When Rolls-Royce invited me to the French Riviera to test out its updated flagship, the Phantom Series II, I knew there would be outrageous new features that would command my reverence. This is the point of a Phantom. From the constellations of tiny LED shooting stars magically traversing its headliner, to its power-operated footrests and power-closing coach doors, the Phantom is to cars what the half-million-dollar Hästens Grand Vividus mattress is to beds: a pinnacle experience, intentionally extortionate, but maddeningly worth it just for the constant delight it offers.
I did not, however, expect to fall in love with its wheels.
For this update on the $540,000-base-price, extended-wheelbase version of the 2023 Phantom Series II, Rolls decided to give the nearly 20-foot-long sedan more presence. To accomplish this, it created a set of polished aluminum wheels that are little more than a 22-inch shiny disc. This might sound a little bland, but they are perfection.
The disc is so monolithic that, when combined with Rolls-Royce’s traditional always-upright R-R wheel badge, it appears as if the entire wheel is frozen even as the car is moving. “This perfectly encapsulates the sense of flight on land,” says Felix Kilbertus, the brand’s head of exterior design. The sight of this enormous car floating on seemingly stationary wheels aligns perfectly with Rolls-Royce’s signature suspension and its ability to annihilate any road imperfection. “I like to think that this is the visual representation of the magic carpet ride that Phantom Extended embodies,” Kilbertus adds.
The wheels also align with the brand’s lengthy heritage, which dates back nearly to the invention of the automobile. “We were inspired by the Roaring Twenties, when disc wheels must have been the ‘dernier cri,’” Kilbertus says. “We imagine that these wheels must have looked incredibly modern, especially when you remember that many cars from that period still had wooden spokes, like a horse-drawn carriage. They must have looked otherworldly, particularly when fully polished. They speak of speed, smoothness, aerodynamics, progress, and of course, aviation,” Kilbertus says — aircraft engines being a Rolls-Royce specialty since the onset of World War I.
Being a Rolls, the wheels are unconscionably expensive — a $13,000 upsell all on their own — and difficult to make. The set takes 240 hours to produce, in part thanks to all the polishing, but also due to the engineering challenge of creating a smooth, nearly fully enclosed wheel that still allows for efficient brake cooling. “Together with the engineers we experimented with different disc diameters until the minimal aperture, and the largest closed surface, had been established,” Kilbertus says. The wheels’ darker internal pockets help to hide nasty brake dust from the eyes of the owners, as well as any peasants they heedlessly run down en-route to their world-destroying business appointments.
Of course, all of this luxury comes with its own burdens. The wheels add 50 lbs of unsprung weight to the car’s nearly three-ton mass. And they require the owner’s chauffeur to pay special attention when servicing the car. “Rolls specifies that the heat dispersion rating of the brake fluid is slightly higher than other Phantom wheels,” Kilbertus says. Have your butler alert the fleet manager.