For our Summer holidays my extended family rented a large farm house in the Dordogne at which we were all to gather. Having a Rolls-Royce Phantom V in stock, I thought to myself what better car to take? We duly fired it up, loaded a 10 day supply of luggage & took the overnight ferry to St Malo. The following day we drove south at a steady 80 mph for a couple of hundred miles before pulling up at a splendid Chateau to meet friends for a gourmet lunch. The Phantom was in its element, pulling up to the front doors as if “to the manor born”. Obsequious staff & flunkies poured forth to minister to our every need & we were afforded a free room to shower, change & generally refresh ourselves prior to sitting down to lunch. I instructed the Maitre D’ to retrieve the twin drinks decanters from the Phantom & replenish them with something suitable. Pernod in one & Armagnac in the other as it turned out. After a sumptuous lunch we remounted & headed on south.
Driving a Phantom long distance is an experience in itself. The car is simply vast, so great care is needed when manoeuvering. Once on the road & up to speed it wafts one down the road with an unstoppable feeling, but one is aware of the mass of the car. The steering is of course finger tip light, effectively masking the several tons of metal hurtling down the road. These were built to be chauffeur driven, but the front is not an unpleasant place to be & really quite decent compared to many pre war cars with divisions, where the front is impossibly cramped. Brakes are effective & with good feel at speed, but one does need to leave larger gaps then normal. The brakes are servo driven but the servo is idle when the car is not moving giving one an un-nerving feeling of no brakes when at standstill or just creeping forwards. I believe the Rolls-Royce rationale at the time was that if the car is stopped, what does one need powerful brakes for??? This particular car had just had a full leather re-trim so the cabin was a lovely place to be. The engine is a V8 displacing 6.2 litres & is a paragon of unruffled smoothness, never lacking in go, & able to move the car in a slightly unseemly manner if called upon to do so. On a long D road straight it was called to do so only to have a quartet of Gendarmes leap out with a radar gun & signal us to an ignominious & expensive halt, rubbing their collective hands in glee at their recent catch. Drinks from the bar were declined & entente cordiale was only restored after two 100 Euro notes changed hands.
During the course of the holidays, the Phantom was used as a general charabanc for carting up to 8 family members around. First up in the morning was a run to the local boulangerie artisanale where “La Rolls-Royce Enorme” was filled with sufficient baguettes, pains au chocolat & croissants to feed 20. Morning & afternoon it was used for gentle touring 8 up to visit the local sights. Its final trip of the day was generally out to a suitable restaurant of which there are many in the Dordogne. One lunch time I took my wife & daughter to a local chateau for a 1 star michelin 4 plate nosh. The Phantom parked out front & slightly grubby was washed & valeted by the Chateau’s gardener unasked whilst we dined. He would not take a single sou for it, but did accept a glass of the Armagnac from the bar in payment. Imagine such a thing happening in England? It would have been outside of the job description, contravening health & safety, & not possible due to no risk assessment. Have we gone mad over here???
The Phantom was much admired by all who saw it. People from the local town’s mayor down to humble peasants would come over to marvel at it, sit in it & generally poke & prod it. Drinks from the bar were dispensed at each stop to the local populace earning the car the sobriquet of “The Phantom Arms.” The French seem to have a joie de vivre about such things & a lack of envy that we Brits would do well to emulate. The French themselves of course have many faults, but knowing how & when to drink & how to make cheese are not among them!
Our last night was spent at a rustic watermill prior to loading the car & driving straight through to Caen. The Phantom consumed fuel in prodigious amounts doing about 13 or so to the gallon. It liked to drink about a litre of oil every 1000 miles which was to be expected of a 100,000 mile plus V8 working reasonably hard. The car ran absolutely faultlessly & never for a moment did it give any indication that it might “fail to proceed.” A testament to the legend & the company that made it. This particular car was coach built with an aluminium body by Park Ward. The back roof line is very high making for a spacious interior & (one assumes) the ability to wear a crown when sitting in the back. Putting the division up was enough to muffle the snoring noises coming from the rear. It was of course produced in the auspicious year of 1962; The same year that gave birth to me!!!