Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

This incredible golden 1961 Rolls-Royce was customized by George Barris

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

Hot rodder and customizer George Barris created numerous special cars over the years, but this 1961 Rolls-Royce may be one of his most ostentatious. 

Built for actress and Hollywood socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Sedanca de Ville was made to fit with the rest of her extravagant lifestyle. 

Forgotten about for two decades, the car is one of the lots appearing this week at the Artcurial Retromobile 2020 sale in Paris, France.

Living the Hollywood dream

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

Originally born in Budapest, Hungary, Zsa Zsa Gabor first found fame in Vienna, Austria during the 1930s. She would later move to the United States in 1941, going on to star in more than thirty Hollywood movies and countless television shows. 

Gabor was also known for being married nine times during her life. This included marriages to George Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotels empire, and British actor George Sanders. 

Her successful acting career, plus a string of lucrative divorces, endowed Gabor with a huge amount of wealth. This included purchasing a gigantic mansion in Bel Air, once owned by Elvis Presley.

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

With such a flamboyant lifestyle, Gabor’s interests also extended to the finest automobiles available. She was gifted the rare long-wheelbase Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II in 1970, before handing it over to George Barris for customization in 1978.

Barris had established himself as the man to go to for motoring extravagance, having made iconic cars for use on screen. The original Batmobile, the Munster Koach, and the Oldsmobile used in Mannix were all Barris creations.

Chicago-born Barris was also happy to build special cars for celebrities, including John Wayne, Elvis Presley, and Dean Martin. For Zsa Zsa there was clearly only one person to turn to. 

All that glitters (really) is gold

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

The most obvious part of the transformation by Barris is the elaborate golden exterior paint scheme. The two-tone color scheme features pinstriping and other special detailing, including a stylized ‘Zsa Zsa’ inscription on the rear doors. 

Barris also had the famed glass-etcher, Robb Rich, add hand-crafted details to the windows of the Rolls, featuring flowers and butterflies. Lift-out panels over the front of the cabin allow open-top driving, with white wall tires and wire wheels adding classic style.

Along with the golden paint, the Rolls-Royce does have genuine 24-carat gold plating on the exterior and interior trim. The large front grille and Spirit of Ecstasy emblem are finished in gold, plus the door handles and licence plate surround. 

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

Inside is just as dramatic and as luxurious as could be expected. Although Gabor was known for driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, the layout of the Sedanca de Ville suggests she was intending to be chauffeured in this car. 

Up front is a bench seat finished in brown leather, with the dashboard wearing acres of wood trim. However, the spacious rear cabin has just two exquisitely upholstered seats, with folding tables hiding a hairbrush and comb. 

Barris was suitably proud of his finished creation, with the car going on display at the 1978 Auto Expo in Los Angeles. 

Holding on to what’s golden

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

The car would later vanish for more than two decades, eventually being located in a barn in the Netherlands. A sale in 2014 would see the car emerge into the spotlight again, getting it ready for the Artcurial sale this year. 

Less than 300 examples of the V-8 Silver Cloud II LWB were produced, meaning examples are rare to begin with. A version customized by an automotive icon, and owned by a Hollywood legend, makes this car even more exclusive. 

Artcurial has estimated an auction value of between $89,000 to $155,000 (£67,000 to £117,000) for the Sedanca de Ville. Friday, February 7th will show if someone is willing to commit to the extravagance of this Rolls-Royce.

2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan review: High society

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Admit it: you’ve made your mind up about the Cullinan already. I know I had. Rolls-Royce’s first SUV has proved more divisive than a certain referendum in 2016. Even if I proclaimed it the best car in the world – and in some respects, it probably is – the naysayers among you won’t budge. Lucky we’ve all had enough of experts. Ahem.

Rolls-Royce always maintains its cars don’t have any competitors, and in the Cullinan’s case that’s true. At £100,000 more than a Bentley Bentayga W12 or fully-loaded Range Rover SVAutobiography, it exists in a rarefied super-SUV stratosphere all its own. It will boldly go where no Rolls has gone before, too. Such all-terrain capability matters in Russia, China and the Middle East: all key markets for the Cullinan.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

I’m not a fan of its slab-sided styling, but nothing this side of a Chieftain tank has more rear-view-mirror presence. That imposing Parthenon grille is framed by laser headlights and a bonnet that sits proud of the front wings, not unlike like an early Land Rover. At the sides, ‘coach’ doors open from the middle, providing a widescreen view of the opulent interior, while the horizontally split tailgate – which Rolls calls ‘The Clasp’ – offers a perch for impromptu picnics (bring your own Bollinger).

