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).

Heritage permeates the cabin. However, much of it seems destined to impress the Rolls-Royce faithful rather than any neophytes. On the upside, real chrome accents interact tastefully with the polished wood, supple leather and patterned aluminum. There's a superb 15-speaker, surround-sound audio system, DVD navigation, rear pop-up rollover hoops, twin courtesy umbrellas and a slick, fold-down 'picnic area' panel that facilitates access to the 11.1 cubic feet trunk while creating an impromptu mini seat. Conversely, some quirky ergonomics and the presence of an analog 'power reserve meter' in place of the tachometer still defy anything but the most staunchly British logic. Thankfully, its hideaway-integrated controller is a bit less Byzantine than the iDrive unit used in BMWs. But proficiency still demands a similarly steep learning curve.

Comfortable and supportive, the Drophead's front buckets are slightly slimmer than those in the Phantom, expanding rear legroom and ensuring true four-occupant accommodation. Activation of its five-layer power fabric top requires just one pull/push of a console-mounted lever and about 25 seconds to fully transition in either direction. Although shifting into panoramic mode does bump wind and decibel levels noticeably, it also puts you into the preferred see-and-be-seen configuration. And, be of no doubt, you will be noticed.

As with any Rolls Royce, one 'motors' in a Drophead, one does not flog. Drive at its naturally resonant pace (an admirably brisk clip) and all seems well with the world. The BMW-sourced V12 purrs complacently, an electronically activated ZF six-speed automatic transmission shifts seamlessly and you glide along effortlessly, buoyed by the knowledge that you've obviously arrived-even when you're still miles away.

On those special occasions when exuberance reigns, just tap the L (for launch) button on the steering wheel to select first gear and tag the accelerator. A computer-controlled air-strut suspension gives the car a reassuringly confident feel through corners and massive ABS-equipped discs do an admirable job of shedding speed. Only at the limit, when the normally dormant but resolutely undefeatable stability control system swings into action, does the car begin to make its 5776-pound curb weight evident. At that point, anyone who really belongs behind the wheel of this $413,000 dream weaver will take the hint and slip back into motoring mode.

2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe

Layout
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine
6.75-liter V12, dohc, 48-valve
Transmission
Six-speed automatic
Suspension
Front double wishbone/rear multilink, self-leveling air shocks
Performance
Peak power: 453 hp @ 5350 rpm
Peak torque: 531 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.7 sec. (est.)
Top speed: 149 mph (est.)
The Price Tag
Base: $413,000
As tested: $431,000

Lumma Design X530 - Tuned
Turning Up The 'Sport' In SAV
If you reckon your X5 is looking a bit wimpy against hulking SUVs like the Audi Q7, this CLR X530 conversion might be just the thing. Its core is a comprehensive body kit that includes a front spoiler with integrated foglights, rear apron, side skirts, wheel arch extensions, roof spoiler, mirror covers and a trick carbon-Kevlar hood. Customers can choose from three 22-inch wheel designs in silver or matte-black finishes. Power enhancements beneath that hood are mild, with new software and a sport exhaust system to push an additional 28 hp from the 4.8-liter V8. Reportedly, Lumma has also been hard at work on a forced-induction alteration to be debuted in December at the Essen Motor Show.

www.lumma-design.com

Driving The Dream - Adventure
World Class Driving Offers An Unforgettable Motoring Expierience
Anyone who has ever imagined driving a Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini (which pretty much includes all of us) can now fulfill their dreams, thanks to World Class Driving. Specifically tailored for auto enthusiasts, WCD puts you behind the wheels of the most desirable sports cars and exotics around, for an unforgettable driving experience.

Offering half or full day packages, WCD offers the opportunity to drive not one, but the full range of available cars, which currently includes a Mercedes SLR McLaren, Ferrari F430, Porsche GT3, Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, Aston Martin Vantage, Ford GT and optional Noble M400. And since WCD prides itself on an inventory of company-owned, current year/model vehicles, we've heard the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, Porsche GT2 and Audi R8 will soon join the fleet.

Held at various locations throughout the country, you'll get the chance to become well acquainted with each car on the open road-including challenging 'driver's roads'-logging as much as 250 miles. This is not a driving school, but rather a day of unparalleled thrills. And through the expert advice of WCD's pro instructors, you will have a clear understanding of how to operate each car properly, further expanding overall driving prowess. You will also develop a new appreciation for the power and performance of these incredible vehicles. No one walks away from a WCD event without a smile and sense of accomplishment. And, perhaps best of all, the package is pleasingly affordable, starting at $1,295 per guest.

At the end of the drive, participants are treated to a full buffet and a gift to commemorate the day's experience. But the real rewards are the memories.

For 2008, WCD will incorporate a Road and Track package that will allow drivers to push the cars even harder. Plans for a WCD Platinum package, encompassing a mix of cars, boats and executive jets is also in the works. Hey, when you're fulfilling dreams, you may as well hit them all. -Robert Hallstrom

SCCA SPEED World Challenge touring car team Bimmerworld
Racing kept us entertained all year long with a variety of unique in-car footage from the company's race winning BMW E90s (325i), and have expanded these web videos for us to enjoy. The Virginia-based BMW tuning outfit has been the top BMW team in SPEED TC in 2007, with Joey Hand winning at Mid-Ohio, and drivers Seth Thomas and James Clay frequent visitors to the top-five and the podium. Visit bimmerworldracing.com/europeancar to see the action from inside the team and to learn more about BimmerWorld's BMW street car services.

(Sneak Peak) IAA 2007 - Show
If you haven't recently, check out ec's newly re-designed website for coverage from the '07 Frankfurt Auto Show. In an expanded photo gallery we showcase Europe's hottest new models for '08, including the new Audi A4, the BMW 1 Series Coupe, the 530-hp 911 GT2 and the $1.4 million Lamborghini Reventon, along with concepts like the Mercedes-Benz F700 and Europe-only musclecars like the 570-hp RS6 Avant. www.europeancarweb.com

Bmw 1 Series Convertible - First Look
You Knew It Had To Happen
Two more jewels have been added to the US-bound BMW 1 Series line-up. The 128i Convertible has a 3.0-liter, straight-six with 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, and arrives this spring, along with the hardtop versions. The more powerful 135i Convertible goes on sale later in 2008 and features BMW's lauded twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six, producing 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque from as low as 1400 rpm. The 135i Convertible goes from zero to 62 mph in 5.6 seconds-top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. With both cars, the electro-hydraulic hood operation takes just 22 seconds-even at speeds up to 25 mph. Bring on the summer.

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By Bob Nagy
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