Rolls-Royce Design Director Anders Warming on the Art of Updating an Automotive Icon

The latest Phantom, a name that goes back to 1925, embraces subtlety, history and even customer feedback

March 28, 2023 7:15 am
The grille of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II, shown in the dark with a lit up grille and headlights
The eighth-generation Phantom Series II isn't a total overhaul, and that's just fine with customers.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

So this is what it’s like to be a celebrity. Driving the new Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II gets you a lot of attention, and not just because it’s one of the largest sedans on the market. If it was painted yellow, school kids would try to board it. Even in a somewhat more sophisticated shade of, say, metallic grey or midnight, people can’t help but look. This may be naive, but the sense is that these stares are not in envy, or even in judgment — as supercars often suggest less than positive things about their drivers — but in admiration. Maybe even awe.

Anders Warming, the design director at Rolls-Royce since 2021 — he was previously head of exterior design at BMW, where he crafted the 5 Series and Z4, and then head of design at Mini — says that this latest update on what is debatably the company’s most prestige design in recent years has necessarily been a subtle one.

Some might say this is because Rolls-Royce has reached peak ostentatiousness, a perception the company has tried to counter in recent years. Certainly there are drivers for whom a Rolls-Royce, with that iconic “Pantheon” grille much more like having the entire Parthenon fixed to your hood, is just too much. But the update has been subtle because Rolls-Royce owners, who are getting younger, tend to be members of an unspoken club with which the company works closely.

“We get to hear a lot of ideas and concerns [from Rolls-Royce owners]. It’s very intimate. It’s like a friendship, and like nothing I’ve experienced in the car industry before,” Warming tells InsideHook. “But it’s actually great to get direct feedback, and they’re very specific about what they do and don’t like. Sometimes they tell me what they think we should do and you think, whoa, OK, that’s a big one, we’ll have to think about that. But other times you get a sense that these are entrepreneurs, and the kind of startup people who have a high degree of vision.”

What they have requested is that the new Phantom, a name that’s traced back in the Rolls-Royce history books to 1925, should not deviate massively from the previous one. They like the idea of their Rolls-Royce having long-term stylistic validity, of at least a decade, in an auto market that typically aims for more like six years.

The new Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II, shown with the large disc wheels
The Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II is available with imposing disc wheels that strike a balance between modern and vintage.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

“You simply can’t have a Rolls-Royce that doesn’t fulfill the quality demands of its market. It just can’t be [otherwise],” he says. “So I have to look at the [design] details over and over again, make them perfect and then, in theory, they should stand the test of time. Meanwhile the engineering team goes to extensive lengths to test every little bit of the car before it can even get close to handing one to a client. As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression.”

That’s why, he adds, the proportions, size, doors, instrumentation and other facets of this, the eighth-generation Phantom, are much the same as on the seventh. It’s as though Rolls-Royce found its pinnacle with the previous model. Much as to be “the Rolls-Royce” of its kind is to suggest the very best, it’s as though the seventh-generation was, as it were, the Rolls-Royce of Rolls-Royces. Of course, there has since been an engineering upgrade, including the addition of four-wheel steering, which makes maneuvering this beast around built-up city streets much easier. This is both an urbane and urban vehicle. 

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Not that you ever feel the road: Control is literally achieved with one finger tip, if you want; and the drive is so soundlessly smooth — Rolls-Royce’s famed “magic carpet” ride — that, in this writer’s experience at least, passengers undergo a period of adjustment to stop themselves feeling a little queasy, so used as they are to relying on the feedback of the bumps and lumps in the road surface to give them a sense of motion that matches their vision. 

“When you launch any car, you’re convinced it’s the best you could have done and then a few years later when you bring out the next iteration you look back on the old one and think, wow, we’ve really moved on since then,” says Warming. “Besides, designers are agents of change. We’re expected to keep pushing things on. The trick is not to bring change for its own sake.”

A close-up of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II grille and headlights with laser-cut starlight
A close-up of the updated headlights on the new Phantom, including a new starlight detail.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Indeed, Warming has introduced a suite of extremely understated aesthetic changes that individually might be overlooked but collectively give the Phantom Series II a fresh expression. There are newly distinct lines, a more emphatic curve or undercut which give extra presence. There are the ultra-luxury touches: that grille now lights up, and the headlight surrounds have laser-cut starlights which echo the pin-points in the headliner that give it a “starlit night sky” effect. This, Warming reveals, was a happy solution to a problem of light leakage in the original star-free design. 

Inside, there’s what the company is calling the gallery, a space on the dash on the passenger side in which the customer can have on permanent display an art or craft work — in textiles or wood, say — fixed behind glass. This has to be produced in an air-tight room to stop dust appearing behind this glass at a later date. It is, in and of itself, quite pointless other than as a means to further personalize the vehicle. It’s a nod too to luxury cars of a bygone era. 

Then there is the car’s standout accessory: those disc wheels, color-matched to the body and of a kind once popular on prestige vehicles in the 1920s. Now, a century later, they provide more of a futuristic feeling. As Warming puts it, you can keep adding more and more lines to a wheel design, but that doesn’t mean your customer will be able to tell it apart from that of another marque. “But take all those lines away entirely, make one big disc, and the effect is bold but wonderfully simple,” he says. “Sometimes as human beings it’s the simplest changes that make the greatest impression on us.”

The interior of a Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II with black and maroon fabrics
As with all Rolls-Royce vehicles, the interior is endlessly customizable.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

What will make a greater impression on many is the price of this production vehicle, which lies in the region of $450,000, depending on the myriad options and the buyer’s bespoke tweaks. That’s the price of a house, and brings to mind Glengarry Glen Ross in which the ball-busting salesman points out how his watch cost more than the other guy’s car.

That poses the question: Given that even a car as refined and as spectacular as this inevitably gives the driver diminishing returns of excitement — as do most things in life — what exactly is a Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II for? Most cars express their raison d’être, or the market forces them to have one: whether that be to go incredibly fast but not necessarily comfortably, or to be able to go across rivers and up mountains, or to carry eight kids to the little league game. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II can do none of these things (well, OK, it is pretty fast). 

The answer is that it is a true luxury object, in that there is absolutely no need for it and, arguably, no solution to a problem is provided by it. Need is not what such a car is about. If it has a function, it’s to be a totem of excellence for its own sake. This one just happens to have wheels.

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