A line of cypress trees marches to the horizon in perfectly ordered ranks, defining the borders of this dusty Tuscan trail. In the middle distance, a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coup broods, roof up, on the side of the road. It is covered with a thick coat of blond Tuscan dust, and when the driver finally twists the key, the dual exhausts kick up a roiling swirl of talcum-fine dirt. Rarely in my experience has a car come to life with such drama, both figuratively and literally.
And as automotive drama goes, there isn't a car on the planet that can match this Rolls. First of all, forget what your eyes are telling you as you gaze upon these images--in the flesh and up close, the Phantom Drophead is much, much bigger than it appears in pictures. It's a shade under nineteen feet long, and it weighs in at a colossal 5776 pounds. The Drophead Coup is based on the massive Phantom sedan, although it is shorter by 9.8 inches. It also weighs about 155 pounds more than the sedan, thanks to extra chassis bracing that makes up for the absent roof.
Visually, the Drophead is distinguished by the teak deck covering the convertible roof and the stainless-steel-finished hood and windshield surround. These are offered as a $17,000 option in place of a painted finish.
Your entry to this extraordinary conveyance is suitably dramatic, too. Suicide doors on a series-production two-door convertible haven't been seen since the 1950s, and the Drophead's are spectacularly effective. They open with massive chromed handles that would be more at home on a commercial-grade meat locker, and they allow for the most gracious of entries and exits. The doors are enormously heavy, though, which means the electric closing mechanism is a very welcome detail. Even better, the Rolls-Royce's doors actually close at the speed you'd want them to if you were doing it manually.
Once inside, you are in a world of exquisite detail that makes the staggering $412,000 price seem (slightly) less breathtaking. As you climb in over the wide sill, you'll encounter the aluminum knob of the umbrella that resides inside the fender. And there are chrome highlights just about everywhere, even on the seat tracks. In a reversal of common mass-production standards, even the surfaces that you can't see--such as the inside of the center console--are covered in the finest butter-soft leather. As in the sedan, there's a switch in the glove box that lowers the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot into the grille, a process that's hugely amusing.
The basic cabin ergonomics, however, are initially a bit baffling. The controls for adjusting the seats, for example, are located in a compartment in the center armrest, which means your passenger has to move his arm if you want to adjust your seat. The seat-heater control is hidden down the side of the same console. And minor controls can be difficult to locate and decipher. "We wanted to reduce clutter as much as possible, to make the car feel more like a home environment," says engineering director Helmut Riedl. "In some cars, the owner wants to show off all of the features, to see all of the controls, but that's not so important for the Rolls-Royce owner." Indeed.
Under that vast metallic-finished hood, the Drophead employs the Phantom sedan's 453-hp V-12 turning a six-speed automatic. BMW, Rolls-Royce's parent, donated its 6.0-liter V-12 as a starting point. To provide the torque required of a proper Rolls and as a nod to heritage, BMW increased the engine's displacement to 6.75 liters to match that of Rolls-Royce's previous long-serving V-8.
This mighty V-12 really does suit the Rolls. With 75 percent of engine power available from only 1000 rpm, the car's throttle response is relaxed but potent--0 to 60 mph is achieved in just 5.7 seconds, according to the factory, and the top speed is limited to 149 mph. With a shorter wheelbase than its sedan sibling, the Drophead turns in with a bit more agility, but this car does not by any stretch provide a sporting experience.
The most impressive thing about driving the Rolls isn't the performance, though. It is the near total absence of cowl shake, the bane of many convertibles. That rigidity is partly due to the triangulated A-pillar, which runs right down to the floor. Less impressive is the intrusive wind buffeting that affects even front-seat occupants, but with the five-layer fabric roof up, this Rolls is as silent and refined as any luxury car.
But this Rolls is also unlike any other car on the road. And significantly, the Drophead Coup more accurately captures the spirit of Rolls-Royce than any of that company's efforts in the last four decades. Yes, this is a real Rolls-Royce, and it's all the more glorious for that.