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Under the skin, the Cullinan shares much with the flagship Phantom, including its aluminium spaceframe chassis, eight-speed auto transmission and twin-turbo 6.75-litre V12. The latter musters 571hp and a titanic 627lb ft of torque, enough to launch this 2,660kg land-yacht to 62mph in 5.2 seconds. Four-wheel steering and 48-volt active anti-roll bars assist in the corners, while variable-height air suspension and an ‘Everywhere’ mode – which automatically adapts to mud, wet grass, gravel, ruts or snow – are on-hand if the car park at Pangbourne gets slippery.

My week was largely spent on the M25, and the furthest I ventured off-road was mounting a kerb. So we’ll have to take that promised rough-terrain prowess as read. Suffice to say, nothing makes Chris Rea’s ‘Road to Hell’ more palatable than a Cullinan. Pillowy-soft and whisper-quiet, it even shrugged off the concrete Surrey section. With Eleanor, the silver-plated Spirit of Ecstasy, acting as my spiritual sat nav, I felt utterly imperious.

Frankly, there’s no more pleasant place to waste time in traffic either. The Cullinan’s cabin is a hermetically-sealed cocoon of leather, wood and polished metal, and quality is second-to-none. I was tempted to drive barefoot, simply to bury my toes in the deep-pile lambswool carpets. It’s genuinely practical, too, with ample cubbyholes and cupholders, water-resistant leather on the dashboard and doors, plus a rear bench seat that folds flat – a first for Rolls-Royce. Leave the kids at home and you could chuck a couple of mountain bikes back there.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

On regular roads, you’re always conscious of the Cullinan’s sheer size, but body control is iron-fisted and it rarely loses its composure. Ultimately, though, it prefers not to be rushed (“A sport mode? Don’t be silly, dear – this is a Rolls-Royce”), and you’ll feel the same, enjoying the fingertip-light steering, seamless gearshifts and knife-through-butter V12. Only in tight spaces around town can piloting a Cullinan become stressful; I was very thankful for the suite of surround-view cameras and sensors.

Changed your mind? I thought not. For many, the Cullinan will forever be too ostentatious, too arriviste: the Rolls-Royce most likely to be seen on Instagram. Put such preconceptions to one side, though, and you’ll discover the finest SUV on sale, one that transcends mere transport and makes every journey a special event. Even a stop-start commute on the M25.

Price: £252,000

0-62mph: 5.2sec

Top speed: 155mph

CO2 G/KM: 341

MPG combined: 18.8

Rolls-Royce Cullinan: in pictures

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Torsten Muller-Otvos, Chief Executive, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

‘Controversial’ SUV helps Rolls-Royce sales surge 25 percent

Torsten Muller-Otvos, Chief Executive, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV hasn’t found favour with everyone, but it’s hitting the mark where it matters – amongst Rolls-Royce customers.

The introduction of the Cullinan has lifted 2019 Rolls-Royce sales by 25 percent over 2018, to the highest in its 116-year history.

Rolls-Royce sold 5,152 new cars last year. Which isn’t bad when you think even the cheapest costs upwards of £235,000.

The Cullinan costs from £256,000 and pretty much every customer adds extras on top of that, pushing the transaction price even higher.

The Million Stitch Rolls-Royce Phantom

“This performance is of an altogether different magnitude to any previous year’s sales success,” said Rolls-Royce Motor Cars CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos.

However, he admits he doesn’t actually want sales to rise much higher. “We are conscious of our key promise to our customers, to keep our brand rare and exclusive.”

Demand, he said, “is expected to stabilise in 2020”.

Rolls-Royce top countries

Rolls-Royce Phantom

Rolls-Royce sells its cars in 50 markets worldwide, from 135 global retailers.

North America is the biggest market for Rolls-Royce, taking one in three cars built. China is next, followed by Europe.

Record sales were also achieved in Russia, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Qatar and South Korea.

New retailers opened in Brisbane and Shangnai – and, in 2020, a new Rolls-Royce flagship dealership in Berkeley Street, London, is due to open.

