Rolls-Royce Phantom VII range

Rolls-Royce Phantom VII

BUYER’S GUIDE

Rolls-Royce Phantom VII Review

The Phantom set the tone for Rolls-Royce’s modern era and remains the perfect blend of technology and tradition…

What Is It?

It’s testament to the strength of the British automotive industry that, through various twists, turns and sometimes shared destinies, it can support two luxury brands of the standing of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. And that their respective current owners have been able to carve out two very different identities for each in recent years, with distinct interpretations of shared traditions of wood and cream leathered luxury.

For its part Rolls-Royce has, under BMW ownership, been allowed to return to its regal position as the very pinnacle of four-wheeled luxury and status, the seventh-generation Phantom we’re looking at here launched in 2003 and represented the first of the Goodwood-built era that has come to symbolise its recent rebirth.

Even 20 years on a Phantom isn’t exactly the bargain modern classic, and nor is it a casual purchase for running as a daily. But the experience from behind that legendary Spirit of Ecstasy emblem is second to none. Here’s how to live the dream.

Checklist

  • Phantom production started in 2003, underwent an update in 2009 and was then more significantly revised from 2012 for the ‘Series 2’ models
  • Fundamentally they’re all the same in looks and engineering, though Series 2 versions get some subtle visual changes, the most obvious being the switch from circular secondary lights to rectangular LED ones
  • The other big change for the Series 2 was a switch from the previous six-speed automatic gearbox to an eight-speed transmission for improved flexibility and refinement
  • Other versions include the Extended Wheelbase launched in 2005, the Drophead Coupe of 2007 and Coupe of 2008
  • While BMW-based, the V12 engine is enlarged to the iconic ‘six and three-quarter litre’ capacity of old and packs 460PS (338kW)
  • As you’d hope these are well-engineered engines, but not without their issues
  • Check for leaking cam cover gaskets and oil on the block; the pipe from the water pump that runs up the ‘vee’ of the cylinder banks can also fail and Rolls-Royce dealers will charge a small fortune to fix it – specialists can achieve the same for a (relatively) more reasonable cost
  • The engine should be silky smooth at all times – if it’s not check for failing fuel injectors, which are a known weak spot on earlier engines
  • There was a recall for the brake servo in 2010 affecting a total of 689 cars built between 2003 and 2009 – this should have been addressed but check the history of any car from this era to make sure it has been
  • The Phantom runs two batteries – ensure both are in good condition, especially on cars that may not have had regular use
  • Check the air suspension is sitting level and operating as it should – bellows can leak, with resulting strain on pumps; third-party specialists can address at more reasonable cost than dealers
  • It goes without saying that paint, panels and trim on the Phantom are of exquisite quality and should present in top condition. If not, repairs to the appropriate standard are not going to come cheaply
  • While still very expensive to buy, some Phantoms may have led surprisingly hard lives as premium rentals for weddings, proms and other special events, so check the ownership record and state of the interior carefully, and be wary of any offered for what look like relatively cheap prices

How does it drive?

Many Rolls-Royce owners will, of course, prefer to enjoy the lounge-like luxury of the rear seats and entrust the driving to a member of staff rather than take the wheel themselves. Which is fine. But you’ll be missing out if you don’t have a go driving it yourself on occasion! True, the Phantom is an intimidatingly large vehicle and not for the faint of heart in busy traffic. But it’s also a very calming place to be, your isolation from the hustle and bustle outside and very obvious elevation over all around meaning you should be able to make progress without having to fight your corner too hard.

The V12 engine provides appropriately effortless performance despite the considerable weight, the ‘power reserve’ gauge in place of a more typical rev counter a subtle reminder that a Rolls-Royce’s performance is more about sensations than statistics.

The simplicity of the classically styled, slim-rimmed steering wheel is another subtle nudge as to how this car should be driven, the relatively low gearing and well-oiled lack of resistance to inputs encouraging an elegant, drive with your fingertips style that’s all about wafting rather than racing. Genuinely there’s nothing else quite like it.

 What’s good?

While there is a degree of parts sharing with the contemporary BMW 7 Series the Phantom is sufficiently elevated over this and other ‘regular’ luxury saloons like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as to feel in a different league entirely. A Bentley may come close, but still feels a little ‘new money’ in comparison, the Phantom was also a cut above the more closely 7 Series-derived Ghost that followed. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for the ‘real Rolls-Royce experience’ the Phantom remains the absolute pinnacle.

This will obviously be dependent on the tastes and budget of the original buyer, but some of the options for materials, personalisation and special finishes are truly exquisite as well, so if you’re willing to put in the legwork you may well find a car benefitting from another level of luxury.

Then there’s the experience of travelling in a Phantom as well. The famous magic carpet ride quality, the refinement and the sense of occasion all meaning there’s no such thing as an ordinary journey in a car like this.

What’s bad?

