And the makers of the finest cars in the world certainly didn’t have such processes in mind during the sampling of its all-new 1998 Silver Seraph.
Instead, it provided the opportunity for hacks to momentarily compare their own lives with those of Rolls-Royce owners by unveiling it in the grounds of a lonely, luxurious and wind-battered Scottish castle.
Local, bullet-felled wildlife was consumed. Rare malt whiskies burned unfamiliar palates. And the boundaries of taste were stretched at one end by a supremely graceful ballet performance from a prima ballerina, and the other by the hacks’ enforced wearing of kilts. Luckily, whisky soon dulled the impact.
A German-powered Roller?
Impressive though this was, it failed to veil the fact that the Silver Seraph wasn’t quite the car that it might have been. First, there was the controversy of finding the Flying Lady standing sentinel over a BMW-built V12, together with the unseemly appearance of Munich-designed switchgear.
The V12 was a fine device in the 7 Series that it was designed for, its installation in the Seraph an admission that Rolls-Royce was too small to develop home-grown engines. But, its torque shortfall relative to Crewe’s ancient V8 nudged the Royce’s character in undesirable directions.
Instead of generating peak pull at engine speeds to rival a traction engine’s, the 5.4 V12’s full strength arrived at an unseemly 3900rpm, denying the Seraph the authoritatively effortless dispensation of power that Rolls-Royce owners were used to.
And then there was the small matter of accommodation. While there was unquestionably more room up front, there simply wasn’t the space to sprawl in the back because the front chairs sat too close to the rears. The truth of this was rammed home by an unintended comparison provided by Rolls itself, which had generously laid on plush minicabs to shuttle hacks from home to airport.
The taxi collecting yours truly was a Ford Scorpio, an executive barge fabled for its spectacular rear legroom and sofa-like upholsterings. There was no getting away from it – the Ford was simply more comfortable than the Royce, even if the wood adorning its cabin had come from oil-fields rather than a felled copse of American poplar trees.
Yet there was no denying the effort expended on the Seraph and its doppelganger Bentley Arnage sister. Body manufacture had shifted to Crewe in the quest for quality, the shell’s stiffness leaping by 65percent. Men toiled for months over the Seraph’s wood and leather linings, while its sub-systems entered the modern age with four-channel anti-lock brakes, traction control, an intelligent five-speed auto and super-sensitive adaptive damping.
End of the road
True, progress was more about comfort than dynamism, but there was no denying the supremely insouciant nature of its advance down the road.
Yet any disappointments were soon overwhelmed by the soap-opera machinations of its maker’s fate, ownership shifting from British industrial conglomerate Vickers to Volkswagen before lurching to BMW in a deal rendering the Seraph as ethereally rare as its name. Just 1570 were built between 1998 and 2002, the Phantom prematurely replacing it turning out to be a car far more worthy.