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Saying Goodbye to the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

A cruise to Monterey in a symbol of prestige that’s had its day in the sun

Jonathon Kleinwriter, photographer

During our "farewell tour" with the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, my wife and I learned that you do not pootle, ramble, trek, or mosey in a Rolls-Royce. It's unbecoming, both to you and the car's luxurious lineage. And after wafting over 850 miles of California's labyrinthine Pacific Coast Highway to Pebble Beach, the Phantom felt as if it would be more at home as a ship in the Pacific than socializing with the plebian land-bound Toyota Camrys of the world.

Before BMW bought Rolls-Royce in 1998 the marque was in a decayed state, similar to what had befallen many of its previous customers—the British monarchy and the globe's various dictators. The Phantom's reintroduction returned prestige to Rolls-Royce and set off a new arms race in the luxury world, with ripples still felt in cars like the Mercedes-Maybach S600.

Back to now, though. The little bayside town of Monterey, California, drips of understated excess; it's famous not only because of the area's world-class golf courses, multi-million dollar homes, and spectacular vistas but also for the annual Concours d'Elegance. Close to a half-billion dollars in automobiles are sold there each year, and the style and elegance this place exudes still shows, as does the Phantom's blue-blood tendencies.

So quickly did the Phantom give us delusions of grandeur that when we passed Hearst Castle—where "prohibitively expensive" had no meaning to its builder—our first reaction was, "You know, we should try to live in a castle someday. " Our man Robert Cumberford put it best, saying it was "the ultimate conveyance for the 1 percent." That's how we felt, even though our bank balance definitely didn't reflect our surroundings. As much as we want the Phantom to be a beacon of those days when style, grace, and an upper-crust air defined the British firm, however, Hearst Castle and castles in general no longer cater wholly to Rolls owners.

The Phantom Coupe -- and indeed all Rolls-Royces -- don't have the "1 percenter" exclusivity they once had, even though this particular Phantom Coupe carries an astonishing price tag of $587,975. Rolls-Royce has become a company that caters to new-money clientele; see its latest matte black and "performance oriented" Black Badge offerings as evidence. This new-ish fact of life wasn't apparent to the clerks checking us into our hotel. When I told them we drove a Rolls, they laughed hysterically. In an amusing turnabout, their laughter stopped when I slapped the car's keys on the counter. Baller.

Apologetic hotel clerks aside, even though these cars now appear in more rap videos than castle courtyards, Rolls-Royce's lavishness hasn't diminished. The seats in the Phantom Coupe, for instance, prompted genuine fears of falling asleep at the wheel. "Transcendent" isn't an adequate adjective. The warmth provided by the heated seats in conjunction with its sumptuous leather, the seat cushioning, and the actual lamb's wool carpets are all beyond description.

Even in moneyed Monterey, the Phantom Coupe turns heads. Its aircraft carrier presence is felt in actual size and intangible impact. People whispered to one another, pointed, took pictures, gave us a thumbs-up, or, when they saw how young we were, flipped us the bird. This is a power car, a middle finger to the struggling middle-class, and you can't help but sense others' disgust. "Don't you know who we are?" was perhaps the most-repeated phrase during our trip, though we were joking, of course. The biggest commotion, however, was caused whenever the Spirit of Ecstasy lowered or rose from inside the grill. That had everyone, including us, smiling.

Where the Phantom Coupe splits the difference between its old and new persona is in possibly the best audio system I have ever heard. Old money and older buyers aren't necessarily known for requiring a banging stereo, but new money expects such things. With the Bespoke Lexicon Logic 7 system's 600-watt amp, 15 tweeters, and two bass speakers housed in a 16-liter acoustic chamber under the Phantom's floor, the setup is an audiophile's dream. Whether I played hip-hop or classical music, the system had crystal-clear fidelity and warmth. The surround sound envelops you in a stadium atmosphere so realistic that during a few tracks, I could have sworn we were in the studio with the artist.

The massive anachronistic rear-hinged doors, on the other hand, quickly remind you of Rolls-Royce's sense of heritage. I'm not sure why the feeling of closing a door matters, but it does, and there's satisfaction in hearing the Phantom doors open and close with a bank-vault-clunk. The doors close with a push of a button, because physically exerting yourself is too pedestrian. Suicide, er, sorry, "coach" doors do take time getting used to; my wife and I went to the rear of the door countless times looking for the handle.

Sadly, our time with the Phantom wasn't capped by a massive Gatsby-esque party at Hearst Castle with celebrities, Rolls-Royces aplenty, and all the Dalmore 64 Trinitas and beluga caviar we could get our hands on. As we left Monterey, however, the superfluous luxury of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe had rejuvenated us after a long week. The Phantom will soon also feel refreshed when the next generation arrives in 2018, though Rolls says there will not be a next-generation Phantom Coupe, so this is the last of its breed. Even though its luxury is already over the top, the car's age shows a bit when you drive it back to back with its Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible stablemate.

Still, we wonder: In terms of creature comforts, how will Rolls-Royce improve on its indulgent formula for the next Phantom? Using real diamonds to make the Starlight headliner truly sparkle might be a good place to start.

2016 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $438,325/587,975 (base/as-tested)
Engine: 6.75L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve V-12/453 hp @ 5,350 rpm, 531 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
Transmission:  8- speed automatic
Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA Mileage: 11/19 city/hwy
L x W x H: 220.9 x 78.2 x 62.9 in
Wheelbase: 130.7 in
Weight: 5,795 lb
0-60 MPH: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph