Friday, March 1, 2024

Rolls-Royce – Experiencing the extraordinary – Portugal Resident

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I went to Norway to drive the best cars in the world on snow and ice. Yes, I am afraid you have many reasons to be jealous.

I remember when I started writing about cars for Essential Lisboa and Essential Algarve magazines back in 2009, how I thought everything about this motoring writing world was incredible. The trips abroad, the launches at five-star hotels, driving super-expensive cars, sometimes on closed roads … it was a dream for a 25-year-old.

Sometimes I heard the guys who had been doing it forever complain about the size of the hotel spa or the amount of Michelin-star-quality food they were being served and, to me, they were just crazy old fools – I mean, come on, this was the life.

Cars, hotels, planes, seeing the world … I really enjoyed it for a couple of years. And then my daughter was born. And suddenly being away was not the same responsibility-free experience it once had been.

To make matters worse – or better, depending on perspective – I had a second child. And I got older too (go figure), more grown-up; new projects came along, new challenges and, although I never stopped writing about the automobile, I just didn’t find the launches as glamourous as they once were, and I positively hated the idea of having to spend endless hours at airports.

As time passed, I started to have less and less time for them and, by starting to decline invitations, I started to get less invitations as a result. Which brings us to 2023, where I really only travel for something related to my work as a motoring writer if something truly special comes along.

Like, maybe, driving the Rolls-Royce range in the snow? In Norway? On a frozen lake? Yes, something like that.

Now, you may think that it could never be as good as it sounds, and you’d be right. Not! Just kidding. You’d be wrong. It was better than it sounds.

Driving around in a €700,000 mega-luxury car is not something I do every day. Nor having access to a frozen lake, where the nice people from RR have laid out tracks in the snow for you to play in. Boring this was not.

Rolls-Royce on Ice

I flew from Lisbon to Oslo – yes there is a direct, four-hour flight – and, at the airport, I got a nice little Phantom at my disposal for the three-hour drive to Hemsedal. Okay, the Phantom is neither nice nor little – it is absurdly luxurious and just plain enormous, and I must confess to having only been driven in one before; I had never sat at the wheel.

But hey, driving hundreds of cars throughout the years does give you some confidence in your abilities and I put on my best ‘don’t-worry-I’ve-got-this’ face and pulled out of the car park as if this was your regular Fiat 500.

For the three days I spent driving the most prestigious cars in the world around southern Norway, I don’t remember seeing a motorway. The road network is so different from ours, and speed limits taken so seriously you have to maybe double the time you need to get anywhere. Add the snow and the ice and, well, every journey is a scenic drive – also because Norway, obviously, is like a live Christmas postcard in the middle of winter.

Once you settle into the Phantom and start treating it like a car and not like an expensive moving villa, you start to appreciate what makes it, well, probably the best car ever made in terms of luxury, engineering integrity and just the search for absolute quality in every aspect of the product.

This is the eighth generation of the name Phantom in RR’s history and the second of what we may refer to as the modern era, under the banner of the BMW Group. Now, for as unique and as supreme as the first BMW-owned Phantom was, rivals (if we can call them that really) always seemed to want to link both brands more than they were actually tied together – at least in terms of component-sharing.

Therefore, for this new Phantom, RR decided to develop an all-new, own platform that will be used in every future model, including the upcoming pure-electric Spectre. This platform has a name: Architecture of Luxury. I kid you not. No point in hiding what it is you really do, I guess.

Rolls-Royce on Ice

It’s not that Rolls-Royce want to eliminate BMW from their vocabulary; they just don’t want people saying their cars are elongated 7-Series with nicer leather inside.

I think they needn’t worry too much about it. Anyone who thinks that has surely never sat in one, and the fact RR have set a new record for sales and revenue in 2022 shows the marque’s customers are clearly a world away from those concerns. The average new Rolls-Royce price last year topped half a million dollars and they sold 6,021 of them.

Anyway, back to my Phantom. It’s like you are traveling in a different dimension. The size of the car, the materials your eyes focus on and your hands touch, the way the car deals with the road, it’s something very unusual and makes you wonder how a thing that still has four wheels, one at each corner, a bunch of metal connecting them and a device burning fuel up front can feel so different from all others.

As a 2.8-tonne, 5.8m long symbol of wealth, the Phantom could just be a bit too much, but it isn’t. It’s perfect. It’s why Rolls-Royce is going full electric. They have reached perfection. There is nothing more to improve, so the time has come to try a different approach. I am sure history books, when they describe the end of the combustion engine 100 years from now, will splash a V12 Phantom on their pages and say: this was it – peak technology of the early 21st century.

Rolls-Royce on Ice

I drove the Phantom through dry roads, wet roads, icy roads and roads with so much snow covering them a Portuguese person will never see the likes of inside our own borders. And the Roller made it all look totally effortless.

We made it to Hemsedal by late afternoon, meaning complete darkness and -8 degrees. The Skarsnuten Hotel sits at the top of the village, with a direct view towards the ski tracks. Nice dinner and time for bed, as we had to leave at 08:00 for the lake.

Lake Golsfjellet is a beautiful destination for weekenders in the warmer months and a playground for car-loving nuts in the winter, as well as a test facility for Norway police to assess their drivers’ abilities in such conditions.

Onto the briefing and … first question: is the ice thick enough for an almost 3-tonne car moving at close to 100km/h? Well, as it turns out, yes. At the time, the Golsfjellet had 60cm of frozen ice on its surface. An armoured war tank would need 40cm to cross it, so I guess we were fine.

This time I got to drive a Ghost too. Smaller, if not small, than the Phantom, I am struggling to find the words to express how much fun it is to slide it around on snow without any constraints. Get it right and it’s a riot. Get it wrong … and just try again – no consequences, no danger of dents, scratches, or damages whatsoever to the car. It’s like you are 10-years-old again and playing football with your mates – but the pitch is a frozen lake and the ball is a 700,000€ Rolls-Royce.

For almost three hours, I knew I was doing something I would not forget, and I made the most of it. Totally unnecessary yes, but totally awesome, nonetheless.      After lunch and a lot more driving through white mountain roads, the group got to experience dog-sleighing and it is, at least, just as fun as driving a RR, I tell you.

Rolls-Royce on Ice

Those dogs have been bred for 200 years to run and they can do it for 200km – non-stop. Yes, you read that right: 200km. Amazing animals, totally devoted to their owners and trained to perfection. I had never been so cold in my life, riding the sleigh through trees and frozen plains, but it was absolutely worth it. Norway, I love you.

On the last day, I took a Cullinan from Hemsedal to the airport. What can I say? I want to hate it, but I can’t. It’s not the prettiest thing ever made, but it’s so good, so inexplicably good, I will shut up about its looks from now on.

Not sure I will ever drive a Rolls-Royce on snow and ice ever again. It was quite something. And I don’t even have to make an effort to write objective words: these are the best cars in the world, engineered like nothing else and the very epitome of luxury. Not a matter of opinion, in my opinion, so impartiality is not an issue here. That doesn’t mean everyone likes them, which is actually a good thing. That would make them less interesting.

Rolls-Royce themselves say their cars are beyond opulence. They’re something else. No rivals, no competition. If you want and have the means to buy one, you don’t consider another car. And why would you, really?

They are magical things. And so powerful is the idea of a Rolls-Royce that they become something more than a car. Something more than a product a company is selling.

On the plane back, I picked up my notebook and I wrote these five words: a definition of the possible. That’s what a RR is to me.


Guilherme Marques

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