Driv­ing the Rolls-Royce Dawn takes me on a trip down mem­ory lane, and on the path to re­demp­tion


When past meets present – a let­ter to the un­cle

DEAR UN­CLE, Re­mem­ber the set of keys you spent hours look­ing for? It was a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago so you prob­a­bly don’t re­mem­ber what I’m talk­ing about, but I think the time is ripe to con­fess. You didn’t mis­place that set but it was I who trans­ferred that key to a dif­fer­ent place. A safer place. I couldn’t bear the thought of not ever see­ing that car in our garage again and I just had to have a phys­i­cal mem­ory of it. Some­thing beyond the fam­ily pho­tos and the trunk full of tro­phies we had won with it.

Hell, even I had for­got­ten about that key un­til to­day. To­day those mem­o­ries have all come rush­ing back. There was some­thing strangely fa­mil­iar about the shape of the Dawn’s Parthenon grille with the Spirit of Ec­stasy adorn­ing its crest that took me back to that day; re­minded me of my guilt. Watch­ing the sun rise over this dis­used in­dus­trial com­pound, light­ing up the flanks of this gleam­ing new Roll­sRoyce, my mind jogged back to those Sun­day morn­ings we would spend clean­ing Dadu’s Phan­tom. How I would sit on those enor­mous run­ning boards munch­ing a sand­wich, as we kids weren’t al­lowed to eat in­side the car.

Life has come a full cir­cle. For years I imag­ined what it would be like to drive Dadu’s Rolls, know­ing full well that dream would re­main but a dream. Ex­cept this is no dream. This is not a 1936 Phan­tom II, but this is a Rolls-Royce nev­er­the­less. And just like our Rolls was at the cut­ting edge of au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy when it was in­tro­duced to Kolkata’s streets, so too this Dawn is the pin­na­cle of… well… I’m at a loss to ex­plain what a two-door four-seat con­vert­ible rep­re­sents ex­cept for decadence on an unimag­in­able scale. But the ex­cite­ment I’m feel­ing, that flut­ter­ing of the heart is ex­actly what I used to get ev­ery time I climbed into the seat of our car and drove out in to my world of make-be­lieve.

As my back­side sighs into the won­der­fully plush driver’s seat of the Dawn I re­mem­ber, not with­out a hint of re­gret, how my lit­tle frame would sink into the black leather seat of our car and I couldn’t see past the pol­ished oak dash. If I peered through the thin four-spoked steer­ing wheel I would just about make out the wing tips of the Spirit of Ec­stasy. Even to­day I can’t see her ex­cept I realise the Fly­ing Lady can be sunk into the grille at the touch of a but­ton. I touch that but­ton and am pre­sented with a view that very, very few get to ex­pe­ri­ence. You should con­sider your­self for­tu­nate to have ex­pe­ri­enced that in your youth! I’m only thank­ful that de­spite sink­ing at least six inches into the plush­ness of the red leather I can see well past the flat ex­panse of the bon­net and the road ahead. Oh what a view it is! I imag­ine this is the view air­craft car­rier com­man­ders get from the helm of their war­ships. And of course, my feet can reach the two ped­als quite eas­ily. You re­mem­ber how much I strug­gled to get my right foot on the throt­tle? No longer.

I also re­mem­ber how that steer­ing wheel felt in my lit­tle palms and the Dawn trig­gers some of those mem­o­ries. Un­like the cars I test on a reg­u­lar ba­sis the Dawn has a large and thin-rimmed helm. If a gentle­man of the Raj wanted to race the Ori­ent Ex­press he got him­self a Bent­ley. If a gentle­man wanted to drive like a gentle­man ought to he got him­self a Rolls, and that phi­los­o­phy con­tin­ues with the Dawn. This is a Rolls for that rare species of su­per-wealthy that likes to drive them­selves but this is also a car that will not be hus­tled.

Some things of course are dif­fer­ent, and the wood ve­neer on this feels quite dif­fer­ent to my fin­gers from the mem­o­ries stored and cher­ished for all these years. The RR fel­lows call the wood ve­neers ‘book-matched’ as if the wood on your car was mis­matched. The white-faced di­als too look dif­fer­ent or am I wrong in as­sum­ing your Phan­tom didn’t have white-faced di­als? I also can’t re­mem­ber there be­ing a tachome­ter on our car, and nei­ther does the Dawn have one. In­stead it gets some­thing called a power re­serve counter, which I shall ex­plain to you shortly. And of course the vel­vet up­hol­stery of the pas­sen­ger cabin has now been re­placed with leather. What is it that you told me, that roy­alty sat on vel­vet and leather seats were only re­served for driv­ers and the help as they were hard wear­ing? Yes, the times, they are a changin’.

