Phantom to the Opera. It started with a neat headline and idle office banter. Three months later, I’m holding tickets to the tomorrow night’s show at the Vienna State Opera in one hand and the key to a £450,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom in the other. An epic, race-against-time road trip awaits.
The plan is to start outside London’s Royal Opera House at 19:00. We’ll set the sat nav for Vienna, 920 miles away, aiming to arrive for the 19:30 performance of Madama Butterfly. Taking into account the CET hour-change, that’s 23-and-a-half hours to drive across Western Europe, shooting a video en route.
Watch: Rolls-Royce Phantom… to the opera!
Still, if any car suits a non-stop, cross-continental jaunt, it’s the new 2018 Phantom. Rolls-Royce’s V12 flagship blasts effortlessly to 62mph in 5.3 seconds and has a limited top speed of 155mph (more on the latter shortly). This two-tone Black Sapphire over Silverlake blue example also boasts massage seats, in-car TVs and a champagne fridge – ready-stocked with a pre-show tipple. By tomorrow evening, we’ll have earned it. TP
Drivers: Tim Pitt (TP) and Andrew Brady (AB)
19:00 – Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
This isn’t ideal. Our journey hasn’t even begun and already I’ve been driving for two hours. That’s how long it’s taken to crawl from home (Croydon) to our rendezvous point in Covent Garden. Even in central London, the Phantom turns heads and gets cameraphones clicking. However, the serenity inside the cabin is offset by my mild panic at piloting such a large, conspicuous vehicle through tight, pedestrian-packed streets. Get this wrong and social media stardom beckons…
I arrive at the opera house and pull up outside for an opening photo. I’m not supposed to park here, but the door staff give an appreciative nod. The Phantom is that sort of car. Then, co-driver Andrew and photographer Bradley jump aboard and we’re off, aiming the Spirit of Ecstasy south-east towards the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone – and Europe beyond.
The sat nav says we should arrive in Vienna in time for breakfast, but that’s assuming no toilet breaks, fuel fill-ups or filming. And frankly, as we rejoin the tail-end of London’s rush hour, it’s already starting to look ambitious. Cruising past Canary Wharf, I admire the Phantom’s reflection in one of many glassy, new-build apartments. You wouldn’t call it beautiful, but it’s imposing, imperious and quite unlike anything else. TP
21:53 – Channel Tunnel terminal, Folkestone
With fingertip-light steering and a titanic 664lb ft of torque from 1,600rpm, the Rolls-Royce will waft gamely around town, but high-speed cruising is its raison d’être. Lucky, as we have many hundreds of motorway miles to go.
We escape London via the A13 and briefly join the M25 before filtering onto the M20 towards Folkestone. As the sun droops below the horizon, the Phantom’s Starlight Headliner – a night-sky of LEDs dotted across the roof lining – bathes the cabin in a cool white glow. Its dashboard is a curious mix of old-school wood-n-leather (highly polished mahogany here) and modern tech. BMW drivers may spot the Rolls-rebranded iDrive interface, but it remains one of the best media systems available.
Arriving at Folkestone, we’re promptly pulled aside by police with guns. Amazingly, the spectacle of three dishevelled hacks in a half-million-pound car has aroused their suspicions. I produce our papers and show them various emails about the trip. Eventually, we’re waved on to our next challenge: boarding the train.
As any Le Shuttle veterans will know, the train carriages have vicious kerbs either side that can spell disaster for wide cars with pricey alloy wheels. Thankfully, with buttocks clenched and Andrew walking backwards in front of the car to guide me, I avoid any scars to the Phantom’s forged and polished 22s. Thirty-five minutes later, we’re in France and, after a brief blat up the coast into Belgium, it’s time for a driver-change. TP
12:18 – Ghent, Belgium
Tim says “it’s time for a driver-change”. In truth, I’m itching for a go. If memory serves me correctly, Ghent isn’t that far from the German border – and we know what that means: derestricted Autobahn.
Unfortunately, my brain has condensed Europe into a smaller area than it really is. We’re a good 100 miles from crossing into Germany, meaning I have to endure a couple of hours of tedious Belgium motorways before reaching the land of liberal speed limits. Fortunately, we have coffee and Pepsi Max on board – and, as I usually swerve caffeine, it’s doing an excellent job of keeping me awake.
There’s a surprising amount of traffic for the time of night. Not cars, but an inside lane full of lorries. With two-lane motorway the norm in Belgium, you have to keep your wits about you in case one decides to dart in front for a sluggardly overtake.
With Tim now snoring in the back, Bradley passes me a pack of Haribo and cranks up the cheesy Spotify playlist as we cross into Germany. After dicing with a bit of traffic, the road ahead clears and the sat-nav informs me the stretch of Autobahn we’re on is about as straight as it comes. I accelerate, passing 100mph easily, while 110mph and 120mph also pass by without a fuss. Things start to happen quickly at around 130mph – with the Rolls’ ‘Power Reserve’ dial showing zero percent – but I’m confident that I don’t need to lift just yet. We pass 140mph, and soon hit the 155mph limiter.
Tim’s none-the-wiser as I hit the brakes in time for a slight bend. While the Phantom generally feels planted, you do feel its 2,560kg mass as it tip-toes around at three-figure speeds.
