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Drag racing a Rolls-Royce?

Luxury & Lifestyle 13-09-2017

Jeremy Taylor and Tina Hillier discovers Romanian police prefer performance to paperwork as they embark on a European adventure in the Rolls Royce Wraith.

The Romanian boarder guard is packing a pistol and has his head rammed through the open door of my Rolls-Royce.

Apparently, I don’t have the correct paperwork. Judging from his grimace, Captain Cojocaru isn’t happy to be disturbed from his lunch either. He sniffs the leather of the Wraith cabin suspiciously. Should I tell him it was cut from free-range Simmental cows, raised
in a moist region to keep their skin subtle? It actually takes 12 hides to upholster one Rolls-Royce – but that may be too much information.

Better to keep quiet and answer when spoken to.

DO YOU KNOW CLARKSON?

“How many horsepower is this car – do you know Jeremy Clarkson?”

Far from handing out a random fine, the captain is obviously a closet petrol-head in a land of downbeat Dacias and slow-moving tractors. I tell him the Wraith is a gentleman’s GT, equipped with a 6.6-litre V12. Thanks to that 624bhp bi-turbo engine, it will gently stretch its legs to 60mph in 4.4 seconds, then on to 155mph without pausing for breath.

“624bhp? That is more than all the cars in Romania!” says Cojocaru.

I laugh nervously but the captain is obviously warming to the Wraith and prepared to bargain for a free passage.

“You do a standing start. I want to see how fast this Rolls-Royce will go.”

So with a casual wave to his watching colleagues, the six frontier stations beside me are immediately locked down. Then the barrier in front of me is slowly raised and the captain urges us forward, using his cap as a starting flag.

Is it a trick to get me banged up in Bucharest for speeding?

All I can see in my rear-view mirror as the Wraith leaps effortlessly forward is Cojocaru and his men in a state of animated excess. There are queues of traffic waiting behind them but nothing is getting through those barriers for a while.

EXPLORING EUROPE

It’s the only awkward moment in a 1,500-mile adventure designed to put Rolls-Royce’s ultimate coupe to the test.

Our grand tour of Europe will include some of the finest cities
in Europe, a few of the fastest roads – and rather too many potholes. Our start point four days earlier is the Peninsula Hotel – a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Gershwin composed An American In Paris while in residence here and Germany used it as their French HQ during the Second World War. The Vietnam peace accord of 1973 was supposedly signed on the bar. Steeped in history, it underwent a £600 million refit a few years ago and now boasts an eclectic collection of vehicles, all waiting to be discovered in the underground car park.

They range from a restored 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II, to a classic Citroen 2CV. All are painted dark green and available to guests.

It’s not difficult to spot the Wraith. The Salamanca Blue bodywork sparkles like a Raoul Dufy painting of the sun- scorched Mediterranean. Inside, the cream leather that later impressed the captain is stitched in navy blue. Tuscan Ash veneer dominates the dashboard and chrome detailing is the icing on the cake.

The plan is to leave Paris and follow the route of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to Istanbul. It journeys via Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest – although the political situation in Turkey means we won’t make the final destination ourselves by road.

A CLASSIC SPORTS CAR

Rolls-Royce wince at the term ‘sports car’ but the Wraith is as close as it gets. A dynamic fastback of mammoth proportions, it’s the fastest and most powerful car the company has ever produced. And that means even cool Parisians can’t resist a peek at £242,000 of motorized luxury.

Finding our way out of the city centre and onto the Peripherique involves countless pedestrian ‘selfies’ and a paparazzi-style entourage on scooters.

The A4 to Strasbourg then is a welcome relief. It’s a chance for the Wraith to do what it does best – cruise in a straight line for mile after mile. We’re averaging just over 17mpg, not bad for 2.3 tons of handcrafted metal and ash that barely makes a whisper.

You know when a hotel concierge is good at their job because they understand the workings of every car. Matteo, at the Regent Petite France in Strasbourg, is half Italian, loves engines and therefore has a distinct advantage.

He passed the basic Wraith test by knowing how to open the doors – they are hinged at the front. It’s raining, so Matteo pops out one of the two Teflon-coated umbrellas hidden in the door- frame. Brilliant.

The next morning, Matteo draws us a route map out of the cobbled central district and pops up the Spirit of Ecstasy too. He thought it best to retract the bonnet mascot ‘just in case’ and he’s cleaned the flies off the bi-xenons too.

Day two is a 500-mile, east to west slog across Germany. I’m not looking forward to it to be honest but the autobahns have unrestricted stretches and what better place to power on in a Rolls-Royce?

Perhaps it’s obvious but what’s interesting about the Wraith is that unlike supercars sporting harsh suspension and noisy tailpipes, there is absolutely no impression of speed in the Wraith. You can be travelling at 20mph through Baden Baden, or 150mph past Munich. It’s completely unflustered and composed.

Not something that can be said about drivers waiting in a five- mile tailback, coming in the opposite direction on the German- Austrian border. The migrant crisis has tightened national security for those heading west – but not if you are motoring east. It’s late when we reach the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna.

The interior of the Wraith is now illuminated with thousands of tiny lights. The Starlight Headliner is a pretty frivolous extra but somehow makes you feel good – even after eight hours behind the wheel.

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

The next day it’s only a short drive to Budapest. Judging by the welcome, I’m not sure there are many Rolls-Royces in Hungary. Even so, the Gresham Palace Hotel must be one of the world’s finest art nouveau buildings.

It only just survived the German siege in 1944 and is now flanked by wrought iron peacock gates. Budapest turns out to be lively and welcoming. It’s the perfect rest place before the final, ten-hour journey across Romania. And from here on in the roads are far more demanding – Captain Cojocaru didn’t warn us about that.

The Rolls has to negotiate horse-drawn carts and countless construction lorries, all vying for space on well-worn tarmac. The Wraith corners better than you might expect, it’s
almost nimble. Then the steering tightens up at speed and the suspension irons out any rough stuff.

Transylvania passes in a flash, we power on down the steep wooded valleys and make it to Bucharest by nightfall.

It’s an exhilarating journey, sat in the most luxurious car on the road – well, Romanian roads for certain. Perhaps it’s no wonder that the average age of a Rolls-Royce has nosedived to 43 in recent years. There’s nothing sluggish about the appeal or performance of the Wraith – just ask the captain…

Photographs by Tina Hillier

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