There’s no way I can re­pay you for all the me­morable drives in our Phan­tom but let me try by tak­ing you for a drive in the Dawn. There’s a 6.6-litre V12 un­der a bon­net that stretches half way to Kolkata and with twin tur­bocharg­ers it makes 563bhp and 780Nm. Those two fig­ures are unimag­in­able. You step on it – yes I know gentle­men don’t ‘step on it’ but I’ve got petrol in my veins – and the prow rises. Grace­fully but very, very pow­er­fully. There’s a punch in the small of my back, de­liv­ered with a vel­vet glove. It’s like the hand of god push­ing

you to­wards the hori­zon; the turn of pace is un­real. 100kmph takes less than 5 sec­onds, 4.9 to be pre­cise. Top speed is an elec­tron­i­cally lim­ited 250kmph but then who cares about top speed in a car of this kind? This is about cruis­ing in yacht-like lux­ury. And that power re­serve counter, it’s al­ways show­ing 90 per cent in re­serve, but I guess that’s to be ex­pected when 780Nm peaks at just 1500rpm.

There is of course an au­to­matic gear­box, eight speeds in this case, but noth­ing so… un­be­com­ing … as a Sports mode. Not even a man­ual mode, I guess a Rolls owner doesn’t con­cern him­self with shift­ing gears even via pad­dles or some such. Nope, this au­to­matic gear­box is sat-linked and if, for in­stance, it de­tects you are on a wind­ing road it will down­shift with more ur­gency than be­fore. Kind of like Jeeves think­ing for you.

I wish our Ben­gali ver­sion of Jeeves was around, to re­mind me of what our Rolls used to sound like. Oh wait, she hardly made any noise did she? No won­der I have no mem­ory of it! And so too this Dawn. Thumb the pol­ished starter but­ton and you hear… noth­ing! Not even with that fabric top folded down and out of the way, which in­ci­den­tally takes 22 sec­onds and can be done at speeds of up to 50kmph. Did I men­tion that the fold­ing of the roof is also achieved silently? It’s called a ‘Si­lent Ballet’ in RR-speak – in my line of work we learn some­thing new ev­ery­day! The only sound is the tick­ing of the Sea­mas­ter I’m wear­ing, the one you gave me when I grad­u­ated.

I’m em­bar­rassed to ad­mit that I also at­tempted to ex­plore the Dawn’s han­dling, in hind­sight push­ing the tyres on its side­walls seems like a most in­el­e­gant thing to do. That said, this cruise liner does turn. It has ac­tive anti-roll bars and the struc­ture is stiff, which cuts body roll through turns. You can po­si­tion it wher­ever you want on the road and it re­acts re­mark­ably crisply. The ride qual­ity that you so used to like, what you had once called a magic car­pet over Kolkata’s pot­hole-rid­den roads, is prob­a­bly a Rolls-Royce hall­mark (of course I had no idea about it at the time). The Dawn too glides over ev­ery­thing un­der its wheels; pot­holes, bumps, ruts… ev­ery­thing. Only RR has a name for it now. They call it waft­ing.

So I wafted my way through the test drive, the pho­to­shoot and down mem­ory lane to that day, 25 years ago when I had sneaked into your room. I knew ex­actly where you kept that third set of keys. How


could I not? I had seen you take it from there so many times on your way to the garage. The sight of you search­ing for them when they came to take the car away has never left me. I felt guilty that I was caus­ing you so much trou­ble but I was an­gry too be­cause that car was spe­cial and I hadn’t driven it and they were tak­ing it away. I may even have wept a lit­tle but boys don’t cry so we will leave it at that. But the Dawn has put me in a spe­cial place. If not for that sub­con­scious long­ing to drive Dadu’s Rolls I doubt I’d have set off on a path that now has me test­ing cars for a liv­ing. And driv­ing a Dawn is, with­out doubt, one of the more spec­tac­u­lar mo­ments of my work­ing life. The lux­ury, the op­u­lence, the decadence – my god!

I must also tell you that this Dawn costs a breath­tak­ing eight and a half crore ru­pees. Think about it, if a new Rolls costs so much what might an eight decade old Rolls be worth right now? If you’re now pin­ing for the car we once had, go into my old room and look at the back of the sec­ond shelf of the short steel cup­board for a lit­tle red jew­ellery box. In there you’ll find what you didn’t that day.


Above: Ta­chome­ters are for lesser mor­tals, RR own­ers need to know how much more they can ac­cess. Be­low: That Parthenon grille, the Spirit of Ec­stasy and the sui­cide doors have been an RR sig­na­ture since 1909


Fac­ing page: My heart still flut­ters when the Spirit of Ec­stasy emerges. Top: With a sub 5-sec­ond 0-100kmph, this might be all you see. Above: The pro­file is more yacht-like than car. Left: Like our old ‘36 Phan­tom’s straight six, this V12 barely purrs

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