It is more than twice the size of Rolls-Royce’s previous London dealer.

While all focus was on the Cullinan in 2019, production of another Rolls-Royce, the Ghost, actually stopped.

Don’t worry though, adds the firm. The best-selling Rolls-Royce in the history of the marque, launched back in 2009, will be coming back. The new Ghost is due in mid-2020, ahead of sales beginning in the winter.

In the meantime, let’s see how long it takes for the Cullinan to become the ‘new’ best-selling Rolls-Royce…

Rebel Rolls: new Cullinan for those who ‘take risks and break rules’

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

Rolls-Royce has announced a Black Badge version of its Cullinan SUV, with more power and menacing styling.

For starters, almost everything is black. The paint is made from multiple layers of lacquer, with 10 processes of hand polishing. Rolls-Royce calls it ‘the most comprehensive surface finish process ever applied to a solid paint colour’. Spot the contrasting, hand-painted coachline, too.

The Spirit of Ecstacy mascot is finished in high-gloss black chrome, as is the mounting plate for the first time. It’s ‘the darkest Black Badge yet’, says Rolls.

Most chrome surfaces are also darkened, including the enormous grille surround, boot handle, lower air intakes and exhaust pipes. The grille slats remain polished, however.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

New and exclusive for the Black Badge are the 22-inch forged alloy wheels, which have a diamond-turned surface. The brake calipers are painted red.

Inside the Cullinan Black Badge is what Rolls-Royce calls a ‘technical carbon veneer’, apparently inspired by urban architecture. Shaping, lacquering and curing the material is a 21-day process.

Black Badge, bright cabin

The cabin of the Black Badges is where owners often choose contrasting colours. In the car seen here, it’s new Forge Yellow. The interior is softly lit by the now-traditional starlight headliner.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

While the Black Badge offers more oomph, performance is implied rather than highlighted in a Rolls-Royce. The 6.75-litre V12’s output rises to 600hp and 663lb ft of torque. 

“Black Badge reflects the desires of a distinct group of Rolls-Royce clients: men and women who take risks, break rules and build success on their own terms,” said Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce.

“The time has come for Rolls-Royce’s boldest and darkest expression of Black Badge yet. The King of the Night, Black Badge Cullinan.”

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Rolls-Royce’s £37,000 champagne cooler is the ultimate car accessory

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

Rolls-Royce has entered the world of car-based merchandise –  not by selling baseball caps or aftershave, but with a carbon fibre, oak and stainless steel champagne chest.

It’s a cool bit of kit, as you’d hope for £37,000. The Rolls-Royce of picnic hampers, if you will. A single button-press opens the chest up to reveal champagne flutes for four guests.

The lid turns into a serving tray made of Tudor oak, with a laser-cut stainless steel inlay. Four cotton napkins are also displayed, complete with embroidered ‘RR’ monograms. 

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

While the chest comes exquisitely appointed as standard, this is Rolls-Royce. So you can have it modified to your exact colour choice. Presumably, if you try your luck at keeping Cava inside, it’ll snap shut on you automatically. 

The illuminated central bay shows off the hand-blown crystal glasses, which are tactically arranged to look like inlets on a Rolls-Royce engine. A shame there are only four, then, rather than 12.

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

The sides of the chest pop out to reveal two ‘Hotspur Red’ leather hammocks, suitable for cradling anything from caviar to canapés. There are also two mother-of-pearl spoons with anodised aluminium handles.

Thermal champagne coolers keep your bubbly chilled, and they, like the chest, are made from aluminium and carbon fibre.

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

“The Champagne Chest by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is a contemporary and sociable addition to the Accessories Collection,” said Gavin Hartley of Rolls-Royce.

“The approach is that of designing a Rolls-Royce motor car; the finest materials are married with pinnacle engineering to provide an experience like no other. The Champagne Chest is crafted for those that seek a heightened sense of occasion in an elegant, entertaining manner.”

The Rolls-Royce Chest

Black Badge to the Black Mountains: Rolls-Royce vs. Britain’s best road

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge

I was tempted to stay in bed. With the wind and rain crashing against the bedroom window and the radio reporting “atrocious driving conditions”, the thought of venturing out from beneath the duvet was about as appealing as a spot of early morning root canal surgery.

But it’s not every day you have a Wraith Black Badge parked outside your house, even if a Cullinan would have been a more suitable Rolls-Royce for a courageous battle against Storm Erik, or whatever the most recent bout of bad weather was called.

