Funny how time flies when you're being rich. It's been 100 years since Rolls-Royce introduced its first convertible, the iconic Silver Ghost. Will its latest, the new Phantom Drophead Coupe, help secure this elite British marque another century of prestigious preeminence? Based on this encounter with the most dramatically rendered and meticulously engineered Rolls ever built, the answer is a resounding yes.
Debuted as the 100EX concept at the 2004 Geneva motor show, the nascent Drophead Coupe sent a must-have shockwave through the well-heeled worldwide. Empowered by the expanded resource base of its new owner BMW, Rolls-Royce turned this dream into reality with relatively few changes. In the process, structural elements introduced on its then brand-new Phantom sedan were combined with visual cues, like easy-entry, rear-hinged power-closing coach doors and the optional brushed-metal hood (now rendered in stainless steel instead of aluminum, as it was on the 100EX).
Avant-garde edginess aside, the Drophead maintains classic R-R proportioning, with a body scaled to precisely twice the height of its tire diameter. However, the more casually styled Drophead shares no common exterior panels with its fixed-roof kin and uses some 1300 bespoke components. In addition to a smaller, more streamlined grille, faster windshield rake and gun-slit LED headlamps, the Drophead also sports a 'waftability line' that hockey-sticks down its side, creating a subtle wave-like scallop that mimics the forward cut-line of the doors. To further reinforce this underlying nautical theme, the Drophead offers an optional teak tonneau cover made from 30 pieces of hand-matched hardwood that, ironically, is dragged out of the jungle by elephant rather than floated out, to prevent any water-induced discoloration.
Although sharing basic underpinnings with the Phantom, the Drophead's ultra-rigid aluminum space frame has a wheelbase 10 inches shorter. Additional reinforcing is found in the engine bay, side sills and under the rear axle-all complemented by a robust triangulated A-pillar treatment that virtually eliminates any vestige of cowl or body shake. Like the sedan, everything is hand-welded and computer-verified at the BMW Center in Dingolfing, Germany, before chassis and body panels head to the Rolls-Royce factory in Goodwood, England, for paint, interior trim and final assembly. All come with run-flat tires on alloy wheels that match either 20-inch rims and Michelin PAX rubber or optional 21-inch upgrades shod with grippier Goodyear NCT5s (as fitted to our test car).