2006 Rolls Royce Phantom Review


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2006 Rolls Royce Phantom

Gold Standard on the Gold Coast
Rolls Royce in Traverse City Michigan
From a Shunpiker’s Journal ©
By Steve Purdy

When the Rolls Royce folks called and said, “Wouldn’t you like to have a new Phantom for the weekend?” they didn’t have to ask a second time, though we had to negotiate which weekend I’d take her. I could have had it for my high school class reunion but I thought that might be a bit too ostentatious so I put it off for a week and cooked up a plan to take my pretty blonde and her Dad, Herb, to the Northwest Michigan resort area of Traverse City - the Gold Coast. Why is it called the Gold Coast? Because lots of people with lots of gold are relocating to these shores of Lake Michigan.

The Gold Coast begins at Traverse City where deep bays and lakes were gouged into the mainland by receding glaciers ten million years ago defining two dramatic peninsulas and dozens of pristine lakes. Harbor Springs on the north shore of Little Traverse Bay about 50 miles to the north defines the other end of the Gold Coast. The soils are sandy and the climate moderate, making the area perfect for the fruit growers who have tended this land for generations.

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Our ride, and the impetus for the trip, is the 2006 Rolls Royce Phantom, gold standard of no-compromise, money-is-no-object luxury cars. For over a hundred years Rolls Royce motor cars have been the choice of potentates and politicians, entertainers and entrepreneurs, the rich, the famous and the ostentatious. This weekend we’ll pretend we’re of that social class. Though I doubt anyone will be fooled.

You may know that BMW owns Rolls Royce and designed the new Phantom to be both classic and modern. Had that marriage not been made the brand may have gone away. In any event, it has been a wonderful relationship for both, in my view. The hundred-year-old Rolls Royce tradition of fine luxury automobiles continues uncompromised by gaining the finest German technology. For their part BMW can bask in the ambiance of the world’s most respected automotive marque. Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce would have approved.

The Phantom is built from the largest aluminum space frame in the automotive industry and weighs in at over 5,500 pounds. Considering its overall size, I guess that’s not so bad. I can immediately feel the quality of this automobile as we engage the unusual electric shift controller and back out of our crooked driveway. Influences by both Brits and Germans are apparent. Steering is leisurely but precise, turning radius exceptionally good for such a big car, and the feel, as you might guess, is silky.

In keeping with Shunpiker tradition we’ll take mostly back roads. For those who are driving to TC from southern Michigan you might want to try this route. Few know it but me.

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We take US 27 north from Lansing just long enough to get well acclimated to the controls and the nuances of this huge Rolls. Jon, the young man who delivered the car, walked me through most of the functions but there’s a lot to learn yet. Navigation and information are on a roll-away screen in the center of the elegant wood dash. On the other side of the roll-away panel is the traditional Rolls analog clock. Lots of buttons and controls are positioned so that the driver can’t read the symbol, but one would learn those after a short time with the car. Jon insists that this navigation/information system is less complicated than on the BMW 7-Series, but I’m finding it a bit cumbersome.

Something else the Phantom has in common with the 7-Series, we notice immediately, is the smooth, powerful V-12 engine. It reminds me of an old Jaguar 420 I had occasion to drive many years ago. Acceleration is effortless and astoundingly fast – zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds. That’s faster than a Porsche Boxter. Of the 531-lb.ft. of torque produced by this high-tech engine, 75% is available from 1,000 rpm on. Hence that low end silky acceleration.

At M-55 we leave the freeway behind in favor of the two-lanes. We head west on 25 miles of straight, wide, smooth road. Jon was right about the advisability of using the cruise control to avoid inadvertently going too fast. As you might imagine a big car this smooth can lure you into more speed than the local constabulary might find legitimate. My pretty blonde has her shoes off wiggling her toes in the deep lambs-wool floor mats. Herb is dozing peacefully way back in the rear seat. The back seats are, of course, remarkably generous and because of the rear-hinged doors (some call them suicide doors) they wrap around allowing passengers to easily face one another to make multi-million dollar business deals or discuss country club politics.

At Lake City we turn north on M-66 for just a few miles then west onto M-42 where we twist gently through a lovely valley of Christmas tree farms. One nicely banked, 90-degree bender gives us a feel for the sophisticated suspension. For such a big car there is minimal lean. I accelerate hard out of the bender and get just a little squeal out of the huge, 21-inch run-flat tires. A few miles down the road we stop for photos and I admire the proportions of this classic sedan. With virtually no front overhang, height exactly equal to twice the tire height, the looooong bonnet and vertical front end with classic Rolls grille, I don’t believe anyone could mistake it for anything but a Rolls Royce.

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At the little town of Manton we turn north onto old US-131. I love the little café in the middle of town, the Marry Inn. About a third of the tables are pushed into a long row. The locals call it the “community table” and anyone is welcome, even this motley journalist. James Earl Jones grew up not far from here and he’s due back in a few weeks to help raise money for the restoration of the old school where he attended when he was a young stutterer who became mute before a special teacher brought him out of it through drama. This I learned from a tablemate.

Every time we stop in the Rolls, someone wants to chat about this rare machine. Something over 700 were built in 2005 and about half of production comes to the US. The only car I’ve driven that got more attention was the raucous Red Hummer H1 I had a few years ago in the Mojave Desert. In Manton it was a young man, very knowledgeable about cars, on a bicycle who speculated there probably never has been a Rolls Royce in this little town.

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Just north of Manton the old road meets the new road and a few miles further US-131 crosses the Manistee River. Shortly after that, just as the main road curves a bit east, we cut due north onto Fife Lake Road where we stop to photograph the shapely new Rolls again at the lovely restored old Union Township Hall, where I’ve photographed many other special cars. A few miles further we turn west onto Supply Road. This is our Shunpiker’s reward where the road gets more narrow and twisty, and it will take us all the way to Traverse City through heavy forests with small, unpopulated lakes along the way.

