For over 100 years, Rolls-Royce has made some of the most impressive, opulent, and exclusive cars the world has ever seen. It’s the only automaker left who can still refer to its lineup as “motor cars” and (for the most part) not get laughed out of a room. The “entry-level” Roller, the Ghost, starts at around $300,000 – but as any self-respecting owner knows, you never buy a “standard” Rolls-Royce, you have it tailored to meet your needs. Clients spend up to a year working closely working with the factory in Goodwood to build a car up to their standards, using one of Rolls’ four models simply as a template for a car as bespoke as your Saville Row suits.
For those discerning clients who need to spend a small fortune quick and can’t bear the thought that anyone could have a car even remotely similar to theirs, Rolls-Royce also has a number of one-off special edition cars. This year alone, you could buy Wraith coupes that were Inspired by Film, Inspired by Music, Inspired by Fashion, or were a History of Rugby. These cars had a two-door body just like regular old Wraiths. They had the same eight cow hides worth of leather, the same rear-hinged doors, and the same 624 horsepower V12 too, only they were one hell of a lot more expensive.
The way Rolls announces these models is usually more than enough to put the late Bugatti Veyron and its 20-plus special edition versions to shame too. If you’re ever looking for something unbelievably British to pass the time, but you’re sick of Stephen Fry, and already know all of Monty Python’s Flying Circus by heart, then try reading some Rolls Royce press releases.
You’ll read about how for that high-six figure sum, you can get a car that’s “… keeping with the pioneering inspiration behind the game of rugby and Rolls-Royce” (The History of Rugby), one that proves “Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has contributed to the myth and legend of the contemporary music scene since the birth of Rock & Roll” (Inspired by Music), is “Akin to commissioning a fine suit or elegant piece of couture,” (Inspired by Fashion), uses “contemporary interpretations of furniture design combined with Japanese Royal robe motifs” (Phantom Serenity), or promises to deliver “The early-day chill of dawn provides an erotic tingle on the skin, awakening the senses and passions as the day begins” (Dawn Drophead). Seriously, someone should collect all of these and put them into a book. They just need to make sure John Cleese is available to read them for the Audiobook version.
With the sheer amount of PR Rolls-Royce usually devotes to these special edition cars, you’ll have to forgive us for missing one. But the company recently posted photos of a bespoke Phantom sedan on its Facebook page that was built last year to celebrate the opening of its first dealership in Hanoi. Called the Sacred Fire, it never reached our radar the first time around. It probably wouldn’t be worth mentioning – it didn’t even get a snooty official press release – except for one thing. It has “DONG SON” written in gilded letters on the dashboard. In other words: It has the word “dong” written on its dashboard.
Now that you know the maturity level of your average unenlightened auto scribe, this fact is notable for two reasons. One, the last time we saw the word “dong” written on a dashboard was in high school, when it was scrawled in Sharpie across the dash (among other words and illustrations) of a 1991 Ford Escort. And two, the Dong Son culture was a proud, ancient Vietnamese culture that thrived from around 700 BC to the first century AD, and according to Wikipedia “were skilled at cultivating rice, keeping water buffalos and pigs, fishing and sailing in long dugout canoes.” What this has to do with a half-million dollar car built in Britain by a German-owned company in the 21st century is anyone’s guess. We’re just excited to see Rolls-Royce acknowledging the important roles indigenous cultures played in developing civilization, and can’t wait to see what Rolls’ odes to the Clovis people, the Sumerians, and the Vandals will look like.
In an era when Nissan gets skewered for calling its future target audience “Share Natives,” and showing an Xbox controller on wheels and Chevy gets lampooned for launching its new Cruze with an emoji press release, Rolls-Royce’s unchained automotive ego is generally met with little more than a shrug and an eye-roll. Why? Because it’s Rolls-Freaking-Royce. It’s the Donald Trump of the automotive world. Its statements are equal parts bluster and bullshit, but at the end of the day it gets away with it because it’s got the bank account to back it up — and plenty of people wanting to buy in.
The big difference between Rolls-Royce and The Donald is, of course, the likability factor. It’s hard to find much fault with any Roller, and frankly, we’d rather have a long-wheelbase Phantom parked in the Oval Office for the next four-to-eight years than His Orangeness. Besides, at the end of the day, these special edition cars are still incredible machines that are more expensive than, and will probably outlast most new suburban houses. We just couldn’t resist taking some of the starch out of your shirt, Rolls. Please don’t be afraid to send some press cars our way.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.