I have a history with the Wraith. In 2015, I drove through the night from London to Edinburgh in a race against the overnight sleeper train, but this was before Rolls-Royce launched the performance-enhanced Black Badge.

This was to be a different kind of fight. The plan was to tackle the A4069 – also known as the Black Mountain Pass – considered, by some, to be Britain’s best road. It sounded like a good idea on paper, but Erik was in town to play party-pooper, and he wasn’t about to let the fastest and most potent Rolls-Royce enjoy the freedom of mid-Wales.

Wake up to money

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Flying Lady

In the meantime, there was the small matter of a short schlep along the A30 and up the M5 for a 7am rendezvous with Bradley and his camera equipment. I click the button on the thickset key fob to awaken the Wraith from her sleep – the door handles illuminate and the slimline LED headlights cast enough light on the surroundings to prompt the local birds into a pre-dawn chorus.

The vampish Flying Lady, dressed in black on Black Badge models, emerges from her sanctum atop the noir-like grille to take up a position akin to a figurehead on the bow of a ship. A rather apt analogy, given the prevailing weather conditions. It’s just as well the Wraith features a steering wheel the size of a helm.

Once inside, safe from the continuing wind and rain, the electric suicide door shuts with a reassuring thud, plunging the cabin into near silence. Few, if any, cars cocoon you from the outside world quite like a Rolls-Royce – the ambient lighting, starlight headliner and lambswool foot mats can give hygge a run for its money in terms of cosiness.

With the 6.6-litre V12 engine ticking over and the heated seat set to the max, I spend the first five minutes searching in vain for a USB port. The Wraith – a car that dates back to the 2013 Geneva Motor Show – might be the last word in performance luxury, but from a connectivity point of view, it is being left behind.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge interior

Six years is a long time in the automotive world, so while newer luxury and premium cars boast multiple USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Wraith Black Badge has to make do with DAB and Bluetooth. Sensing that Bradley will require some juice for his camera gear, I stop off to buy a USB adapter for the cigar lighter socket.

It’s one of two cigar lighters in the Wraith, which are complemented by a pair of ashtrays – old-school features in a thoroughly old-school cabin. An unashamedly analogue cabin that’s dripping in old money charm – anything digital is either hidden away or cleverly disguised.

It’s funny: while premium carmakers go to obsessive lengths to garnish their cabins with the latest touchscreen infotainment systems, digital displays and climate controls that allow you to set the temperature to the nearest half-a-degree, Rolls-Royce steadfastly refuses to conform.

The blowers can be set to soft, medium, high or max, while the temperature is controlled by a set of traditional rotary controls. The art deco dials, complete with dim lighting, remain one of my favourite features of the car.

Severn heaven

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge at Severn Bridge

Ninety minutes later, I’m sat in the dark alongside the River Severn, between the two bridges, waiting for the arrival of Bradley. Both the car and I have enjoyed a stress-free drive on the M5 – the Wraith’s power reserve rarely dropping below 90 percent, while I’m no less comfortable than I was beneath my duvet.

The rain has stopped (for a while), but the night sky has made way for ominous looking clouds on the other side of the river with the wind strong enough to make opening the Wraith’s Swiss bank vault-like doors feel like a morning workout.

None of this discourages us from setting the sat-nav to Llandovery – the northern gateway to the A4069.

The skies seem to get darker the further west we head, and by the time we’re bypassing Merthyr Tydfil, we’re facing a two-pronged attack by Welsh rain and commuter traffic. The wipers are unable to cope with the conditions, and soon we’re slowing to a steady crawl.

Maybe we should have headed south. With the strong winds and a 6.6-litre V12 at our disposal, we could have made the south of France for lunch and be back in time for tea. Instead, we’re facing the wrath of Storm Erik in what is now a two-tone Andalusian White and grubby Wraith.

We press on, with any attempts at a rapid exit from a roundabout greeted by wheelspin, a flashing traction control light and the profound fear of having to call the Rolls-Royce press office with tales of an unfortunate encounter with the crash barrier.

Chasing waterfalls

Crossing into the Brecon Beacons, we catch our first sight of the snow that blanketed much of the country just a week earlier. Fan Fawr appears to be enjoying its role of a water fountain, sending torrents of rainwater towards the A470. We watch as the waterfalls are taken by the wind, with the water transported vertically up the peak.