Our first views of the Traverse Bays (there are two of them here, the East Bay and the West Bay) are always a thrill, no matter how many times we see them. We’re onto Front Street in no time. Our base for this short visit is the 120-room Bayshore Resort, near the edge of Downtown TC on the shore of the West Bay. Our room on the third (top) floor has a small balcony, directly under which the sandy beach is packed with resort guests on this balmy August Saturday afternoon. Our gracious host, Roger Funkhouser, notes that the Bayshore is one of the first large resorts that became an entirely ‘no-smoking’ facility. Most of the rooms face the big water for spectacular views.

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The Bayshore is within easy walking distance of downtown and the city park where a zoo and live steam train have entertained tourists and homies for many years. Next door is the Culinary Arts Institute and the Maritime Academy, both unusual and highly respected institutes. Visitors who like to walk could spend lots of time exploring on foot from the Bayshore. But we’re here in a Rolls, so we’ll drive everywhere.

We’ll begin to get a feel for how someone with deep enough pockets to own a Rolls might fit into the Gold Coast atmosphere by dining at the Tatoria Stella, the newest and most interesting Italian restaurant in the area. Built in the lower level (we might have at one time called it a dungeon) of the old State Hospital (read, insane asylum) built in the late 1800s and only abandoned in the 1980s. The lower level was the morgue of this historic complex. The State Hospital is comprised of dozens of buildings built with beautiful blonde-colored local Greilickville brick. The floor above the restaurant was originally cement with drains built in and iron rings on the walls. Yes, there probably are ghosts in these buildings. Trattoria Stella and the adjoining art gallery occupy just one small section of the 388,000-square-foot main building of the hospital. The food was great and not too pricy, though everything was ala carte. The Stella features locally grown foods and the heirloom tomatoes were as good as my late father used to grow, that is, amazingly good.

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The old State Hospital and grounds are being restored, redeveloped and renewed. It’s the largest ‘adaptive reuse’ project in the US, I’m told, and that’s a whole other big story. We’ll tell that story another time.

Again, every time we stop someone wants to talk about the car. I wonder if all Rolls owners have that problem or am I just more approachable. We cruise through downtown and we garner big smiles and double-takes. What an attention getter. My pretty blonde wanted to stop at the famous

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Kilwyn’s Chocolate store so I had to parallel park the Rolls on Front Street. Many years ago I was a city bus driver and learned then how to park a 40-foot bus. It took all those vaguely remembered skills to ease the 19-foot long rolls into a 20-foot space. We trigger the door locks and the graceful hood ornament, known formally as “The Spirit of Ecstasy” slips into her trap door and disappears.

Now, where else would a Rolls owner go if he and/or she were exploring Traverse City. My guess is a nice drive up the Old Mission Peninsula, between the bays, to look for a home that would be in an appropriate price range. A Rolls owner might be able to afford a place on the peninsula.

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We loaded up my pretty blonde’s brother, a Traverse City architect, and sister-in-law and we all headed up the Peninsula. While the ladies were admiring the lush leather and wood surrounding them as well as the wool and cashmere headliner, the boys were admiring the specs: 453 horsepower, 4-valves-per-cylinder, variable valve timing, run-flat tires, and way cool suicide rear doors. RR calls them “coach doors.” We all admire the full-sized umbrella in each rear door, the floating hubcaps that keep the RR logo upright all the time, and the beautiful wood “picnic tables” that fold out gracefully from the back of each of the front seats.

If one were lucky enough to find a building lot on the water around anywhere along the Old Mission Peninsula it would probably cost around a half million dollars. It’s apparent that many of the homes along here are of such a value that a Rolls Royce owner might be comfortable with one.

Not Jack and April Lardie’s home, though. They have a modest older home that April’s father built with a great view across the Cliff Road from the water about a third of the way up the peninsula. The lawn is

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filled with their collections of antique outhouses, bedsteads, and dozens of scarecrow figures dressed as everything from a country band to a girl on a bike. All these wonderful displays are adorned with flower gardens and collectibles, all presided over by a big old yellow cat. Some neighbors have complained about the Lardie’s aesthetic sense but they didn’t get anywhere. We stopped in to see the collection thinking that he was selling antiques. He wasn’t, but he liked the Rolls, and we liked his stuff. I said, “I’ll bet you thought I was a rich guy, didn’t you?” He nodded. “Boy is that far from the truth,” I revealed as I explained our mission to evaluate the car.

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We drove along the water then back to highway M-37 going right along the spine of the peninsula. At more than a half dozen successful wineries with their own vineyards compliment the remaining cherry, apple and peach orchards. Both are increasingly encroached upon by beautiful homes.

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At the tip of the peninsula Old Mission Point Lighthouse and the little town of Old Mission, where the General Store dates back to 1839, represent the oldest settlement in northern lower Michigan, The store’s creaky wooden floor was just replaced in 1890 so it’s in pretty good shape. We had an ice cream on the porch while tourists and locals came and went.

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Our time with the Rolls was spent all too soon. I may now be spoiled for any other luxury car. I just love the feel of powerful silky elegance behind the wheel. I could probably be content to be some rich guy’s chauffer if it came to that. My passengers raved about the accommodations, with the exception of the rear seat center passenger who found that position a bit hard and high. The acres of wood veneer and fine leather, the thoughtful touches, the German technology and the British ambiance combine for a driving experience that makes it worth every penny of the three-hundred-fifty-grand price tag.

That is, if your net worth is approaching 8-figures . . . to the left of the decimal.

www.bayshore-resort.com
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