An encounter with the Manchester-born car that became the best in the world

It’s considered by many to be the best car in the world. And it was born in Manchester. So when Rolls-Royce invited me to test drive some of the latest models at their Knutsford showroom, how could I possibly refuse? But things didn’t quite work out as expected.

For many of us – me included – owning a Rolls-Royce is something of a distant dream. The city centre may not be awash with Rollers but Manchester has played a big part in the company’s history. In 1904 Charles Stuart Rolls met Frederick Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel. The rest is history.

Later that year, Royce made his first car in Manchester before the duo made the decision to move to Derby for cheaper electricity. Despite the move, Rolls-Royce has a spiritual home right here in the Manchester. And while many things have changed over the years, the reputation of this esteemed manufacturer has not. So what does Rolls Royce stand for in 2016?

We’re driving through Knutsford in a convertible Rolls-Royce Dawn with magnificent orange leather upholstery. People are whistling at the car. Some are taking pictures. There’s a greater sense of appreciation for this car than of, say, a footballer’s Bentley Continental.

“At 60mph the loudest noise you should here is the ticking of the electric clock” says James Warren, Rolls-Royce’s communications manager for the UK and Western Europe.

“Our aim is to create effortlessness whilst still being contemporary and embracing technology. This isn’t a sports car but it has poke. It’s all about boulevarding.”

This particular model was inspired by the 1952 Silver Dawn. It’s a contemporary Rolls-Royce inspired by films like La Dolce Vita. They don’t do pastiche.

It’s interesting to note how the company is adapting to a younger customer base who like to ‘pimp’ their vehicles.

“We’ve matched leather to the colour of a red setter dog. Personalisation doesn’t phase us. We invite all our customers to meet our designers and visit the home of Rolls Royce in Goodwood.”

James tells me about the new range of Black Badge cars which are meant to appeal to a younger clientele who want something a little different.

“Black Badge presents an alter ego to the younger customer base – the digital base who’ve disrupted tradition. We never play with the Spirit of Ecstasy, however, and we didn’t like people doing modifications aftermarket. That’s why Black Badge came in – to take engineering and aesthetics to the next level.”

Henry Royce always strove for perfection so you can see why they’re protective about aftermarket modifications.

James shatters one hoary old myth – the one about Who drummer Keith Moon driving his Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool.

“Keith Moon left the handbrake off and it rolled into a fountain. He drove a Chevy into a swimming pool. We like to think he had too much taste to do the same with his Rolls-Royce.”

Unfortunately, I did not get to drive any of the cars. For you see, I am a mere 23 years of age – two years too young to be given the keys to £230,000 worth of car.  So I was driven round Knutsford by James and shown how things worked – just like when my Dad used to drive me round in his Rover, except on this occasion James wouldn’t let me change the gears for him – probably because it was an auto.

Fortunately, my ride home in my Ford Fiesta wasn’t tainted by driving such a luxurious beast. I’m happy about not driving one. Really, I am, so stop asking me.


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