Everyone on the Vegas Strip is gawking at me.
Well, to be fair: it’s not everyone, and they’re not really looking at me.
The Sin City revelers are craning their necks, squinting their eyes and making whatever other bodily adjustments required to get a glimpse of who’s behind the tinted windows in the back of the Rolls-Royce Phantom series II creeping along the street, and it just happens to be me.
“When I wear a polo shirt, no one looks,” my dapper, James Bond-esque British driver, Andi McCann, explains from the driver's seat. “When I wear a jacket and tie, everyone assumes I’ve got a celebrity in the back.”
McCann indeed is wearing a jacket and tie – Rolls-Royce’s standard single-breasted suit jacket and double Windsor knot– but it’s likely that passersby would be disappointed to know that the backseat – or rear compartment, in Rolls-Royce parlance – is occupied by an automotive journalist getting a lesson in the art of chauffeuring.
It’s a universal truth that few people on earth get to have a dedicated chauffeur. But by that corollary, few people on earth get to be a chauffeur. That’s McCann’s bailiwick. As head of Rolls-Royce’s White Glove chauffeur program, he travels the world teaching luxury hotel operators and drivers for private Rolls-Royce owners how to provide exceptional service before, during and after the journey.
With the introduction of the Ghost in 2009 and the sportier Wraith four years later, the legendary British luxury carmaker has strived to position itself since the Great Recession as a car that owners eschewing ostentation can drive themselves. But for the world’s busiest businesspeople, including in accelerating Asian markets, closing deals is a lot easier with someone else behind the wheel, and the Phantom, with an average price of half a million dollars, is designed for chauffeuring. (Unlike other automakers, Rolls-Royce talks about price in terms of the average, not the base. That average is skewed by owners who put in $1 million in bespoke trimmings, from the signature starlight headliner illuminating the rear compartment configured as one’s own birthday constellation to a six-figure custom-blended 36-coat paint job. “Virtually no one buys a base Rolls-Royce,” a company spokesman tells me.)
That’s why we’re in Vegas, home to the second-largest fleet of Phantoms in the world, after Macau’s Louis XIII hotel. And that’s why we’re staying at the Wynn Las Vegas, hotelier Steve Wynn’s eponymous hotel that boasts a fleet of nine Phantoms worth more than $5 million. At the invitation of Rolls-Royce and the Wynn, a handful of reporters had the privilege of experiencing Vegas like a V.I.P. while learning how to chauffeur, which, as it turns out, is both an art and a science.
The job of a chauffeur begins long before greeting a customer, McCann tells me when he meets me in the driveway of the Wynn one morning. “Above all, everything must be sharp and effortless,” he says. “You have to have knowledge of the customer and the destination route, of course, but you also must pay close attention to how you park, making sure that the wheels and the steering wheel are absolutely straight to the curb.”
“But where you park matters, too,” he says, suddenly pointing 50 feet behind him to a tiny spot of oil behind a Volkswagen Passat. “There’s potential dark marks on the floor.”
My eagle-eyed instructor explains that wheeled suitcases should be picked up to avoid said oil spots, which could end up being tracked across white bedroom carpeting. The process is just as exacting inside the car: everything must be straight, symmetrical and matching. “I’m going to give you a test,” McCann says. “Find 10 things that are wrong in the car. If you’ve got OCD, it helps.” Before I enter the car, I can see that the driver and passenger seats do not sit at the same height and that one headrest is higher than the other. The airflow dials are not all turned to the Rolls-Royce standard – the lowest setting – and a seatbelt is twisted. Furthermore, the sunroof is partially open. “That would be a fail,” he says.
After correcting the affronts, McCann opens the coach-style doors, which “allow for effortless walk-in,” to the passenger side of our first ride of the day, the Ghost series II sedan. As a rule, a single passenger sits diagonally behind the driver, but had I been with a male companion, I would have been shown to the driver’s side so that upon arriving at our destination, McCann could have walked me around the back of the car to meet the gentleman as he exited.
And just like that I am sitting in the most expensive car I have ever touched, with a twin-turbo V12 engine that hits 0 to 62 m.p.h. in less than five seconds to the tune of $468,000. Slimmer than an Audi A8 with a footprint similar to a Mercedes S class sedan, the Ghost is deceptively agile, using satellite-aided transmission that pre-programs the car’s shifting pattern based on the curvature of the road.
McCann glides the Ghost ever so gently from the Wynn’s entrance and explains how drivers can attain top physical performance by balancing negative and positive ions in the blood. He tells me that ions can be affected by anything worn on the body, from sunglasses to cellphones. One driver McCann trained discovered that a high spot on his cavity filling interfered with his driving. “He shaved away microns, and it increased his fatigue performance.”
We drive an hour northeast to the breathtaking, red sandstone-ridden Valley of Fire State Park, where we swap our Ghost with a Phantom driven by another journalist-and-chauffeur pair. After all, 80% of Ghost owners drive themselves, according to Rolls-Royce, so it’s the Phantom that provides the true rear compartment experience. But I nearly forget to enjoy it. The suspension is so smooth and the cabin so quiet that sadly, the only time I even remember I’m in a car is when McCann slows abruptly (for him) after spotting a state trooper on the interstate shoulder.
When I get home to Los Angeles and into the backseat of the Uber X I have summoned, I take a cursory glance and say to my driver, “Excuse me, but I think you should know that your air flow vents aren’t in alignment back here.”
“Sorry,” I catch myself when he meets my eye in the rearview mirror. “I’ve been sitting in the back of a Rolls-Royce all day.”