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Alexandra Gill was smitten by this white-on-white 2013 Phantom Series II Drophead Coupe.

Derek Atchison

Greta! Hey, GRETA!

I am not a geeky gearhead and I'm definitely not wealthy. I don't even own a car. But when my glamorous test model, a white-on-white 2013 Phantom Series II Drophead Coupe, was being chauffeured back to the Vancouver Rolls-Royce showroom, I felt as crushed as young Marlon Brando crying for his southern belle in A Streetcar Named Desire.

There were differences, of course. Greta – my pet name – may have sported Georgia state plates, but she was no new-world debutante. This classically updated, $580,000 convertible hails from a posh British heritage recently infused with sturdy German bloodlines (BMW took full control of the company in 1998).

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And I obviously didn't mistreat her on our overnight date – unless you count driving for two hours with the engine light flashing. The BMW rep who picked her up seemed to think this was problematic.

But honestly, where would I have filled Greta's one low tire elegantly balanced on a 21-inch, 10-spoke wheel while driving home from Whistler? At the Husky station in Squamish? Don't be silly. Those small-town yokels didn't appreciate her voluptuous proportions (221 inches from stem to stern). Seriously. We didn't receive a single thumbs-up on our slow cruise through lumberjack central, not even when we stopped at a pub to go to the loo.

It was an entirely different scenario the previous day when we set out for the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Vancouver city drivers whistled, pedestrians halted in their tracks and nobody dared cut us off. Then there was that nice gentleman who still couldn't stop looking us up and down, even after I came close to hitting him at a stoplight (Greta's dynamic brakes require extremely soft-feathered footing). "It was my fault," he sighed, stumbling over the sidewalk. "What a beautiful car."

Indeed. As exclusive as her silver-screen namesake was elusive, Ms. Garbo arrived in a sparkling Carrara-white coat (one of 44,000 exterior paint hues available through the Rolls-Royce bespoke program). Her leggy bonnet, finished with brushed steel, shimmered in the ocean's rippled reflection as we twisted around rugged mountains.

Cocooned in the suppleness of her full-grain leatherwork (hand-stitched from nine Alpine bull hides) and the hushed tranquillity of a double-insulated floor, I relaxed, clicked the little "S" button on the steering wheel and kicked the eight-speed transmission into high gear without hearing a peep.

"You may want to watch your speed," my passenger warned. Oh, right. Those are miles on the outer dial, not kilometres.

Just as I was becoming accustomed to cornering without braking (I really don't drive very often, yet Greta seemed to glide above ground), we stopped for a roadside afternoon tea. Naturally. How else were we to test the boot's vertical tailgate, which drops down to create a two-seat picnic bench?

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Pity Greta wasn't equipped with an oiled-teak picnic hamper or refrigerator hidden under the luggage compartment. She'd have suited those bespoke features so well.

Nibbling on sandwiches (okay, they were Mexican tortas), we assessed her other luxury appointments. Did you know that when you punch a Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, the silver-winged lady automatically retracts into the hood? (I suppose only thwarted thieves would be familiar with such power-motion slyness.)

Greta's rear-hinged coach doors (suicide doors in Prohibition-era gangster speak) took a little getting used to. I kept grabbing for the right instead of the left. And I truly don't understand why Rolls-Royce would give her a soft-close door function, yet leave the trunk on analog. After two days of madly stabbing at the remote, which never seemed to work, I never did find her dashboard trunk release. I'm not sure if she had one.

Oh, well. She'll always have cashmere (five layers embroidered into the hood). And interlocked double-R Rolls-Royce monograms in her hubcaps, which remain upright at all times. We couldn't see them while we were driving, but we knew they were there.

By the time we reached Whistler, I had become slightly annoyed by Greta's disposition for tall men. There were many times when I couldn't see the gearshift display through the steering wheel columns. Or perhaps I was actually elevated too high. With an 18-way power seat, it's hard to tell.

When we rolled up to the Bearfoot Bistro, there were cameras everywhere. "Drive here, park there," the local paparazzi instructed. How annoying. But thanks to Greta's new five-point camera system, I didn't even have to glance over my shoulder. When put in reverse, the control centre display flips into motion, offering a 360-degree view of every obstacle around.

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If this three-ton beauty's suspension wasn't so smooth, I'm sure I never would have backed her rear wheels up onto the curb. Oh, I guess those flashing green lights are meant to signify ground.

I wasn't the only one confused by all that newfangled technology. Later that night, after a waiter drove us to our hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler valet was so overwhelmed by Greta's razzle-dazzle he declined to parallel park her in the driveway. What's the use of pretending to be rich if I have to cater to her every swivel by myself?

In retrospect, I probably didn't show her enough love. Sure, I appreciated all the attention she attracted. I can't say I was disappointed when a secret admirer sent a bottle of Moet Rose to our room (I guess that's how rich people roll). And I certainly felt giddy driving to Vancouver the next day with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.

But now she's gone. Greta! I want you back.

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About the Author
Vancouver restaurant critic

Alexandra Gill has been The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver restaurant critic since 2005. She joined the paper as a summer intern in 1997 and was hired full-time as an entertainment columnist the following year. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver as the Western Arts Correspondent, a position she held until 2007. More


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