The name Rolls-Royce triggers thoughts of opulence, exclusivity and refinement. Unless you happen to be a vintage airplane aficionado, likely the furthest thing from your mind is motorsports when talking about this pinnacle brand. But, you see, motorsports did indeed play a notable part in Rolls-Royce’s varied history, and the Alpine Trials Centenary Ghost pays tribute to that rich auto racing history.
Turn back the dial to the first half of the last century, and rally racing was the benchmark for auto racing. The Monte Carlo Rally and Mille Miglia are among the best known of the era, but there were countless others that found men on routes hundreds, even thousands, of miles long, in cars you would never consider for the task today. This was a true test of man and machine.
In 1913, Rolls-Royce dispatched a factory team to take on the Austrian Alpine Trials Rally, in an effort to better a failed attempt to complete the event the previous year by a 40/50 Silver Ghost. The 1913 effort included more powerful engines, and a four-speed gearbox, which would be crucial for the long climbs. Success was achieved, and R-R clinched the Archduke Leopold Cup and five other awards.
Rolls-Royce commemorated the storied event 100 years later with a recreation of the run, and the introduction of the Alpine Trials Centenary Ghost.
“The 1913 Alpine Trial was an extraordinary moment in the rich history of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars,” says Torsten Muller-Otvos, CEO Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “The standards of engineering and pioneer spirit required to achieve such feats stands as inspiration to everyone associated with the marque. The Bespoke Alpine Trial Centenary Collection is a fitting tribute to these achievements.”
The Alpine Trials Ghost evokes a love it or hate it first reaction. The beautiful lines of the Ghost might be overwhelmed by what could be considered an odd color combination. We thought, perhaps, someone had mistakenly dropped Paris Hilton’s latest ride at our office when our 2014 test car arrived. But once you become aware of the colorscheme of the 1913 cars, the James Radley-inspired exterior makes a lot of sense.
Inside, the car leaves you wanting for little. The handcrafted interior has the expected world-class fit and finish, and the driver controls are placed well. Perhaps the only thing missing is a chauffeur, as the luxurious rear seating area yearns for a passenger. Reportedly, some 60 craftsmen toil over each car, and more than a month can be spent on the interior wood finishes alone. It’s astonishing that a car can still be built in this fashion, but Rolls-Royce’s loyal customers demand it, and the company is happy to oblige.
The BMW-based iDrive system is quick to master, offering the driver easy access to all of your electronic aids and entertainment devices. Meanwhile, under the hood lies technology of a different kind: a monstrous twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V12 offering 563hp and 575lb-ft of torque – more than enough propellant to heave the 5,500lb car from zero to 60mph in under five seconds. Nevertheless, there is now a V-specification version with an extra 30hp.
Once you step on the gas, the acceleration is smooth and endless. The power curve offers great drivability under any conditions thanks to its wide range, and you quickly forget the Ghost weighs as much as most SUVs.
The eight-speed ZF transmission aids that incredible acceleration, while helping the car to achieve some semblance of fuel economy on the freeway. The Ghost manages 13mpg in the city, but sips fuel at a more acceptable 21mpg on the freeway. Of course, no one purchases a Rolls for fuel economy.
The steering is light, you could essentially steer the car with a single pinky, yet the turn-in is surprisingly quick for a car of its stature. Residing inside the 20-inch black alloy wheels are huge brakes that do a masterful job of reining in the robust car.
It’s easy to forget that you are driving a super-luxury car from the top of the food chain, as the combination of power, braking and handling entice you to push the car as if it were a much more svelte sports sedan. Simply put, the Alpine Trials Ghost puts a smile on your face. The ride is quiet and supple, yet it’s not the marshmallow you might expect. Echoing the nimble yet solid feel to the car, the ride is firm but not harsh. It soaks up large bumps with ease, and the dampers control the car’s pitch and roll with class.
But, does any of that matter? The real fun with the Ghost is the attention it gets. Even near RACER’s Southern California home base, where Mercedes and BMWs are all but issued to you upon establishing residency, the Rolls turns heads. Owning a Rolls-Royce means you are in select company. In 2013, just 3,630 cars were delivered worldwide. Even mundane tasks, like driving the kids to school, becomes fun; everyone has their own space and the rear tray tables are excellent for last minute homework. If it happens to rain, the integrated umbrella setup is brilliant.