The Phantom’s sheer size is obviously a practical issue, this combined with a degree of emotional baggage meaning it’s hardly the kind of car you leave parked on a suburban driveway without raising a few eyebrows. This is luxury at its most ostentatious, with little option for cruising about under the radar if you’re not in the mood to be centre of attention. We’re still some way off Phantoms falling into the slightly spivvy image Silver Shadows gained back in the day but, whisper it, the fashion for prom night rentals and some of the blingier appearances in popular culture hint at a direction of travel that may yet end up in a similar place.

In the parallel universe of long gravel driveways and country houses a tastefully appointed Phantom will, however, always look right at home. At a more practical level it’s safe to say nothing comes cheaply with Rolls-Royce ownership, and while the Phantom is an inherently well-engineered car, you need to face the fact running costs are going to be consummate with the original six-figure purchase price. 

Which model to choose?

If you’re only ever going to let Parker take the wheel while you relax in the back quaffing champagne there is the Extended Wheelbase option, the 250mm stretch freeing up even more room for relaxation. That’s hardly lacking in the regular version, mind, and turns what’s already a big lump of car into something borderline unwieldy.

Given that for all the scope for endless customisation the fundamentals remained pretty consistent throughout the Phantom’s long life the only real decision is whether you hold out for a Series 2 for its eight-speed gearbox and updated interior. The changes to the latter mean more modern infotainment but, fair to say, the Phantom still feels defiantly old-school on this score and if you crave big screens and fancy graphics it’s not the car for you.

From the outside few casual observers are going to notice the difference between the round or oblong headlights and your status will be assured whichever version you choose, meaning holding out for nicest example with a solid history, colour and spec in line with your personal tastes will always be the best bet.

Specifications – Rolls-Royce Phantom VII Series 1

 

Engine

6.75-litre V12 petrol

Power

460PS (338kW) @ 5,350rpm

Torque

720Nm (531lb ft) @ 3,500rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 2,485kg

0-62mph

5.9 seconds

Top speed

149mph

Production dates

2003-2017 (total production, both series)

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Mazda MX-5 NA dynamic exterior

Mazda MX-5 (NA)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Mazda MX-5 (NA) Review

The car inspired by classic roadsters is now a bona-fide classic itself – here’s how to buy a good one…

What Is It?

In a nutshell? A loving homage to the classic two-seat roadster created by a multi-national team of car nuts at Mazda’s Californian design department that went on to become the world’s best-selling sportscar. There is, of course, more to the story of the Mazda MX-5 than this but the idea really did spring from a rough sketch on a blackboard. American motoring journalist Bob Hall put the proposal to Mazda R&D chief (and, later, overall boss) Kenichi Yamamoto for a simple, open-top sportscar capturing the spirit of the Austin Healeys, MGs, Alfa Romeo Spiders and similar classics they were all rocking round in at the time.

The team nailed the brief, the charming look penned by Tom Matano and his team faithfully capturing the essence of the cars that inspired it while also creating something distinct in itself. Three decades later that formula of affordability, modest performance, great handling and innocent wind-in-the-hair fun is as appealing as ever, the original now a classic in its own right. 

Corrosive Areas

Rear wheelarches

Inner and outer sills

Battery tray and boot floor

Checklist

  • Officially the Mk1 MX-5 is known as the NA to differentiate from later generations, though many also refer to it as the Mk1; JDM-market versions are technically Eunos Roadsters, not MX-5s but are fundamentally the same car with different badging
  • This branding will be the most obvious way to tell an MX-5 from a Eunos Roadster, other obvious signs being the square rear numberplate recess on JDM cars
  • 6 and 1.8-litre engines are fundamentally the same, though there are detail differences and the later European market 1.6s sold after 1994 have power restricted to 95PS (70kW)
  • Engines are generally considered tough and reliable when looked after properly; the usual checks are a sensible starting point so make sure coolant and oil levels are correct and there’s no ‘mayonnaise’ on the oil filler cap
  • Oil leaks at the back of the rocker cover are common and usually down to an easily replaced seal on the cam position sensor
  • Ask when the cambelt was last changed and if the owner doesn’t know or there’s no history to demonstrate it’s been done recently factor this into your bargaining – it’s not a big or expensive job, though
  • Check everywhere for rust but be especially vigilant around the sills and rear arches and use these as a reference for the rest of the car; most will have had repairs or patching at some point but check the quality of the work and whether it was a proper fix or just a bodge to get through an MoT
  • Blocked hood drains can rot the sills from the inside out – cheap brushes are available for keeping them clear and if ‘rodding’ results in gunge and a flood of water from the tubes the owner probably hasn’t been on top of this; also check for wet carpets and leaking hoods
  • There are plenty of bushings and pivots that can wear out on the suspension so beware clonks and rattles; geometry is adjustable and should be checked and adjusted to get the best out of the handling
  • Some JDM Eunos models had viscous limited-slip differentials – jack the car up and turn the rear wheel to see if both move in the same direction as a sign, though many will by now have worn out and become ‘open’ diffs; tougher Torsen diffs were fitted to some JDM special editions and are much coveted
  • Standard NA MX-5s ride very high and can look rather ungainly but many owners will already have fitted aftermarket springs and/or dampers to lower the car; there are endless options here but beware the temptation to go too stiff
  • The NA’s structure isn’t the most rigid so shudders and rattles over rough roads aren’t unusual (especially on non-standard suspension or bigger wheels) but serious looseness may hint at more serious structural issues
  • Brake calipers can seize through lack of use, especially the rears if the car has been left for long periods with the handbrake on – replacements are easy enough to source and fit but annoyingly expensive
  • Check the hood – NAs originally came with a zip-out plastic rear screen which can crack with age or improper folding while the vinyl wears out with time; aftermarket replacement hoods are fine and relatively affordable but consider the condition as part of your bargaining
  • NB/Mk2 hoods with the glass rear screen are a popular upgrade so don’t be surprised if you find a car with this fitted
  • Control cables for the ventilation system can snap so run the fan and cycle through the different settings to make sure you can vary the airflow as required as it’s a fiddly fix

