-the-art centre of excellence, it arrived with a 453bhp 6.75-litre V12 – enough to propel it from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds – and every possible comfort a new breed of discerning luxury consumer could desire. Exquisite detail right down to the car's Teflon-coated umbrellas and self-righting wheel-centres, left a curious public in no doubt the marque was in safe hands.
Production of the Phantom VII ceased thirteen years later at the end of 2016.
‘The Great Eight Phantoms’, a Rolls-Royce Exhibition, will be the first time that this exceptional group of truly iconic luxury motoring pieces will be gathered under one roof. Every Rolls-Royce Phantom is an exceptional car, but thanks to their pedigree, this particular collection will include some very singular cars indeed, all owned at some point by famous individuals, and having played their part in witnessing the making of world history.
This is such an uncommon pageant, it is no exaggeration to say we might never see the likes of it again.
‘The Great Eight Phantoms’, a Rolls-Royce Exhibition, will take place in Mayfair, London, at the end of July this year.
I spent a day in a $750,000 Rolls-Royce motor car, and now I think I have ruined the experience of sitting in and driving just about any other vehicle. This is what three quarters of one million dollars, about the price of an average Sydney apartment, will buy you in outright motoring bliss.