Only a fool would take a £340,000 (including options) 624hp Wraith into mid-Wales in conditions such as these, we ponder as we watch a legion of squaddies clamber out of a Defender for some exhausting manoeuvres in the wet.

Turning left off the A470 towards Sennybridge, we’re greeted by what can only be described as carnage. Rocks, stones and even the occasional brick have been strewn across the road by the water gushing out of the fields, with the monotony of the debris broken only by the pools of standing water.

The driving conditions are as atrocious as the weatherman warned at stupid o’clock this morning. The road is passable – just – but when you’re using the centre of the road to wade through standing water, you just have to pray that you’re not going to be greeted by a Suzuki Vitara hurtling round the bend. Suzukis appear to be as common as sheep in this part of the world.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge petrol station

We needed fuel. This is a regular occurrence in a car that’ll do 19.3mpg on a combined cycle. Hypermiling in a Wraith isn’t recommended, especially in mid-Wales where petrol stations don’t appear as frequently as sheep… or Suzukis.

It’s as though the engineers at Rolls-Royce had this in mind when they configured the display to tell you that you’re using a reserve tank, rather than the usual ‘low fuel’ alert. Nothing focuses your mind on dwindling reserves of fuel quite like the word ‘reserve’.

The first stab at refuelling ends in failure, partly because there was no super unleaded on offer, but also because I was unwilling to risk the 21-inch carbon-alloy composite alloy wheels between a high kerb and a badly parked Countryman.

Did I mention that each wheel costs £5,000? This figure is never far from your mind when you’re driving a Wraith Black Badge – get a width restriction wrong, and you’ll be parting with the equivalent of a family hatchback to put things right. Call me risk-averse, but I rather fancied handing the car back with a full quota of unblemished alloys.

Fortunately, the next petrol station was a little more Wraith-ready, and as I brimmed the tank, a chap filling his Rover 420 made an admiring comment about the car. I can’t tell you precisely what he said, because it was difficult to hear above the sound of the wind and rain lashing the Oil4Wales filling station.

Needless to say, I made some humble remark about it not being my car, although he would have guessed this from the sight of my £30 hoodie and Converse.

Following the road less travelled

Rolls-Royce Wraith dials

Age-wise, I hit the Rolls-Royce audience profile squarely on the nose, but I’m far removed from the demographic. The Black Badge press material from 2016 makes for interesting and mildly amusing reading – at times it’s like a series of Instagram updates from a social media influencer.

“Today’s generation of young, self-empowered, self-confident rule-breakers are just as uncompromising and unapologetic in their choice of living and lifestyle as their predecessors. They follow the road less travelled, live the unconventional life, darkly obsessed by their own pursuits and accomplishments from which they derive a pure adrenaline rush.”

Today’s road less travelled with its promise of a pure adrenalin rush was now just a few miles away, but these self-confident rule-breakers needed breakfast.

Llandovery was in the midst of playing host to its own natural disaster movie. We’re greeted by the sight and sounds of metal bins crashing into the sides of parked cars and recycling boxes being carried across the road by the wind.

The sight of the aftermath of a JCB used to steal a cash machine from the local Co-op only added to the sense of it looking like a scene from Llandovery Has Fallen. Gerard Butler was nowhere to be seen, so we headed for the sanctuary of the Old Printing Office cafe for crumpets.

“Just passing through?” enquired the lady behind the till. Glancing out of the window at the weather when I outlined our plans, she told us that Jeremy Clarkson and James May had stayed in the hotel opposite. I suspect they weren’t in town for the crumpets.

Waze and making waves

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Llandovery

Venturing back to the Wraith – and with no sign of Gerard Butler – we dodge low-flying bric-a-brac and follow a faded red E36 BMW 316i towards the A40. The chap behind the wheel – who you just know has owned the car from new – is forced into an emergency stop as a green recycling bin makes a break for freedom. Llandovery was falling, and we needed to get out of town.

The A4069 starts on the western fringe of Llandovery and snakes its way south before ending in Brynamman just 20 miles later. You can split it into three sections, with the speed limit getting progressively slower the further south you go.

From Llandovery to Llangadog it’s a typical British A-road – the surface is good, the lanes are wider, and the hedges mask a succession of farms and fields. It is, if you like, an appetiser for the main event.