How Does It Drive?

With its cute image, modest power and emphasis on handling rather than outright speed, the MX-5 has always battled against more macho types sneering at its supposed effeminate image. Thankfully they are now being drowned out by those appreciating the relevance of small size, lack of weight and fun at the wheel over ridiculous horsepower, irrelevant performance and status-based posing.

At around a tonne in weight, the NA MX-5 feels sprightly even with the 115PS (85kW) of the standard 1.6-litre engine, its appetite for revs and pairing a delightfully positive, short-shift manual gearbox more than making up for the modest performance stats.

Double wishbone suspension all round, perfect weight distribution, sharp steering and that natural rear-wheel-drive balance make the MX-5 huge fun. The fact you can literally drive it flat out across country and never trouble a speed limit is one of life’s great joys. Maybe the hairdressers were onto something all along…

What’s Good?

The deeper you delve into the NA MX-5 story the more you appreciate how obsessively engineered every last detail of this car was, the fact even the cam cover was designed to be aesthetically pleasing just one example.

The design is matched with timeless appeal as well, the ease with which you can throw back the roof and let rip meaning every drive can put a smile on your face. The European roadsters that so inspired the MX-5 had demonstrated this already, of course, but the combination with Japanese build quality and reliability were the icing on the cake.

It’s also a very simple car and easy for the DIY enthusiast to work on and fix, with a wide support network of accumulated knowledge, passionate owners and affordable parts supply. The scope for tuning, modifications and upgrades is also huge, and something many owners enjoy exploring.

What’s Bad?

While still considered a ‘modern’ interpretation of classic roadsters the oldest NA MX-5s are now over 30 years old themselves, this and the fact they were cheap for much of that period meaning time is rapidly catching up with them. They’re mechanically tough and cheap to keep running, but corrosion is now killing them off at a rate of knots. The fact they’re still not valuable enough to make expensive bodywork repairs financially viable means many have rotted away.

Those that haven’t may have survived this far with a succession of crude bodges to scrape through the MoT, but you can only keep deep-seated corrosion at bay for so long and the number of rust-free cars is rapidly diminishing. Modding is also a big part of MX-5 culture, but makes finding an original car in good condition even harder. There may still be plenty in the market, but finding the ones worth buying will take time, determination and perhaps more money than you’d bargained for.

Which Model To Chose?

There are effectively three engine choices with the NA MX-5, these being the original 115PS (85kW) 1.6, the later 1.8 and the post-1994 1.6 with its throttled-back 95PS (70kW) output. The situation is confused by the large number of Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) Eunos Roadsters on British roads, many of these sticking with the higher-output 1.6. Some of these were also four-speed automatics but the less said about them the better. While some prefer the ‘correct’ Mazda badging of the UK-market cars it’s probably best to be open-minded and buy on condition first, badge second given the Eunos version is pretty much identical.

Japanese cars were also sold in various desirable limited editions not seen here, with upgrades like Bilstein dampers, BBS wheels, limited-slip diffs and more. In terms of engine the 1.8 has a bit more torque and flexibility but the original 1.6 with its shorter gearing and revvier nature is often favoured on the basis it’s more fun to drive. And if tenths off your 0-62 time are a priority you’re probably not the target audience anyway.

Specifications – Mazda MX-5 (NA) 1.6 (pre-1994/JDM)

 

Engine

1.6-litre four-cylinder, petrol

Power

115PS (86kW) @ 6,500rpm

Torque

135Nm (100lb ft) @ 5,500rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

955kg

0-62mph

8.8 seconds

Top speed

121mph

Production dates

1989-1997 (total production)

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