Where should you go to taste the UK’s best fish and chips? Whitby? Poole Harbour? Just about anywhere in Cornwall? No, according to the 2016 National Fish & Chip Awards, the nation’s best chippy can be found in Cheltenham.
Yes, landlocked Cheltenham.
Not the picturesque coastal village I had hoped for. No brightly-coloured fishing boats bobbing around in the harbour. No wheelie bin-sized gulls waiting to steal your fish supper. Instead, Cheltenham – more famous for Regency architecture, horse racing and GCHQ than its medium-cod-and-chips-with-salt-and-vinegar-please.
Nevermind. With the… ahem, ‘plaice’ secured, I just needed the wheels. Step forward the Rolls-Royce Ghost. The stage was set: the Great British Takeaway in a Great British Car.
It’s at this point that cynics will point to the fact the nation’s favourite takeaway is just as likely to be an Indian curry or a Chinese, while Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited has been under the ownership of the thoroughly German BMW since 1998.
But listen, if you asked a foreign visitor to name a British dish and a British car, it wouldn’t be long before you arrived at fish and chips and a Rolls-Royce. Besides, I didn’t fancy the 150-mile trek in a Land Rover Defender.
Rolls-Royce Ghost: seventh heaven?
At £222,888, this is the ‘entry-level’ Rolls-Royce, designed with the owner-driver in mind. Assuming you could live with the 5.4m length and unquenchable desire for unleaded, the Ghost could almost pass as a family car. Almost.
In ‘basic’ terms, the Ghost is well-equipped. As comfortable and as opulent as a honeymoon suite and as imposing as a stately home. But how many Ghost Series II owners actually stick to the basic configuration?
As if to demonstrate the option-happy nature of a typical customer, Rolls-Royce has lavished this test car with – as near as makes no difference – £100,000 worth of optional equipment. You could create a rather special BMW 7 Series for that.
The Ghost has been around long enough for most people to know that it is based on the previous generation 7 Series. The twin-turbocharged 6.6-litre V12 engine is sourced from BMW, while the iDrive media system will be familiar to anyone who has experience with Bavaria’s finest.
You’d have to be feeling pretty uncharitable to point to the BMW bits as evidence of Rolls-Royce losing its identity. The Ghost feels every inch an authentic Rolls-Royce – majoring on comfort and dripping in charm.
Dripping in charm, but not in chip fat. There were multiple cupholders, veneered picnic tables and even a coolbox complete with RR-engraved glasses in our test car. However, the risk of spoiling the Seashell and Consort Red interior was simply too great.
We only just stopped short of removing our shoes before entry. So thick and heavy are the lambswool mats, when you lift them you start to question if you’re holding an actual sheep. Just don’t ask me how I know what it feels like to hold a sheep…
Great British takeaway, great British weather
The journey from Dartmoor to Cheltenham was wet and uneventful. Waking up to a dawn chorus of heavy rain, I actually questioned whether it would be simpler to nip down to the nation’s second best chippy, which just happens to be in Plymouth.
But there’s nothing like the sight of a Rolls-Royce sat outside your bedroom window to stir the soul. The theatre begins as soon as you click the unlock button on the weighty key fob. The Spirit of Ecstasy emerges from her slumber beneath the famous slatted grille, ready to point the way like a figurehead on an ancient ship.
The nautical references don’t stop there, because the huge, thin-rimmed steering wheel puts you in mind of something you may have seen on Howard’s Way or The Onedin Line (ask your parents).
The steering itself is wonderfully sharp and direct, although you won’t find too much in the way of feel. Rolls-Royce claims the Ghost is “born to be driven” and, after 150 miles of largely dual-carriageway and motorway driving, I can safely say this is true.
Clearly, the two-door Wraith is – to reference BMW again – the ultimate driving machine, but as opulent four-door saloons go, the Ghost is lesson in craftsmanship and finish. In next to no time we were crawling into Cheltenham, hooking up with the familiar Saturday morning traffic.
In fact, we were early. Simpsons Fish & Chips wasn’t open until 11:45, so we spent the spare time touring the leafy avenues of Cheltenham Spa. We drove past Cheltenham Town FC, with most onlookers no doubt speculating that we were there to inject some cash into the football club.
Sorry, Robins fans, I had the car but I didn’t have the cash.
Eating the best fish and chips… in the UK
If there’s a typical look for a fish and chip shop, Simpsons is atypical. From the outside it could pass for a furniture store or bike shop. On the inside, though, the recently renovated restaurant looks like a classic British diner of days gone by.
If you like it, I’m pretty sure Rolls-Royce Bespoke will create an interior to match. Dare I say it would be more tasteful than some of the other designs it has been ‘forced’ to conjure up for some of its more demanding clientele?
The cod-and-chips lunch was probably award-winning, but definitely worthy of a 150-mile drive. If I’m honest, my food critic skills aren’t up to the standards of, say, A.A. Gill. I once asked for a Coke with my meal at Monaco’s Café de Paris, and my default restaurant order is a burger. But if you like fish and chips, you’ll love Simpsons.
Of greater interest was the people watching. The Ghost was parked in the road opposite, giving us the chance to monitor people’s reactions to the Red Velvet Sparkle Rolls-Royce. We watched as a young lad nearly scootered into the back of a bus, while many others seemed to be uploading pics of the Ghost to whatever social channel is fashionable this week.