It’s not without incident. Appearing over the brow of a hill – never easy when you have the full length of the Wraith’s bonnet pointing at the sky – half the road is blocked by a fallen tree. Bradley promptly alerts other users via the medium of Waze, as I begin to question what we’re letting ourselves in for.

Spirit of Ecstasy in Wales

At Llangadog, there’s a sharp left between the Castle Hotel and a village shop, where the elongated bonnet becomes a bit of a hindrance. Fortunately, the vampish Spirit of Ecstasy is on hand to perform the role of navigator.

Once past the signs for Bethlehem – turn right at the football pitch if you’re in the midst of a different pilgrimage – the road becomes a whole lot more technical, and the speed limit drops to 50mph.

Today, 20mph almost seems optimistic, let alone the dizzy heights of 50mph. The road hugs the River Sawdde, which at times looks ready to turn the A4069 into a tributary. At 1,948mm wide, the Wraith is narrower than a Range Rover, but it barely fits along its side of the road.

Having a steering wheel the size of the London Eye adds to the exaggerated sense of girth, while the £5k wheels are never far from your mind. It’s fun – up to a point – but the Wraith is feeling like a duck out of water. I fully intended to keep it that way.

Black Mountain Pass

Black Badge vs Black Mountains

Eventually, the road emerges from the trees, before a cattle grid signals the beginning of stage three – the Black Mountain Pass. It’s a breathtaking view, although it’s hard to distinguish between the gushing waterfalls and the snow still hanging on from a week earlier.

One thing is clear – even in the gloom of the mid-Wales weather – is the stretch of glistening tarmac clinging on to the edge of the hillside. After a couple of double bends, the road passing over a narrow bridge and heads up towards its most photographed corner.

Before then, there’s the small matter of maintaining traction as the Wraith struggles to gets its power down. With 620lb ft of torque, the Black Badge makes light work of hauling itself up towards the summit, but today, enthusiastic bursts of acceleration are greeted with wheelspin in first, second and third.

A 40mph limit was introduced years ago, but today, the series of signs serve only to ruin the landscape. Quite why so many lollipops are required is anyone’s guess, but the view would look a lot tastier without them.

I can’t resist trying a little antisocial driving on the famous hairpin, but the traction control acts like a sleeping policeman, telling me to behave and ruining the momentum ahead of the continued climb past and beyond Herbert’s Quarry.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge 21-inch wheels

Once you reach the top, the views become even more spectacular, and the A4069 teases you with a vision of the road of your dreams. Think of the best Scalextric layouts you created as a kid and exchange the living room carpet for moorland, and you’re halfway there.

I could do with some Magnatraction today. The road is coated in stones and pedals, which act like ball bearings, robbing the 285/35 Continental tyres of grip. The road feels too narrow and twisty for the 2.4-tonne Wraith and is arguably better suited to cars like the Elise, GT86 and 205 GTI. Not that they’d be out in this weather.

For such a big car, the Wraith Black Badge is surprisingly agile, but asking it to tackle a series of double bends with vigour is akin to asking the Royal Albert Hall to appear on Strictly Come Dancing.

More than just a novelty act

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge A4069

One could argue that the Wraith is also too quick for this kind of road. It’ll sprint to 62mph in 4.8 seconds, but it actually feels faster in real life. Planting your right foot in the lambswool results in the back of the car squatting down on its haunches, like a big cat ready to pounce.

Quick as a flash, you’ve hit the speed limit, regardless of what road you’re travelling on. It’s an intoxicating and addictive experience, especially when the electronic aids are forced to work overtime to keep the car on the straight and narrow.

At times, the Wraith can feel a little out of control, like a tiger on a loose leash. It’s as though the engineers wanted to give the ‘wealth-creating entrepreneur’ (Rolls-Royce’s words) a feeling of control and power. The Wraith’s rapid acceleration might be a novelty, but I suspect this is one novelty that will never wear off.

Once at Brynamman, we turn around to repeat the journey in the opposite direction. By now, the low cloud that had capped the peaks like tufts of cotton wool have dispersed, but the rain is getting heavier.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge in Wales

Any hopes of capturing video are quite literally blown away by the strong winds, while the near-horizontal rain hitting your face like tiny needles is making photography a challenge.

