Noise Vibration and Harshness

The Grapes of Wraith

Rolling down to spring training in a proper British motorcar

Spring is surely meant to have sprung by now. But as I write, New York has just been treated—freakishly, fiendishly—to its second April snowstorm. So I needn’t dwell on why it already seemed like a good idea back in blowy March to drive all the way down to Florida with my spring-breaking 9-year-old son to catch some spring training Pittsburgh Pirates games in the hot sun.

Alas, the Sunshine State proved wanting for warmth, with down jackets (not packed) required for night games. Against this ignominy, however, we had persuaded Rolls-Royce to loan us its vast coupe, the Wraith, for the 2,000-mile drive, which, beginning in New York City, would burn through several states then take in parts of the Carolinas and Georgia before hitting the Gulf Coast and the ballparks of west central Florida. We’d end in Miami six days after we set out, four games the richer.

Traveling great distances is the best test of a hyper-luxury automobile’s ability to cosset and protect you over the miles. As a lover of old cars, it’s true, I wouldn’t be averse to carving up all that blacktop in an old Peugeot or Humber Super Snipe. But give me a modern 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce, and I will make do. You can cover a couple hundred miles in anything. But long stints on the interstate are where big, fancy cars really ought to shine. It’s where you get to overlook your luxury car’s dimensional immensity and focus not just on its climate-controlled opulence but also on its road manners, which should be both stately and sporty, engaging you in your drive yet sparing you from its worst elements. Driving joy is the great differentiator among all cars, and it’s the job in building a hyper-luxury car that I most care be done right.

The rarefied vehicle’s other inevitable task—engendering a queasy admixture of desire and jealousy among those not able to afford such grand conveyance—is easy to observe but prone on occasion to making one feel uncomfortable. Such is the price of scientific inquiry, I recalled, the moment it dawned on me that I was the only one that day driving a $401,925 Rolls through the decaying streets of Petersburg, Virginia, looking for something to eat. The burble of the car’s 624-horsepower 6.6-liter all-aluminum V-12 engine, Black Diamond over Deep Emerald finish with seashell hides, and $76,575 worth of options did little to bring it down to earth among the profusion of beater Pontiacs, boarded-up food markets, and payday loan outfits we spied out of the Wraith’s tinted and double-glazed windows.

Manufacturers are traditionally loath to burn a couple thousand miles into the odometer of any brand-new car, much less one that dwells in the economic stratosphere. The miles are reflected in instantly diminished resale value, and you can subtract value in five-digit increments when it comes to the mileage-related depreciation of expensive automobiles. So thank you Rolls-Royce for going with us on this one. Along with my dedicated research associates, son Milo and college buddy Richard Hart, whom we collected in Durham, North Carolina, on our way down, I appreciated the fieldwork, which advanced our study of the luxury arts and sciences immeasurably, we believe.

The Wraith looks handsome from some angles and odd from others, but it’s undeniably imposing from all. Our first day’s drive, slightly more than 500 miles, brought us to the woods of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the home of Lauren Bromley and Eric Hodge. Along the way, the 5,500-pound coupe instilled an abiding sense of serenity, its plus-sized length (more than 20 feet) and girth shrinking away as I grew comfortable at its controls. The many bespoke Rolls-Royce interior touches always conspire to charm, separating the car, along with unique bodywork, further from its BMW relations. Meanwhile, light steering aside, its capable chassis, prepared for big speed, reminded us that the German connection pays dividends best enjoyed while hustling. A degree of body movement is evident in abrupt transitions, but overall weight is well controlled, especially at speed. Huge wheels and tires do make for more fuss over low-speed bumps than I prefer; however, these days, what is the choice?

The next morning Milo was surprised to hear our previous night’s host as he came through the Wraith’s 600-watt, 10-channel amplifier and 16 speakers with subwoofers. But because we adults knew Eric heads in at 4 a.m. every day to host the morning drive show on WUNC, the local NPR affiliate, it was more along the lines of a welcome treat, except for the part forecasting cold rain possibly turning to snow.

A few hundred miles down the road, the sun was back when a planned lunch stop took us to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. Matt Lee, writer (with brother Ted) of Southern cookbooks and co-proprietor of a local specialty food mail-order business, would join us here for the trip’s most memorable meal, a seafood feast at The Obstinate Daughter.

Here, Lee explained how the island in Charleston Harbor, a bridge ride from the city, had long ago served as a landing station for arriving Africans, an Ellis Island of sorts for as many as 360,000 people who didn’t choose to come to America, but came in chains. It is a sobering thought as we pile back into our sparkly Wraith after lunch and summon the huge, rear-hinged doors. Electrically controlled by a button near the big coupe’s mighty A-pillar, they close with a sophisticated thud, shutting out the world but not the past.

Florida has seen its share of Wraiths since the car’s 2014 introduction, though we’d only pass one this trip, a silver steed headed in the opposite direction, near Longboat Key. We spent a night there after an afternoon watching the Pirates go down in flames to the hapless Phillies. The city plays host to the Pirates’ Grapefruit League home field, LECOM Park. The former McKechnie Field, it dates back to 1923.

In 2017, it was renamed after the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. No offense, but why does a school of osteopathy acquire naming rights at a small baseball park in Florida? Musta been awfully cheap.

Looking on the bright side, there’s nothing this year’s Pirates team lacks that mightn’t be remedied by improvement in the areas of pitching, hitting, and fielding. The Rolls-Royce Wraith, on the other hand, already has all the tools it needs to succeed.