We drive to the relative seclusion of the Bois de Boulogne to familiarize ourselves with the attractions of the rear passenger compartment. Behind drawn curtains and under dimmed light, this would have been the perfect place for the phantom to seduce Christine. The ambience is a mixture of the east wing of Buckingham Palace and a villa straight from the pages of Architectural Digest. But even this splendid passenger compartment has its faults. The rear gates don't swing open wide enough, the distance between the seat and the sills is too vast, and the door opening has been cut a little too low. As a result, one needs to assume an uncomfortable crouched position before venturing to waddle more or less elegantly to an upright or seated position. A London taxi radiates only a fraction of the street cred, but is so much easier to climb into and out of than a Phantom.
When the sun and the moon get ready to change their guard, we start looking for a quiet spot off the Alle de Longchamp to hop in the back, raise the footrests, pop open a couple of Cokes, and watch Joel Schumacher's The Phantom of the Opera. The optional DVD-based entertainment system features two adjustable monitors housed in the backrests of the front seats. It's smooth and easy to operate, with good sound and a decent picture, but the two screens are a little too far away for short-sighted or impatient viewers. It is an entertaining film nonetheless, and we stay tuned in until the phantom and Christine sing their famous duet, which contains the line, "the bridge is crossed, so stand and watch it burn." This seemed like an apt cue to hit the road, find a rustic restaurant with an outsize parking lot, and consult an old-fashioned map for the pending night drive back to England.
The fact that Rolls-Royce builds only a few hundred of these mega-expensive luxoliners per year suggests that the general interest in factory-fresh, high-visibility, high-end motor cars is limited. If you want to be seen, if your wealth is an open secret, and if you're not too worried about kidnappers and terrorists, the Phantom makes a more impressive statement than anything but the Queen's Bentley or an armor-plated stretch limo. But these days, even the very rich tend to wear their furs inside out, specify their Rolex Daytonas in stainless steel, and take a cab to town. Although these people still have money to burn, they are wary of the extroverted opulence of such a big ship. That's why the company is talking about making a reincarnation of the Silver Shadow, which would sell for around $200,000 and go on sale in 2010. This would be a Rolls-Royce one can actually take to the opera-and park around the corner without leaving a minder behind.