I decide to call it quits when the Wraith is sent aquaplaning towards the side of the road only for the tyres to miraculously and mercifully find some grip before the Rolls-Royce becomes an expensive moorland ornament. It took a lot longer for my heart rate to return to normal.

Paddles required

Heading back to Llandovery, I discuss the Wraith’s place in the world of driver-focused performance cars with Bradley, and in particular this Black Badge version.

Up here, on the A4069, particularly in these conditions, the Wraith would struggle to find friends. It lacks the precision and deftness of touch that is required to get the best out of the Black Mountain Pass.

It’s over-engineered for this particular task. Even with the blanket speed restriction removed, the Wraith would be too quick between the corners – you’d be forever scrubbing the speed long before you reach a bend.

A pair of steering wheel paddles would undoubtedly add to the sense of involvement, but paddles of the seafaring variety may have been more appropriate today.

But ask a group of road testers which car they’d like to venture home in and there’d be a queue of people ready to grab the keys to the Rolls-Royce. There is just so much to love about the car, and its talents extend to far more than just supreme luxury and craftsmanship.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge in the rain

The steering is so direct and positive, the brakes appear good to enough to stop the earth from spinning, and the way in which the air suspension is configured to be soft enough to smooth out the worst of Britain’s roads yet supple enough to remain fluid when cornering is as beguiling as it is bewildering.

Meanwhile, the driving position is bewitching. You sit low-slung behind the massive wheel, with the view ahead enhanced by the narrow windscreen, head-up display and Spirit of Ecstasy. It makes it surprisingly easy to plot a path along the road ahead, with the precise steering giving you the confidence to tackle long and sweeping corners at speed.

And then, when you hit the motorways again, the Wraith Black Badge seamlessly morphs into a long distance cruiser of the highest order, matched only by other cars from within the Rolls-Royce stable.

I was only half joking when I told Bradley I was contemplating a trip to Inverness after I’d dropped him off near Bristol. Even the M6 on a Friday evening would feel pleasant in a Wraith.

River deep, mountain high

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Abergwesyn Pass

Meanwhile, there was still time for one last excursion. With glimpses of blue sky in the distance, I noticed that we were just 13 miles from Llanwrtyd Wells – the smallest town in Britain.

Not an interesting fact in the context of the Wraith, but the town lies a few miles away from the Abergwesyn Pass, arguably one of the most scenic roads in Wales, if not the entire country. It’s an opportunity that’s too good to miss.

Just before noon, we find ourselves nestled between Cefn Coch and Pen Carreg-Dan, staring at a view that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Skyfall. It’s a humbling and life-affirming experience; both literally and metaphorically, the Abergwesyn Pass feels like a world away from the rest of civilisation.

Moving on, a trio of fast-running fords are crossed with a little trepidation – and a little help from the raised suspension function – before the Wraith makes light work of the Devil’s Staircase, although it struggled for grip on the switchbacks.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge driving through ford

For the next 90 minutes, we have the entire road to ourselves, stopping many times to allow Bradley to grab photos as we make our way past the Llyn Brianne reservoir and back down into Llandovery.

It was on the Abergwesyn Pass and the subsequent roads that the Wraith Black Badge really shone. As a relaxed, effortless and refined Grand Tourer, it’s almost without equal, with enough precision to ensure it doesn’t feel out of place on a B-road.

The V12 engine generates enough noise through the sports exhaust to make it sound interesting, with Rolls-Royce allowing a subtle hint of the soundtrack to enter the cabin. But as impressive is the way in which it settles to a quiet hum – at times, all you can hear is the sound of tyres on the wet road.

A national treasure

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge

With Bradley safely deposited at his Corsa, I made my way back down the M5, contemplating a final verdict for the Wraith Black Badge.

You’d expect a car costing the best part of £240,000 before VAT and options to be great, but you can’t really judge a Rolls-Royce against other vehicles. A Rolls-Royce is more like a feat of engineering that should be placed alongside historic buildings, aircraft and landmarks. A national treasure, if you like.

Driving a Wraith Black Badge is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, and while I wouldn’t recommend heading for the Welsh hills during a storm, it’s incredibly reassuring to know that it can handle such conditions with aplomb.

I’m not entirely convinced that the A4069 is Britain’s best road – the 40mph limit has put paid to that – but the Wraith Black Badge is one of the world’s best cars. Long may it rain.