A chap in a Swiss-registered Range Rover was so intent on getting a closer look, he blocked the road for a few minutes. Later he would see us driving away from the chippy, at which point he gave us the thumbs up for our choice of vehicle.
This became a regular occurrence. Folk seem keen to acknowledge the Ghost. In a world in which Bentleys are commonplace and carmakers are clambering over each other to build crossovers and SUVs, the Rolls-Royce Ghost feels like old money. Less Premier League and more different league.
Wet, wet, wet
We returned from Cheltenham via the drenched roads of the Cotswolds, with the rain doing its best to hamper swift progress. There’s nothing like the small matter of a £320k car and a 6.6-litre V12 engine to focus the mind when you’re driving a rear-wheel-drive leviathan in the rain.
The traction control light illuminated a couple of times, but the Ghost was soon brought back into line. When conditions allowed, I planted my right foot into the deep lambswool, with the needle on the power reserve dial spinning its way round to the small numbers. I never did manage to break into the teens. Must try harder.
Even the simple act of accelerating in a Ghost is an event. You feel the weight transfer to the back, as the rear end digs in. The nose is thrust upwards, as if the Spirit of Ecstasy is about to take off. It’s intoxicating and highly addictive, but with an average on-test economy of 19.4mpg, you need deep pockets to indulge in such playtime.
If I’m being critical, while the ZF eight-speed transmission is perfectly suited to the Ghost, I’d love a pair of paddle-shifters, just to feel more in control. It’s arguably more of an issue on the Wraith, but it would improve the overall driving experience. Nit-picking? Perhaps.
Some engine braking would also help when trying to bring the Ghost to a halt. When pulling up the anchors, the car feels at its most unwieldy, as the brakes struggle to cope with dimensions that wouldn’t look out of place on a frigate. Shifting all that weight to the nose leaves the Ghost at its least graceful.
That said, at 1,948mm wide, the Rolls-Royce Ghost is narrower than the likes of a Range Rover and the new Jaguar F-Pace. But the big door mirrors, huge steering wheel, raised driving position and sheer weight combine to create an illusion that you’re driving something much wider. The width you can live with, the length is a different matter. You’ll need two parking bays. “Do you think you own this car park…?”
Once through the Cotswolds, we meandered our way along the M4, diverting via Filton to catch a glimpse of the forlorn looking Concorde, before heading down a wet M5. When it comes to the weather, you can see a theme developing here. Just as well the Ghost comes with a pair of umbrellas in the doors.
Ghost: the best compromise?
As the children settled back into their individual rear seats to enjoy a DVD on the pair of ‘theatre’ screens, I pondered the relevance of the Ghost. Captains of industry will no doubt opt for the Phantom, while super-lux supercar drivers will choose the Wraith.
The new Dawn convertible offers a different dimension, so where does that leave the Ghost? One could argue that it lacks the USPs of its stablemates: less grand than the Phantom, not as focused as the Wraith and too much roof to rival the Dawn. The least interesting Rolls-Royce then?
The counter argument is that it offers the best compromise. With 490 litres of boot space and spare-bedroom levels of rear accommodation, it’s certainly practical. It’s arguably prettier than the Wraith, while the Phantom… well, the Phantom is just a bit too Lord Sugar…
So I’d say the Ghost is the ultimate Rolls-Royce. On the evidence of my five days with the car, people will still let you out of junctions and – aside from the issue of car park spaces – the Ghost can cope with the best and worst of Britain’s streets.
The electronic air suspension does its best to iron away our notorious potholes, with the Ghost wafting and gliding in a manner you’d expect it to. It’s just a shame that the ride doesn’t feel quite so cosseting at low speeds.
The familiar dashboard clock remains a signature piece, but you’ll be hard pressed to hearing it ticking at 60mph. Flying in the face of the famous ad line, the loudest noise will either be a hint of tyre roar, the wind buffeting the huge door mirrors, or the air conditioning system, which seems overly noisy, even on the ‘soft’ setting.
Rolls-Royce: luxury, not premium
The world has caught up with Rolls-Royce. A well-appointed Volvo XC90 riding on air suspension can feel just as sumptuous and as commanding as a Ghost, but for a significantly reduced price. And the Ghost’s infotainment screen does seem a touch outmoded in world of Apple CarPlay and virtual cockpits.
But, thankfully, there’s still a firm line between premium and luxury. The Ghost feels hand-built in Goodwood, and not just because it tells you so on the polished steel treadplates. The stitching, the leather, the wood, the fit and the finish – all are uniquely Rolls-Royce.
If I won the lottery, I’ve always maintained I wouldn’t splash out on a super-expensive car, instead opting to build a barn before filling it with sensibly-priced cars that I’ve always wanted.
As I write this, my stance has changed just a little. If I had £320,000, I still wouldn’t buy a Ghost. But if I had £3.2m, I wouldn’t hesitate. Money can’t buy you taste, but it can buy you one of the best four-door family cars in the world. And wouldn’t it be delightful to have one built just for you?
I can’t remember much about the fish and chips, but I could wax lyrical about the Ghost for days. Next time, could somebody arrange for a traditional chippy on the west coast of Scotland to win the award?
There’s a certain Rolls-Royce Dawn I’ve been meaning to drive…
Rolls Royce Ghost Series II
As tested: £321,768
Engine: 6.6-litre V12
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Torque: 575lb ft
Top speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 4.7 seconds
Fuel economy: 20.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 327g/km