After a few hours of cruising at a pace that’d cost you your licence in the UK, Bradley’s joined Tim in the land of nod. This would be the perfect opportunity to practise my chauffeur skills, but I can feel my eyelids getting heavier. Best wake Tim up. AB
04:36 – Frankfurt, Germany
I’ve never slept so soundly in a car. Cocooned in the rear of the Rolls, heated seat reclined and electric footrest raised, I’ve snoozed through half of Germany. Given that Andrew was bouncing off the limiter and blasting out 90s Europop, that’s some feat.
We pull into a services near Frankfurt, where bleary-eyed truckers eye us with a mixture of bemusement and mild hostility. I take the wheel and we’re back on Autobahn 3, which stretches 483 miles from Holland to Austria. Even at 4am, the road is packed with trucks bound for Eastern Europe, so I settle for a steady 100mph cruise, marvelling at the complete absence of wind noise – despite the Phantom’s bluff-fronted shape.
Then it starts to rain: a mighty wipers-on-full downpour that creates a sea of spray. To make matters worse, roadworks have reduced the road to two narrow lanes, with frequent chicanes that weave between cones. Squeezing past trucks, I’m acutely conscious of our 2,018mm width, but the Phantom feels sure-footed and stable, with mighty, confidence-inspiring brakes.
I’d forgotten just how big Germany is: the A3 seems never-ending. Still, as the sky finally clears and dawn, um… dawns, I’m enjoying the drive again. There’s something sublime about a V12, and the Phantom’s 6.75-litre engine is one of best. Butter-smooth and quietly omnipotent, it makes even 20.3mpg thirst seem palatable. TP
06:45 – Regensberg, Germany
Like Tim, I’m amazed how well I slept in the back of the Phantom. He’s in quite a grump when I wake up – clearly having missed the flat-out Autobahn experience I enjoyed earlier.
We pull over and I’m informed that it’s my turn again. Still slightly frazzled, I take the wheel, and the sat nav announces that it’s found a better route by diverting us off the motorway. That’s convenient, as Tim’s also left me with less than a quarter of a tank of fuel and there are few services on this stretch of Autobahn.
We fill up (€115, having covered around 300 miles since last refuelling), and it’s time to be woken up by pleasant Bavarian scenery. I revel in the opportunity to drive the car along some different roads – even if it does feel massive off the motorway.
Reluctantly, we’re soon diverted back onto the A3 in time for the Austrian border. You need a vignette to drive in Austria: essentially a toll sticker to make it clear to police that you’ve paid the compulsory road tax (even for tourists). Fortunately, there’s a convenient shop on the border, happy to take €9 in exchange for a 10-day pass.
Admin out of the way, and it feels like we’re on the home leg. Signs for ‘Wien’ (Vienna) appear as the motorway gets hilly and twisty. We’re quite happy to obey the lower speed limits.
We soon notice that we’ve picked up the attention of two lads in an old Skoda Octavia. This in itself isn’t unusual: the Phantom gets loads of looks wherever we go. But the driver of this car keeps overtaking us then slowing down and moving to the inside lane so we can overtake them. Bradley holds a sign to the window displaying our #PhantomToTheOpera social media hashtag for the trip. Moments later, the passenger has found us on Instagram and sent us a picture of the Rolls. AB
12:24 – Vienna, Austria
I’m enjoying driving the Phantom, so I rebuff Tim’s offer to take over for the drive into the centre of Vienna. We’re also way ahead of schedule, meaning I can take a much-welcome inside lane approach to tackling city traffic (a shock to the system after miles and miles of Autobahn).
As cities go, Vienna isn’t too daunting. Which is good because, as we’ve already mentioned a few times, the Phantom does feel as big as a bus, even with cameras giving a 360-degree view of the car from within the cabin. We’re soon at our destination, the Vienna State Opera, and it’s a bit more beguiling than its London counterpart. It’s also incredibly busy outside, with selfie-stick-waving tourists weaving in and out of traffic. Getting photos might be difficult.
We find a quiet road in front of the Opera House, intended primarily for buses and visitors to a nearby upmarket hotel. It’s perfect for photos, though, so we do laps of said hotel while Bradley runs around taking pictures and filming video. He’s soon joined by someone who we presume must be Vienna’s top supercar spotter, keen to see the Phantom. A video is uploaded to Instagram within hours. AB
19:30 – Madama Butterfly, Vienna State Opera
We’re far enough ahead of schedule to check into our hotel, shower and sample the local cuisine – delicious Wiener Schnitzel, washed down with a locally-brewed beer – before the show starts.
I’ve never been a huge of opera and, after four bombastic hours of Puccini, my opinion hasn’t shifted. However, the Vienna State Opera is a suitably magnificent venue and I’m happy simply to be here, not least because we were still in London 24 hours ago.
Like a visit to the opera, any journey in the Phantom feels like a special occasion. Objectively, this most luxurious of luxury cars doesn’t do anything an Audi A8 or Mercedes-Benz S-Class can’t. Yet nothing matches the Rolls-Royce for presence, comfort and glorious indulgence.
A 920-mile drive back from Vienna to London tomorrow morning? Bring it on. TP