The mystique of Rolls. The Rolls-Royce is almost inevitably a property of the well-placed in the world. The aristocracy, new and old, is in full transition, but the Rolls-Royce is a constant.
For ten decades and more, the Rolls-Royce has been perhaps the most durable as well as refulgent status symbol of the age that, if it did not invent upward mobility, at least gave it a lexicon all its own. Other standards of costliness and achievement obtained when Rolls-Royce came into being in 1904: ocean going steam yachts of eye-popping dimensions and magnificence; stables which might well contain a hundred horses and where twenty-five types of carriage was an irreducible minimum; private railroad cars; titled sons-in-law; Fifth Avenue and Nob Hill addresses; private galleries of old masters; membership in the U.S. Senate; and invitations to dinner at the Vanderbilt cottages at Newport.
As indexes of affluence, most of these have passed into the discard or suffered such mutations as to be unrecognizable. But the Rolls-Royce is still a hallmark of personal distinction, a certification that its owner or occupant is one of the microscopic fraction of one per cent of the population with a taste to drive “the best car in the world,” and the resources to finance the good taste.
So great, in fact, are the snob association of the Rolls-Royce name and the haughty connotations of ownership, that management is always fending off and abating the aura of exaltedness surrounding the car in the general awareness. But the Rolls obstinately refuses to participate in egalitarian promotion. The Rolls-Royce today may in the main, be owner driven, as their expensive advertising points out, but its a self-defeating campaign simply serving to elevate the owner-driver to a new pinnacle of enviable aloofness.
The Rolls-Royce in its every aspect is subject to the superlative. By and large, with the exception of a handful of other marques created with the sole aim of challenging its supremacy, been the most costly car and the one adaptable to the most expensive amenities of comfort and ostentation.
Rolls-Royce partisans, in moments of excessive tolerance, will concede the existence of other luxury cars. But outside the world of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the latter no more than a Rolls with a different grille, the automotive age is nothing more, than a backdrop for the starred performer. To the truly conditioned Rolls mentality, other makes of cars are not a convenient index or standard for comparison. They don’t exist.
In the hundred years they have been produced, a number of explanations have been advanced for the mystique which surrounds them. One is their comparative scarcity. In the first fifty years of its existence, only 25,000 cars were produced altogether. Another explanation is Rolls-Royce’s cautious approach to change and uncompromising refusal to downgrade its product from the pinnacle of operational excellence the car achieved in the lifetimes of the two men whose names it bears, the Honorable Charles Stewart Rolls and Sir Frederick Henry Royce.
The radiator shell, bonnet outline, and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot on the radiator cap are essentially what they were after World War I. A policy of making minor changes in successive models, such as four headlights instead of two, failed to have much success, only succeeding in putting a premium on the value and esteem of the older cars; most afficionados and owners are derisive about the concept of up-to-the-minute model and their intransigence is usually well founded sincetraditions the car is only getting broken in around 150,000 kilometers. ( to be continued)…