Drives: Turn to Port, I Mean Go Left
Odds are I will never get to skipper one of the few remaining J-Class yachts that dominated the America's Cup in the 1930s, not least because only 10 of the massive, opulent boats were built. But I think I've helmed the next best thing: a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé, the world's longest, most expensive convertible. With its teak decking and a design inspired by the J-Class ships, the Phantom beckons drivers to don a captain's hat.
The Drophead Coupé is quite the civilized ride. Even at 85 mph with the top down, conversations could be had in normal speaking tones, and the car barely rattled going over potholes. Inside, the four-seater is highlighted by soft hand-sewn leather and chrome, and the underside of the five-layer cloth top is lined in a cashmere blend. Outside, the distinctive stainless steel hood and Parthenon grille are tough to miss. When I stopped at traffic lights, pedestrians kept crowding in for a closer look.
Though the Phantom takes up a boatload of asphalt -- even the steering wheel feels oversize -- it also packs a whale of an engine, which can take it from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Of course, the Phantom deftly handles life in the slow lane, too. If you need a place to munch lobster salad before the regatta, just open the trunk. The tailgate doubles as a bench for two.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé
$407,000; $426,750 as tested
6.8-liter, 453-hp V-12 engine; 11/18 mpg
In addition to all that teak, cashmere, and hand-sewn leather, the two rear-hinged coach doors (they close with the push of a button) make you feel like royalty. The flying-lady hood ornament retracts to protect against big-game trophy hunters.
Because it's more than 18 feet long, parallel parking is a bit like maneuvering an elephant into a kiddie pool. Plus, the limited U.S. supply -- fewer than 200 cars -- is already sold out until 2009.
"Few things make you feel like you're a character in a Merchant Ivory film. This is one of them," says Gary S. Vasilash, editor in chief of Automotive Design & Production. "If you're looking to keep a low profile, you'd be better off with a Ferrari F430 Spider."