If you want a metaphor for my childhood, here it is: The first Rolls-Royce I ever actually touched was an ivory-white Camargue. It was some time in the late Seventies and my father had finally agreed to take me over to a real Rolls-Royce dealership so I could look at a real Rolls-Royce. As fate would have it, our local Roller shop was tucked into a small corner of a very large Buick dealer, so I had to walk past a dozen Regals and LeSabres before I could get to the velvet-rope section, which was defined by an actual velvet rope. And there it was: a brand-new Camargue. The most expensive vehicle I’d ever seen up close. I snuck under the rope, a maneuver made easier by the fact that I wasn’t quite five feet tall, and touched it.
Something was wrong. This massively expensive, undeniably exclusive car was kinda… small. In fact, it was about the size of my mom’s 403-powered ‘77 Cutlass Supreme. Of course, I was well aware that cars were a lot smaller on the other side of the Atlantic. Still, it seemed odd to spend so much money on something that would be literally eclipsed by the sky-blue Lincoln Mark V in my best friend’s driveway.
I didn’t know it then, but my youthful prejudices were an accurate predictor of Rolls-Royce’s future. As lovely as the Silver Shadow and it’s Silver Spirit successor were, to say nothing of the sublime and even tasteful Seraph, they just weren’t big enough to cut the mustard in the United States. I’ve spent a lot of time wheeling Shadow-generation Rollers around the land of the free, and while I’m sure they seemed quite majestic from the driver’s seat of an Audi 50 or a subcompact Peugeot they’re basically taxi-sized here.
This wasn’t a problem that Crewe could afford to solve, but the company’s acquisition by BMW paved the way for the super-sized seventh-generation Phantom. It’s just yielding to a successor now, after almost a decade and a half, and if you’ve ever seen one you know that it has all the visual presence and punch that its recent-ish predecessors lacked. The scale of it is truly massive; an S-Class Benz shrinks to C-Class when parked next to a Phantom. As a statement of unashamed wealth, the big Roller has few equals and perhaps that’s why well-used examples still command six figures on the open market.
Recently, luxury car to compete with the S-Class. Such a car would, in its eventual top-spec form, also perhaps visit the neighborhood currently inhabited by the “small” Rolls-Royce Ghost and Wraith. The internet has been quite skeptical so far but I think it’s a neat idea and one that will pay some dividends in brand prestige. The Range Rover badge has been diluted again and again in recent years; this might help firm it up a bit.
I’ll confidently predict that this Road Rover will maintain the approximate proportions of a Range Rover SUV sans a little bit of roof height and a little bit of ride height. That’s the only sane way to do it. The S-Class is a pretty big car in all directions nowadays, and if the Rover folks want to make an impact with buyers they’ll have to be even bigger. In fact, the relatively short time between rumor and expected delivery is probably due to the fact that they won’t have to cook up a whole new platform. The existing Rangie will do just fine.
Which brings me to the proverbial modest proposal. If it’s possible to make S-Class competitors out of lowered Range Rovers, wouldn’t it be possible to make a Phantom competitor out of a lowered Escalade? Don’t laugh just yet. There’s some established precedent here in the form of the Cadillac “Beast” Presidential State Car. Reportedly based on a GMC TopKick chassis, the Beast looks remarkably like an old Caddy DTS blown up to Phantom- proportions.
Nobody would call the Beast handsome, but then nobody calls the Phantom handsome either. What they both are is striking, and that’s what the rich want nowadays. It’s also pertinent to note that the Beast isn’t really “styled” in the modern sense of the word. A proper Phantom-sized Cadillac based on the Escalade platform would, of course, benefit from the very skilled hands at GM Styling. It could be cliff-faced imposing like the Rolls-Royce or it could be relatively low and sleek like a 1976 Fleetwood Talisman. One of the nice things about building a body-on-frame luxury car is that you have all sorts of room to make it look any way you like.
What kind of truck-based luxury sedan could Cadillac turn out for, say, two hundred grand? I suspect that it would easily match up with the best from Europe in terms of interior materials, power, and size. Refinement? That’s another story–but slotting an independent suspension in place of the ‘Slade live axle would help, and some of the Middle Eastern customers might well welcome something with a bit of chassis ruggedness anyway.
Such a vehicle would be relatively easy to engineer and sell in small quantities. If it looked good, the potential impact on the bottom line, both as a profit center and as a halo car, would be immense. Cadillac could play up the Presidential connection as well. It would put the brand on the radar screen of people who haven’t thought about the wreath-and-crest since the Seventies.
Most importantly, a no-holds-barred Iowa-class Caddy sedan would send the message that American products can still play on the international stage by playing to their traditional strengths and virtues. Isn’t it ridiculous that uber-wealthy folks in search of the most massive sedan money can buy are shopping with the British and Germans instead of with the people who pretty much invented the twenty-foot four-door?
You can call it Fleetwood, perhaps Fleetwood Sixty Special if you’re in the mood for the full retro and if you want to call the inevitable stretch version the Seventy-Five. I like that. Or you can tap into the vague memories people have of Cadillacs overseas, along with the Presidential prestige, and call it the Beast de Ville. It’s going to be the best big American bomber since the B-29, and the objective will be similar: to dominate the world with superior size and firepower. There’s no reason not to do it; as a former occupant of a Presidential State Car once said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
And now, a very different type of Cadillac