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Phantom rolls in, 50 years on
- Spirit of Ecstasy returns to India sporting tag of Rs 3.5 cr

Mumbai, April 8: The country's super-rich may have heard about the Phantom of the jungle, but here's an opportunity for them to be a Phantom of the roads.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, now in the BMW stable, today returned to India after an absence of 50 years, bringing with it the new Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Although the Jhelum Valley Road, too, reopened after half a century yesterday, that stretch of asphalt may not quite be the right place to drive this car.

It's just that the Phantom is to be priced between Rs 3.5 and 4 crore. But before you can say oops!, it's found its first buyer, Pune-based Yohan Poonawalla. The first Phantom to be delivered in the country will be handed over to Poonawalla here tomorrow.

The Phantom, which is built at Rolls-Royce's new head office and manufacturing plant in Goodwood, West Sussex, England, was unveiled in January 2003 at Seattle.

Apart from the legendary 'Spirit of Ecstasy' that adorns the front and without which a Rolls will not be Rolls, the Phantom's features ' the new ones ' include rear coachdoors hinged at the back to allow a wide and elegant entry and exit from the passenger compartment.

The Spirit of Ecstasy is a female figure with her arms outstretched and her gown blowing in the wind. Behind her lies a century-old love story between John Walter Edward-Scott-Montagu (after 1905 the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu), an automobile pioneer in England, and his secretary Eleanor Velasco Thornton.

Their liaison remained a secret for a decade or more, but Lord Montagu asked his friend the sculptor Charles S. Sykes to create a special mascot for his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The model for that was Eleanor. The Spirit of Ecstasy is a variation of that, but Eleanor was the model for this, too.

Power for the Phantom comes from a tailor-made 6.75 litre V12 engine of 6749 cc, which can propel the car from 0-100 km/hour in 5.9 seconds. Unlike others, which are straight off the assembly line, the Phantom is a made-to-order car. While manufacturing at the Sussex plant begins only after an order is placed, lovers of the vehicle in India will have to wait for anywhere between four and six months to obtain delivery after an order is placed.

'The transit time could take up to six months depending how complex the client's requirements are,' says Stefan Conrady, regional marketing & communications manager, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Asia Pacific.Colin Kelly, regional director, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Asia-Pacific, said the decision to come back to India was propelled by robust economic growth.

'As India enjoys a surge in economic growth, we are delighted to bring the Phantom to a country which has a deep appreciation of the unparallelled excellence which the Rolls-Royce name stands for,' he added.

While Rolls Royce has appointed Navnit Motors as its authorised car dealer in Mumbai, senior officials of Navnit said they were targeting sales of seven to eight Phantoms a year.

But how does the Phantom compare with others in the pack' While the Maybach from the DaimlerChrysler stable will continue to be the most expensive car on Indian roads with a price of Rs 5 crore, Hormazd Sorabjee, editor, Autocar India, said the latter is also 'technically advanced' over the Phantom.

However, he was quick to add: 'Phantom may not be as technically advanced as the Maybach, but it has lot of character or tradition.' This is a crucial factor since Rolls-Royce cars were seen in the country from the earliest days of its 100-year history. In 1908, an English businessman with interests in India took the 40/50hp Silver Ghost to Mumbai. It was later purchased by the Maharaja of Gwalior.Subsequent periods saw the car emerging as the preferred choice of the maharajas. During the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1921-22 to India, many of the princely states ordered a number of Rolls-Royce cars. The best pre-war client was the Maharaja of Patiala who owned 44 before his death in 1938.

Around World War II, Rolls-Royce imports ceased. After Independence, sales were few as expensive cars were low on the list of priorities of the elite. Rolls-Royce officials are now betting that this period is past and that there would be many Poonawallas waiting to ride their Phantom.

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