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Best of 2023

What’s the most Rolls-Royce car in the back catalogue?

The ghostly saloon that ushered in a new era for the storied British carmaker...

Published: 01 Jan 2024

With the seventh generation of Phantom, BMW managed the impossible task of successfully summing up all that was great about Rolls-Royces while also dragging a fusty relic into a new era – the previous version of the Phantom was on sale from 1968 to 1990.

The nameplate represents the very best of the luxury that Rolls-Royce has to offer, an idea especially seeded with the fourth generation of the car that was launched in 1950. It was only offered to the likes of buyer who really deserved it, like royalty and other heads of state. Indeed, the car given to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in July 1950 is still in use by the British royal family, and Charles III has been seen out in his.

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It wasn’t a guarantee that BMW’s Phantom reboot would be successful, though, with the smouldering wreckage of its Rover ownership still very much in the present memory. The Phantom VII was developed alongside the likes of the new Mini and Range Rover MkIII. The latter car was launched after Jaguar Land Rover were split off and sold to Ford.

The VII was revealed on 1 January 2003, the very first day that BMW got its hands on the whole Rolls-Royce package after a protracted period of punchy negotiations with Volkswagen. It was an immediate hit, and in fact the only car that Rolls built for six years until the arrival of the Ghost in 2009. It was mostly made from aluminium, and constructed painstakingly by hand at the company’s bespoke new facility in Goodwood, West Sussex. OK, there are two robots in the factory that help with painting, but the coachlines along the sides of the cars are still done by someone with a very steady hand.

If the sheer presence of the car didn’t wow onlookers, then they would have had their socks knocked off by fancy trinkets such as the self-levelling Rolls-Royce logos on the wheel hubs, the double glazed windows or the umbrellas in the suicide rear doors (although Skoda has since stolen that trick). Try to steal the Spirit of Ecstasy and she’ll dart down into the safety of the impressively armoured grille. The interior of the car displayed unparalleled luxury, and that was even before you got stuck into money-no-object bespoke whims that the firm was more than happy to cater for.

The 6.75-litre V12 petrol engine might not have made for happy fuel bills, but the 453bhp and 531lb ft of torque ensured effortless performance in the smoothest possible way. The Phantom was intended all along as a chauffeur car, designed with the express intention of cossetting whoever was reclined in the back. Sadly this Phantom was no longer the preserve of royalty, but was embraced by celebrities and rich businessmen alike as one of the ultimate trappings of success. Nowadays around £80,000 will get you into an early MkVII Phantom – objectively pricey, but never has a display of wealth been such a bargain.

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