As the successor to the coveted Silver Ghost, Rolls-Royce buyers had high expectations for the original Phantom. When it was brought to market in 1925, the Phantom had no problems living up to the high standards of its intended customers. It was an excellent car of unrivaled quality that continued the traditions of Rolls-Royce while introducing a name that would eventually carry the company into a new century.
The latest Rolls-Royce Phantom is the seventh model to come from Rolls-Royce under the Phantom name. A thoroughly modern car introduced by a BMW-owned Rolls-Royce, the newest Phantom has all of the high-tech features its wealthy clientele could ever want. Its advanced V12 engine and modernistic design mark departures from the staid engineering and subtle styling of Rolls-Royce models before it. It's difficult to believe that just 12 years before the radical new Roller was released, the last of the old style Phantoms were being produced. The antiquated Phantom VI reached the end of its run in 1991, an incredible fact given that the model could trace its origins back to the Phantom V of 1959.
The year 1959 was an important one for Rolls-Royce. The English company, which had long before bought out the coachbuilding firm Park Ward, purchased H.J. Mulliner. Mulliner was another coachbuilding firm that had done a great deal of work for Rolls-Royce. Once both long-time coachbuilding partners were under the control of Rolls-Royce, a more modern era was reached in which it was no longer necessary to contract out for the design and production of even the finest bodies.
Also for 1959, Rolls-Royce introduced a new Phantom model. Called the Phantom V, it was a substantially more modern car than its predecessor. Though H.J. Mulliner and Park Ward were now both under control of Rolls-Royce, not every body was built in-house by them. There were 195 Phantom V bodies built by the James Young Company and styled by James Young employee A.F. McNeill.
A 6,230cc V8 was used in the Phantom V. It had a 90-degree V configuration and was made of aluminum alloy. The advanced construction was supplemented by cast-iron cylinder liners that allowed the lightweight engine to have the durability and longevity required of a fine motorcar. The engine was oversquare, a feature that further enhanced reliability and drivability. Twin SU carburetors fed the V8, and power was transmitted to a hypoid bevel rear end through a four-speed automatic transmission. The four-speed auto was an impressive and advanced feature for a car introduced in 1959.
The rest of the car was less advanced than the new engine and drivetrain. Suspension was a conventional layout with coil springs in front and leaf spring out back. Body-on-frame construction was used. The styling was traditional, using rear suicide doors that allowed entrance to a roomy and opulent rear seat with the familiar look and feel of the rest of the interior. A design update in 1963 used revised front fenders with two headlights each. A more powerful engine was included with the facelifted cars. Production lasted through 1968, by which time 516 Phantom V vehicles had been produced.
Later in 1968, the Phantom VI was introduced. H.J. Mulliner and Park Ward merged under Rolls-Royce ownership in 1962, changing their joint name to Mulliner Park Ward, and it was Mulliner Park Ward that bodied almost every Phantom VI produced. Even though Rolls-Royce owned the coachbuilding subsidiary, Mulliner Park Ward was unlike any other in-house styling agency. They built Phantom VI bodies slowly and painstakingly as traditional artisans. The bodies were hand crafted and elegant, with styling as stately as the royalty resting in the rear seat could imagine.
Originally outfitted with the 6,230cc engine of the Phantom V, the Phantom VI had its twin SU carburetors replaced with a single Solex carburetor in 1975. Its displacement was enlarged to 6,750cc in 1979 when it was given an engine based off of the Silver Shadow's. For 1982, the engine of the Silver Spirit was adopted, sharing the 6,750cc displacement. The cars had become outdated, but they still trickled out slowly to privliaged buyers. The use of drum brakes at all wheels continued in defiance of technology, and the four-speed transmission that seemed so advanced on earlier models was strangely replaced by a three-speed unit in 1979. The Phantom VI became the last Rolls-Royce to have a separate chassis as it limped and wheezed its way into the early 1990's.
Production was discontinued in 1991. In this year, after a few final body panels were produced for the Phantom VI in case of an accident, the Mulliner Park Ward factory at Willesden was closed. The Willesden works had produced most all of the bodies found on Phantom VI vehicles. Production numbers for the Phantom VI totaled just 374 in over two decades.
With so few produced and with such a high price tag, the Rolls-Royce Phantoms of 1959 to 1991 were made for a very special type of customer. Celebrity seemed a prerequisite for owning a Phantom. Queen Elizabeth II had a Phantom V, and her mother owned one as well. The king of Norway used his 1962 Phantom V limousine as an official car. The governor of Hong Kong had one for ceremonial purposes. John Lennon purchased a new, white Phantom V. He proceeded to have it covered with psychedelic paintings, turning it into one of pop culture's most vivid and expensive pieces art. The owners of the Phantom VI were no less remarkable. Rolls-Royce understood the kind of customer base it had with the Phantom models, and offered an armored version of the Phantom VI for higher profile buyers that wanted added protection.
With the end of Phantom VI production in 1991, Rolls-Royce reluctantly let go of its most antiquated and obsolete customs. When the Phantom V was being sold, it was traditional but not quite old-fashioned. With the advent of the Phantom VI, though, the series was becoming outdated. While the Phantom V was simply a top-of-the-line Roller, the Phantom VI was the swansong of Rolls-Royce tradition. It flew in the face of cheaper cars from Mercedes-Benz and other luxury brands that offered more feature content and more performance for far less money. It was an overtly dignified symbol of the auto industry's most aristocratic company.
Producing a car as obsolete as the Phantom VI into the 1990's would have been an embarrassing decision for most carmakers. For Rolls-Royce, though, it was a symbol of the company's unwillingness to stray from the core values that cemented its reputation for excellence. The Phantom VI aged like fine wine and, as the Morgan sports car continues to do even now, provided a special vehicle for special customers who wouldn't settle for anything else.Sources:
Roßfeldt, K.J.. 'Rolls-Royce and Bentley Models: Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph.' rrab.com Web.10 Aug 2009.
'Phantom 5,' 'Phantom 6.' Rolls-Royce Phantom Web.10 Aug 2009..By Evan Acuña