Ghost Stories: Cruising Cambridge in a Rolls-Royce

The Rolls-Royce Ghost might be spooktacular, but there’s something strange going on in this neighbourhood…

Barrett was a rather eccentric former fellow at Cambridge’s King’s College. He kept a coffin in his apartment in the Gibbs Building and was haunted by dark forces, causing him no end of bad luck.

One night screams were heard coming from his lodgings. The next morning he was found dead in his own coffin, laid straight and centred in a manner that couldn’t possibly have been of his own doing. Mysterious forces were at play.

Every year his ghostly cry echoes around the building, piercing the soul of those within earshot.

I’ve got my own ghost story, but there’s no myth or mystery involved, and definitely no screaming. There are 6.6-litres of turbocharged V12 engine just a few inches ahead of me, but all I can hear is a whisper as Rolls-Royce’s ‘budget’ model whisks me around the city.

Budget is a bit of a misnomer though, especially when you’ll be handing over at least £230,000 to get your own Ghost. In reality, you’ll probably need to add at least another £50,000 to get the car you really want – Rolls Royce buyers don’t do ‘standard’ models, instead choosing to personalise their cars, sometimes to an incredible level.

There are 44,000 paint colours to choose from, but that’s not bespoke enough for some so specific shades can be mixed to order from a seemingly infinite palate. One customer’s request for a very specific shade of gold meant that 19 grams of pure gold powder were mixed with each litre of paint. As there are around 30 litres of paint on the car, that’s more than £21,000 of gold at today’s price.

Buyers visit Rolls-Royce in Goodwood to discuss the final specification for their cars, taking anything from lipstick to furniture to match colours against, but the whole process goes much further than that.

I’ll never know just how far the relationship stretches, at least not while I remain a motoring journalist. I’ll stick to my old Chevrolet and a dealer network that no longer exists.

At least I got to experience the car, albeit for just a week.

What a week though. Forget sitting in the back and being driven, I’d have sacked the chauffeur as the Rolls-Royce Ghost engages with you like nothing this size has any right to do.

The Rolls-Royce Ghost balances modern technology and classic deign beautifully.

Despite weighing north of two tonnes, that huge V12 engine propels the car to sixty miles per hour in less than five seconds, an ever so subtle growl simply demanding that the horizon is brought nearer.

If swift progress is required, the Ghost simply provides. Huge tyres grip the road, the laws of physics being a mere irritation, while strong brakes bring the brute to a stop neck-snappingly quickly. As the bends approach in front, a satellite aided gearbox already knows what’s coming and selects the right gears. It’s incredible.

Relax and the Ghost relaxes with you. The engine note fades away entirely, wind noise is almost imperceptible, and only the occasional bit of tyre roar upsets the calm.

It’s when relaxing that you can examine the exquisite detail and craftsmanship that goes into a Rolls-Royce. The wooden veneers are taken from the same tree so the grain matches across different panels, while the leather is sourced from Austrian cows that haven’t ever seen a barbed wire fence – this means there’ll be no scratches on the skin.

In the back the lounge seating sees the two armchair-like seats angled slightly towards each other, creating a more intimate space that’s easier to conduct business in. When relaxing, there’s an excellent infotainment system that is controlled by a crystal topped rotary dial, with stunning quality sound throughout the cabin.

It’s not all entirely perfect. The ride, while exceptional in nearly all circumstances, doesn’t hide cracks in the road at low speeds, sending a quiet thud through to the cabin. The heating and ventilation controls are archaic, sometimes making it tough to get the climate set exactly as you’d like. And this is not a car for you if you have any environmental scruples whatsoever.

That said, picking on the Rolls-Royce Ghost for some minor issues feels a little superfluous; it’s still a stunning piece of engineering, even a stunning piece of art, that stands head and shoulders above the competition.

That’s assuming there is any competition. Nothing this side of a Bentley Flying Spur can match the presence, pace and panache of the Rolls-Royce, but they’re very different cars.

And very different from my Chevy. The man from Rolls-Royce has taken the car back to Goodwood, to ready it for the next journalist to fall desperately in love with so, for me at least, it’s back to my old motor. The one that now won’t start. The one with no breakdown cover on it.

That scream you can hear isn’t Barrett. It’s me.

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Phil Huff

Phil Huff is one of the UK’s leading motoring journalists, with years of experience test driving new cars for national magazines and newspapers, as well as popular online sites. When not driving other people’s cars, he can be found provoking the ire of Cambridge residents in his old Corvette.