The standard Ghost comes in with an MSRP at $263,200, while our tester, outfitted with $115k of options including the Alpine Rally package ($41,500) came in at $381,820, taking it from select to exclusive. Just 35 were built and production has ended.
Who is the target buyer? Is it the CEO that has to make sure when he shows up at the country club his car stands out above the “regular” Ghosts? Is it the celebrity housewife who can only be seen in the best as she hits the valet stand? Perhaps hip-hop music moguls will love it, as the entire entourage fits comfortably.
Who cares? This is a simply great car.
There’s a scene in the movie Sideways where Miles explains to Maya that his bottle of ’61 Cheval Blanc has gone unopened because he was waiting for a special occasion. She replies: “The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc…That’s the special occasion.”
And that’s the only way to look at the fact that RACER was able to borrow a Rolls-Royce. There was no excuse for it, other than this being the sportiest car ever to wear the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot. It also presented a dilemma: none of us had anything to compare it to. We were simply overwhelmed by the experience, and in my case there was also a slight family connection: my late grandfather worked for Rolls-Royce Aero Engines for many happy years. Yeah, yeah, I know there’s no actual connection now between BMW-owned Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Rolls-Royce Aerospace, but tough luck, chaps: they’re spiritually linked forever in my mind.
With glass so thick that my toll-road beeper wouldn’t beep, and doors that closed with more solid conviction than the jail cells in The Shawshank Redemption, there was a stunning feeling of isolation driving in the Rolls-Royce Ghost. The distant tire patter over bumps would turn to a proper thump over transverse ridges, but it was something you heard rather than felt, and I regarded it as a nice reminder that this was an ultra-luxurious sports sedan, in the manner of a more substantial AMG-tuned Mercedes-Benz, rather than the opulent gentleman’s-club-on-wheels Phantom.
I was reminded of this, too, when I had the space to drive it hard, too, when the needles on the old-school dials started moving with a little more briskness. On the left, the “power reserve” gauge – nothing so vulgar as a rev counter, dahling – reflected the engine’s deep reserves of untroubledness. Gearchanges from the eight-speed were smooth even if the throttle remained buried in the carpet, but the ‘box did tend to worry itself unnecessarily. With 575lb-ft of torque available, there surely shouldn’t be many inclines you encounter on a SoCal so-cool cruise that should cause the car to drop below seventh.
The steering was not only light, it was so electric that it delivered zero feedback from the road, so it was a matter of faith predicting whether the front tires would grip and then visually confirming this at turn-in. Thankfully, it did behave predictably and body control was well contained considering the velocities involved in throwing a 5,500lb car through a 90-degree turn, and so I got somewhat accustomed to the steering with familiarity, but it was never instinctive.
Still, is there anything about a Rolls-Royce that’s instinctive to someone who drives mere cars, rather than automotive events? Probably not. Better just to savor what is on offer which is a squeak- and rattle-free, rock-solid interior that manages to feel airy thanks to the large sunroof that stretches back to the rear quarters.
Also admirable is how very different the interior of a Ghost is from a Phantom. Maybe that’s a reflection on their seven-year age difference, but I prefer to think of it as the difference between the Phantom appealing to the chauffeur-driven passenger and the Ghost putting more emphasis on the self-driving magnate.
No, like colleague Jason, I wasn’t convinced by the paint job, despite its Alp-conquering heritage, but it wasn’t the silver/blue that bugged me: it was the black wheels and black grille that seemed out of place, like the car had been modified by a tuning car expert who’d won the lottery. I’d also prefer to see more shapely headlights (although not the goggle-eyes of the Bentley Mulsanne).
But, honestly, my quibble over aesthetics begin and end there. From every angle, the shape of the Ghost shows its substance but disguises its size, like all the large classics such as the 1998-’05 Mercedes S-class W220, the first-gen Buick Riviera or the Bentley R-type Continental of the early ’50s.
It’s beyond me to even imagine having almost $400k to spend on a car, and the fact is that if I needed a car of this size and luxury, I would go for the “standard” Ghost, and then go through Hemmings and spend the remaining $130k on a couple of classic cars. But the 35 people who have landed themselves the Rolls-Royce Ghost Alpine Trials Centenary edition can rejoice in having a truly magnificent car, with an expensive layer of exclusivity built in. And I’m sure they’re just fine with that.