Rolls-Royce Ghost Weekend, Part II: The Aftermath
For $390k, this hyper-luxury sedan should totally coddle its occupants. And a man’s never more in need of coddling than when he’s got a sledgehammer hangover. Here, the ultimate test.
I don’t need a shower. I need a bath.
It’s bright and busy and loud in Manhattan, and I’m ruined. Last night’s clothes, last night’s stench. It hurts everywhere, in my eye sockets and guts and the soles of my feet. Rock bottom? No, but all the benefits of tumbling headlong down a steep, jagged mountainside. Robert Benchley once said the only cure for a real hangover is death. Maybe I’ll bring a toaster in the tub.
I’m trying to get from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn, to salvation, in a new Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II. Nine point eight miles. It might as well be Elephant Island. Everybody has their morning-after remedy, a five-mile jog or Bloody Mary séance, and for me that’s a bacon and egg sandwich from Smith St. Bagels. The place isn’t a landmark, not an ‘original’ or ‘famous’ anything, just my neighborhood deli. But I am weak. And without a half-pound of dead pig and chicken embryo on an onion bagel, I will certainly perish.
It’s Ulrich’s fault. Cantle’s, too. I’m new to the city, and those goons took me out last night in the Rolls. We toured Gotham, drinking White Russians and only White Russians, our own little eight-hour slice of oligarchy. But the difference between a welcoming party and hazing crew is the caliber of your friends. I should really keep better company.
The Rolls-Royce is an upgrade. This brand has spent more than a century turning product into adjective, building a mythos. Save Ferrari and maybe Jeep, no other carmaker has so wholly transcended the automotive sphere. But Rolls didn’t get there by winning races or conquering the elements; it was Simply the Best Motor Car in the World. The Ghost draws from that boundless well of grandeur, a drive-or-be-driven midpoint between the Wraith coupé and Phantom limousine. For $390,350, it should be able keep the city’s wolves, the noise and congestion and construction and depraved bicyclists, at bay.
Or not. Maneuvering through Central Park is always a production, somewhere between a chess match and Arthurian jousting. Today it’s hell. The Ghost is an unwieldy thing, measuring over 18 feet nose-to-tail and demanding a wide berth. Sitting high up, removed, I can see the hood stretching into another era. The Roller’s elephantine wheelbase, paired with its impossibly slow steering ratio, demands a certain level of driver engagement. Consideration. Planning. Patience, too, and that’s a precious resource, because what’s happening inside my body is horrific.
A hangover is basically a complete system failure, starting with the mitochondria, those little guys inside your cells that produce energy. Blood vessels in the brain swell up; endorphins and glutamine levels go haywire. Your kidneys freak out, meaning too much piss and too often, which doesn’t help the dehydration situation. But this one’s worse. Cheap coffee liqueur has a way of clinging to you, coating your intestines and seeping into your marrow, even after sobering up. So it’s just a part of my constitution now. That’s me, water and carbon and Kahlúa. Forever unclean.
At least the Ghost has its shit together. Suffering through Midtown, I’m caught by the car’s reflection in skyscraper alley. The body-to-glass ratio is commanding. This is a seriously handsome machine, especially in Royal Blue Metallic, with linebacker shoulders and the face of a safety razor. The front and rear door handles flow into a single piece, like an enormous chrome ladder rung stamped on the waistline. Bystanders gawk as the big sedan sweeps past. I stare right back, hating their energy and agility.
This is my first time driving a Rolls-Royce. I’m not sure what I expected, maybe a trunk-mounted boarding cutlass or caviar bidet or some kind of special hat. All absent. But there’s plenty of other regal kitsch, push-button suicide doors and lambswool floormats and steel-handled umbrellas that deploy from the doorjambs. Also: a perforated, fiber-optic-backlit headliner that recreates a twinkling night sky. It is a $12,925 option. You must.
The powertrain is impossibly smooth. There’s a colossal V12 between these fenders, twin-turbocharged and begging all the locomotive clichés. It’s attached to an eight-speed automatic transmission, as seamless as any I’ve ever driven, which makes scything traffic easy. But the city’s relentless, still pounding to its usual rhythm, humanity heaped on humanity. Bus brakes, cooling fans, jackhammers, taxi horns, panhandlers, angry dogs and angrier dog-walkers, manholes ringing like massive coins. I crack the window and trace a thumb over the door glass, two panes fused together, thicker than a magic marker. Downtown typically hovers around 70 to 80 decibels; inside the Ghost, it barely registers 40.
Onto the FDR, the homestretch, a narrow pseudo-freeway offering all the smoothness of a kiln-fired vinyl record, treacherous when you’ve got lava gut. The Ghost just shrugs. It’s got pneumatic air suspension, an inflexible steel chassis and body, a gearbox working via satellite, using GPS data to adjust for the road ahead. Sorcery. And even after Smith St. Bagels appears, and I’ve crawled back into the Ghost, bacon and egg bounty spread out on a burled walnut picnic tray, that’s all I can think about: How this car has a pinch of magic.
It shouldn’t. Rolls-Royce is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BMW and has been for a decade; the Ghost is ostensibly a 7-Series, sharing a chassis and drivetrain and electronics. The two cars couldn’t feel more different. The 760iL is all our best-yet solutions, a very fancy placeholder for whatever super-sustainable hyper-integrated self-driving eventuality we reach. The Ghost? It’s the option to abstain from the unpleasantries of progress entirely. Because technology is tyrannical in its growing pains, we’re trapped in this kind of prolonged beta test, stumbling from new car to new car, each as close to obsolete as cutting-edge. It’s horrific. And exhausting.
Luxury, genuine comfort, is trading range anxiety for 12 cylinders of reciprocating might. It’s skirting the hurdles of scalability by purchasing a team of men for 250 hours and having them build an automobile, piece by piece, entirely by hand. It’s waving a checkbook and conjuring anachronisms, three tons of wood and leather and steel, all packed together with the density of an imploded star. Rolls-Royce can’t take you back to undo the ills of yesterday, to set a less painful trajectory. But it can make getting through today a little more bearable.