Here we have a true four-seat luxury boat for the road. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coup is a two-door, open-top version of the stately Rolls-Royce Phantom. Not that much shorter than the sedan and every bit as imposing, the DHC makes an impression that is inseparably linked to the nautical world. Through the swell and surf of the roads around Goodwood, England, home of the Rolls factory, we hold tight to an expensive mix of wood, leather, and chrome. The skipper, Rolls-Royce chairman Ian Robertson, is sailing his new yacht so close to the wind that the faces of his crew have turned a whiter shade of pale.
We're whooshing through Lord March's vast estate in a preproduction prototype, past his humble mansion house and down the famous Festival of Speed hill, avoiding the racetrack but not the bumpy, narrow roads. We hit drifting curtains of cold autumn drizzle, but the helmsman clearly has no intention of raising the top. Despite that, it's impossible not to enjoy this very special open-decker. We relish the near 50/50 weight distribution, the vaultlike double firewall, the cushy air suspension, and the cocooning effect of the massive body structure. Progress is brisk and incredibly smooth. The seamless six-speed automatic slices the torque cake with what feels like a magic wand. Almost inaudibly, the V-12 is ticking away like a giant Swiss watch. While the four-door Phantom is best appreciated from its wraparound rear seats, front-row tickets are preferable in the Drophead.
Although the Rolls softtop uses the familiar 453-hp, 6.8-liter V-12 instead of the monstrous 9.0-liter V-16 in the 100EX show car, it eclipses the Bentley in the 0-to-60-mph sprint: According to factory figures, the DHC takes 5.7 seconds versus the Azure's 5.9 seconds. As for top speed, the Rolls is limited to 149 mph, whereas the Bentley can run up to 168 mph.
Inside, this luxury cabriolet is surprisingly minimalistic for a Rolls-Royce. There is less wood than in the Phantom, the upholstery is simple and without superfluous stitching, and the floor mats are made of more durable sisal, not wool. With the roof up, the spacious, well-concealed rear seats are perfect for lovers--or for shady demimonde characters. The downside of this intimate atmosphere is that it creates two vast blind spots.
The rigid lid under which the folded top disappears is trimmed with more than thirty individual pieces of open-pore teak that need to be oiled to maintain their color. All of the teak used in any given vehicle comes from one and the same tree--as does the interior wood--and it can take up to a month to prepare, match, shape, and finish an individual set. More than 350 worker hours are needed to complete a Drophead Coup.
Entering the rear passenger compartment through the rear-hinged doors is not that difficult, but getting out requires practice and style. The double-A-pillar windshield is bound to hold up well in case this Rolls ever rolls, but the fat pillars impede vision. The pillars, hood, and bumpers of the base model, which is expected to cost well over $400,000 when it reaches the United States by September, will be painted in body color. The stainless steel seen here is optional, as are different inner-roof materials such as leather or mohair, more elaborate wood- and metalwork, extra chrome, and two-tone paint. The Drophead Coup also offers LED side lights, a version of iDrive, active rollover protection, and a hidden, nose-mounted camera that assists with parking or when pulling out of a side street. A split, double-hinged trunk lid facilitates tailgate parties, and the luggage compartment's capacity is eleven cubic feet whether the roof is up or down.