By Alex Taylor III
July 17, 2008

The other weekend, I spent time behind the wheel of an Admiral Blue convertible Rolls that weighs 5,800 pounds and has a total suggested retail price of $442,390 (including gas guzzler tax of $3,000).  It  gets 11 miles per gallon in the city, 18 miles per gallon on the highway.

Which raises the question: What exactly do you use a Drophead Coupe for? Shopping on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach? For sure.  Arriving for a relaxed 18 holes at the Beverly Hills Country Club? Without a doubt.  Stopping at the 7-11 for a quart of milk? Highly dubious.

Practicality aside, the primary virtue of the Rolls is its uniqueness, with features found on no other car.  Some are little more than gimmicks: doors that open backwards and can then be closed by pushing a button; matched umbrellas stashed on either side of the front frame; a hood ornament that disappears from view (and from vandals) with the touch of a button.

Other features on the Rolls are lavish but not noticeably different from similar embellishments found on Mercedes and BMW models priced in the low six figures: matched leather hides for seat surfaces; wood veneers for the interior trim; cast metal switches and levers for the instruments. A few are anachronisms.  Rolls uses analog heating and cooling controls at a time when nearly every other automaker in the world has changed over to digital switches.

Still, some of the excesses are inspired. The sisal floor mats (hemp to you and me) and teakwood hatch cover appear as if they were lifted directly from Ari Onasis’ yacht and look just right in an open car.  (Since you asked, the teakwood is part of an $18,000 option package).

Once you get over the fear of creasing the metal on this 18-foot-long behemoth, it is actually quite easy to drive. After locating the seat controls buried in the center armrest, you make yourself comfortable in the massive chairs, insert the key, ignite the start/stop button, and you take off.  Steering motions are inputted through a thin-rimmed wheel that, while it doesn’t encourage aggressive cornering, is perfectly suited to controlling all that machinery with a light touch.  A single button lowers the thick convertible top, enabling lesser mortals to view your profile while you proceed on your journey. The massive 6.75-liter V-12 engine wafts you along in the quietest, best-riding convertible you’ve ever encountered.

So why all the money?  It  is the exclusivity, darling. Only 222 Rolls reached U.S. customers during the first six months of 2008 and just a quarter of them were dropheads. That’s one for each state of the union, with a couple extra left over for California and Florida. Rolls reports that the waiting list for a new one is one to two years long.  Even in these difficult economic times, price can still be no object.

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