Here's a fun little tidbit for you: replacing one of the furled umbrellas that famously pop out of the door jamb on any modern Rolls-Royce will set you back $1088.66. Plus tax.
A paltry sum. Why, I spend thrice that on manservant wigs every fortnight!
Well, perhaps not, actually. I'm afraid the only time I'll be mooring a Roller in the driveway is if some kind of clerical error means I get handed the keys for evaluation purposes.
So, no fan-dried, inner-door, spring-loaded umbrella-compartments for me. My brolly lives in the trunk with aged jumper cables and some bungee cords of dubious elasticity and it cost $6.99. Plus tax.
What's more, the servicing costs on my old jalopy are similarly reasonable. I can either wriggle underneath and do-it-myself, or pop down to the local Quickie Lube where a chain-smokin' fella in a blue jumpsuit with oil-stains on the elbows and a grubby nametag will happily take my keys and point me in the direction of a coffee machine - which has been brewing the same pot of coffee since curb feelers were in vogue.
It makes you wonder: what's it like for the high rollers? Champagne in the service centre? Caviar with one's spark-plug change? Rotate the tires and recharge the myrrh dispensers?
As it turns out, not quite.
While the Rolls-Royce Phantom sedan is a breathtaking testament to the automotive ideal and a two-metric-tonne rolling artwork that's the result of dozens of craftspeople and hundreds of hours of work, deep down it's really a BMW.
A Rolls-Royce is as quintessentially English as Queen Victoria - and that means it's a German import from the house of Hanover, with a plummy accent but teutonic bones. Beneath the opulent leatherwork of the Phantom are the basic electronic guts of a previous-generation 7 Series mated with a custom aluminum space-frame welded together in Germany; beneath the brand's newer Ghost sedan? A modified chassis sourced from the current 7 Series.
The servicing coverage is similar to BMW's as well: for the first four years everything apart from tires is covered. While mileage isn't restricted like in usual luxury car warranties, it doesn't sound like most Rolls-Royces will cover a great deal of ground over the course of a year.
Don't make too much of a fuss about this shared heritage or the RR crowd will be somewhat less than amused. Yes, the basic lineage is shared, but a donkey and a blue whale are both mammals and you'd only call one of 'em majestic.
However, this linkage does remove a large practical impediment to the care of the world's finest automobile. With most of the electronics and engine components shared with the top-spec Bimmer, a specialized technician can be plucked from the ranks of the best-and-brightest BMW boffins and from there be trained up on Roller specifications.
In the case of the service department here in Vancouver (one of only three Roller dealers in the country), a single technician is authorized to work on Rolls-Royces, and he comes with over two decades-worth of experience wrestling with the blue-and-white roundel. On top of that immense depth of experience, Rolls-Royce requires periodic mandatory in-person training at their specialized centre.
I wish I could tell you it was at a Hogwarts-like location buried in the moors of Yorkshire, but actually it's in New Jersey. Oh well.
A veneer of sophistication
With a Rolls-Royce, it's not just about electronic know-how. While diagnosis is easier because BMW and Rolls both speak the same electronic language – and thus the same computers can be used – it's not enough to just be able to track down the electrical gremlins and quash them.
After all, a Rolls isn't a terrible complicated vehicle when you start comparing it to gadgetry-laden go-fast stuff like, say the McLaren MP4-12C supercar. In fact, while the Roller has navigation and various driver aids tucked away behind beautifully crafted panels, it's quite a simple machine in the grand scheme of things, and its V12 engine is fairly robust.
The standard routine of oil changes, brake servicing and tire usage is fairly mundane – although the enormous wheels of early Phantoms require a specialized plastic-lined tire that's practically a military-grade application. Other than that, it's a car, and requires no more fussing than your average BMW 3 Series.
Except for one rather large difference:
If getting at the fusebox on the BMW means you need to yank on a bit of plastic trim with a certain amount of emphasis, then no big deal – break the piece and you can always order a new one. Disassembling trim-work on the Rolls-Royce, on the other hand, requires the finely tuned touch of a neurosurgeon. With every piece of wood veneer mirror-matched like a fine musical instrument, damaging one side requires sending the entire set of panels back to the Rolls-Royce factory.
The butler does it
If your schedule is busy, then surely the schedule of the sort of plutocrat who can afford to be whisked around in a six-figure Rolls must be even busier. What with top-hat fitments and appointments to have one's monocle cleaned, how to find the time to drop off the car for service?
As you'd expect, the relationship between the sales side of Rolls-Royce and their clientele is extremely close, with a strong focus on after-sales service. These glorious machines cost as much as a house, so their owners are both treated with kid gloves, before and after the purchase – owing to privacy concerns we can't really show you any privately-owned cars in a state of dishabille.
As mentioned, both the Ghost and Phantom use software similar to BMW to determine when a service is due. Once the car pings the owner with a reminder, most often the arrangements will be made through the sales side – in Vancouver, a multi-ethnic makeup and a strong overseas presence means a sales staff that are capable of speaking multiple languages.
Once the booking is made, most often it's a chauffeur or executive assistant that drops off the vehicle – as Koren Carr, service advisor for Rolls-Royce Vancouver puts it, “We see James a lot.”
As Vancouver has the highest number of long-wheelbase Phantom sales in North America, it's hardly surprising that many Roller owners don't drive their cars.
For those who do – Phantom Coupe and Drophead owners especially – rushing doesn't seem to be in their vocabulary. Rolls-Royce is famous for their bespoke program, allowing customization to the nth degree, and those few who take advantage seem to realize that their vehicle is unique and special, and would hate to hurry a proper service.
There's a sense of fun too, with one owner purportedly planning a day spent handing out Grey Poupon on the streets of trendy and upscale Yaletown while his car was in the shop. Most owner/drivers seem happy to hob-nob with the service staff and while-away a few hours waiting while their magnificent machines are up on the hoist.
Perhaps it's the better class of coffee.