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Rolls-Royce Cullinan in London

Six new Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUVs arrive in London

Deposit-holding customers got a taste of the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan in London, as six of them appeared on demonstration duty

Aurus Senat

The Aurus Senat is Russia’s answer to a Rolls-Royce

Aurus Senat

When is a Rolls-Royce Phantom just a little too subtle? When you’re the president of Russia, for starters. Vladimir Putin has been enjoying the services of his Aurus Senat limousine for a few months now, but this height of Russian automotive luxury will soon be available to all.

Aurus (not to be confused with Toyota’s now-discontinued family hatch, the Auris) is a new marque set up and run by Russia’s snappily-titled Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engine Institute.

Aurus Senat

Its new car is no pale imitation of the Roller, either, with a stately front end and confident profile, plus interior design and technology to rival the very best.

A digital instrument cluster, up-to-the-minute infotainment and swathes of wood, metal and leather maintain the best standards of luxury. You also get reclining rear seats, a fridge, fold-out tables and crystal drinking glasses.

Under the bonnet, things get a little mad. There are two engine options: a V8 and a V12. The V8 is a 4.4-litre attached to a hybrid system, good for 590hp. The V12 displaces 6.6 litres and puts out a titanic 848hp. That might seem excessive but you’ll need it if you’ve opted for the 21.7-foot long-wheelbase Senat. That’s a full two feet longer than an Extended Wheelbase Phantom.

Aurus Senat

Unlike the big Rolls, power is sent to all four wheels rather than just the rears. It does get quite snowy in Moscow, after all.

If you’re chomping at the bit to get hold of an Aurus Senat, you’ll have to wait until next year. No, it isn’t Russia-only: the car is confirmed for international markets. As for the price? We’ve no hard numbers yet, although a 20% saving versus an equivalent Rolls-Royce or Bentley was allegedly targeted.

Fingers crossed we get to do a twin test…

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Phantom to the Opera

Phantom to the Opera: an incredible Rolls-Royce road trip

Phantom to the OperaPhantom 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

Phantom to the Opera

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.

Phantom to the Opera

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

Phantom to the Opera


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.

Phantom to the Opera


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

Phantom to the Opera

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.

Phantom to the Opera

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

Phantom to the Opera


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.

Phantom to the Opera

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

Phantom to the Opera


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.

Phantom to the Opera

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

Phantom to the Opera

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

Phantom to the 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

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Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Rolls-Royce SUV will be called the Cullinan (but we already knew that)

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Rolls-Royce has announced today that its new ‘high-sided vehicle’ will be badged the Cullinan.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, as the forthcoming Rolls has been dubbed the Cullinan for years now. Even Rolls-Royce itself has previously referred to it as ‘Project Cullinan’.

Whatever – the reveal is edging slowly closer. It’s three years since Rolls-Royce announced it was working on a ‘high-sided car’ (why can’t we call it an SUV?), and we’ll finally see it in the metal at next month’s Geneva Motor Show.

“The name Cullinan has been hiding in plain sight since we revealed it as the project name some years ago,” explained Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. “It is the most fitting name for our extraordinary new product. Cullinan is a motor car of such clarity of purpose, such flawless quality and preciousness, and such presence that it recalibrates the scale and possibility of true luxury. Just like the Cullinan Diamond, the largest flawless diamond ever found, it emerges when it is perfect and exists above all others.”

The Cullinan will share a scaleable aluminium spaceframe with the new Rolls-Royce Phantom. In preparation for the new SUV (sorry, HSV), Rolls-Royce is priming its Goodwood factory. The Cullinan is expected to boost the firm’s global sales to around 7,000 a year – up from 4,011 in 2016.

Along with the latest announcement about the Cullinan name, the brand has revealed a series of new teaser shots. In them, we can clearly see the brand’s trademark radiator grille, slightly boxy dimensions and backwards-opening ‘coach doors’ like other models in the range. Oh, and it’s huge – more than 5.5 metres long, reportedly, and there’s even talk of a long-wheelbase version.

Power will come from the brand’s tried-and-tested V12 petrol engine, plus a hybrid version is mooted for further down the line. Air suspension will provide a comfortable ride and, in a first for the brand, the Cullinan will feature a four-wheel-drive powertrain.

Prices are yet to be announced, but we doubt you’re going to get any change from £300,000.

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