The eighth-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom is set to appear in late July in England. And although a phantom by the traditional definition is a ghostly entity that is seen, heard, or sensed but has no physical reality, such has never characterized any of the Phantoms produced by Rolls-Royce over the last 92 years. Indeed, Rolls-Royce is doing everything it can to ensure that its newest Phantom not only will be seen, heard, and sensed once its physical reality is manifest, but that each of the previous seven generations is recognized. Hence, the company has embarked on a global dragnet operation aimed at conjuring one notable spirit to represent each of the Phantom’s preceding iterations as the world welcomes number eight.
By “notable,” think Phantoms of particular fame and notoriety, such as John Lennon’s psychedelic Phantom V, the Phantom III that belonged to Field Marshal Bernard “Monty” Montgomery, and a Phantom II that the company built for India’s maharaja.
“What we wanted to do was find seven Phantoms that represent the history of what Rolls-Royce has meant to society, not just the car world,” explains Gerry Spahn, head of communications for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in North America.
The first Phantom to be snatched by these most gallant of ghostbusters is, fittingly, a massive Phantom I once owned by Fred Astaire. It is currently in the care of the Margie and Robert E. Petersen collection that is housed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Built in 1927, the car was sold to Astaire by its original owner, with the actor commissioning New York coachbuilder J.S. Inskip in 1932 to tailor the car with certain features to reflect the style of the 1930s.
These new features included more enveloping fenders, scalloped door fillets, art deco–themed rear turn signals, and specially designed, spearlike door handles. The chauffeur’s quarters are upholstered in dark-green leather, while the passenger cabin is awash in light-green brocade and equipped with his-and-her vanity kits, flasks (of course), and two walking sticks—one capped by a small telescope and another with opera glasses.
Interactions with the chauffeur would be facilitated by a sliding glass partition or a “speaking tube” that exited near the chap’s right ear. Cantilevered off the back is one of the car’s coolest features, we think: a rare Louis Vuitton motoring trunk currently displayed with objects Astaire presumably would want to always have on hand, such as a top hat, leather gloves, a white bow tie, a black cane (with cigarette lighter), a two-person picnic set, and dancing shoes of both the ballroom and tap varieties.
Astaire owned the car until 1950, and its present owners had it refurbished to its period-correct style, including the dark, Brewster Green body with black fenders and a black leather roof.
“We came in last year and saw this car . . . and it just made a lot of sense to us,” said Spahn. “The United States has always been a preeminent market for Rolls-Royce. This is the place where people have loved to have beautiful things, and . . . the Phantom has been a big part of that, whether you’re a movie star, whether you’re a business person, actor, singer, whatever you might be. Fred [Astaire] was definitely transcendent around the world. He was a dancer, an actor, and a social trendsetter . . . a Hollywood playboy,” Spahn said. “And the Phantom was definitely a car for him.”
By the time you read this, the Fred Astaire Phantom I will be in the process of being shipped back to England—or flown, rather, we’re told—soon to be joined by examples of Phantoms II through VII at one giant historic baby shower. As for the upcoming Phantom VIII, we don’t know much (except that it won’t be an SUV), but one thing is for sure: It has some mighty shoes to fill.