Ultimate glamour convertible: 2008 Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe

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Even the world's billionaires have to stand in line and wait their turn this year and next.

The reason? Rolls-Royce is only building 200 of its new, Phantom Drophead Coupe ultimate glamour convertibles a year and is sold out for the next 18 months.

Don't worry. This gorgeous, four-seat, two-door, V-12-powered convertible with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of $412,000, including destination charge and gas guzzler tax, is worth the wait.

Not only does the Drophead Coupe draw stares from onlookers for its ostentatious style. Its luxury accoutrements are without comparison.

For example, the Drophead Coupe is the only production car offering a tonneau covered with optional teak wood that's carried out of the Burmese jungle by elephants. Rolls-Royce officials, after all, are attuned to the details of their hand-crafted, ultra luxury cars and would hate for the 30 or so pieces of teak needed for each tonneau cover to be floated down a Burmese river and take on an unattractive color as a result.

Another detail: The teak isn't covered by glossy urethane. Craftsmen apply a special blend of oils that take a month to be absorbed to produce a proper tactile finish where the woodgrain can be felt.

The Drophead Coupe also can be had with a distinctive, brushed steel bonnet, which most other car companies call the hood. You guessed it - this steel, which also stylishly encircles the large windshield - is hand-polished to create a consistent appearance throughout.

At its core, the new convertible is a variation of Rolls' other model, the Phantom sedan. And the two cars basically share their largest-in-the-auto-industry, high-tech, all-aluminum space frame - complete with more than 2,000 hand welds - that's underneath the metal body panels.

This creates a surprisingly rigid structure, with no convertible shudder in the windshield or shake in the seats, even when the roof is down, in the test car.

The Phantom sedan's blockish style is formal, but the Drophead Coupe is more carefree.

Why, this car even attracts young people. A couple of recent college grad admirers volunteered during my test drive that they aspire to buy the convertible, rather than the "more stodgy" Rolls sedan.

The Phantom sedan and convertible use the same 6.75-liter, direct-injection V-12. It's mated to a silky smooth six-speed automatic transmission, and Rolls engineers did a bit of tuning for a more sporty experience in the convertible.

Still, the car feels as if it's getting up to speed at a gracious pace, even if the speedometer needle shows the Drophead Coupe is traveling at higher speeds than the driver realizes. Speeds are deceptive in this car.

The engine develops 453 horsepower and up to 531 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm. It's needed, because at more than 5,770 pounds, this convertible weighs as much as two Honda Civics.

So, it's not surprising that fuel economy is poor. While official U.S. government figures aren't out yet, it's unlikely that the Drophead Coupe, which weighs some 30 pounds more than the Phantom sedan, will get better than the sedan's rating of 11 miles per gallon in city driving and 18 mpg on the highway for 2008. Even a Dodge Ram with Hemi V-8 does better than this.

Driver and passengers are quick to notice the heft of this car. For one thing, the doors are heavy and oh-so-long. In fact, Rolls has push-button electric close on the convertible's two doors because they can be impossible to reach by hand - and heavy to swing closed - once they are open.

These are unusual rear-hinged doors - often called "suicide doors" on other cars but labeled "coach doors" on this Rolls.

It took me some time to get used to seeing the outside mirrors swing way out away from the car as the doors opened. But they latch with a memorable solidity.

Everything on the Drophead Coupe dashboard is carefully crafted for a tactile experience, even the air conditioning vents. These vents are chrome-plated metal, not lightweight and cheap plastic. They can even gather condensation and "sweat" when the air conditioning is on during open-air driving on a hot day - something I've never seen happen in other cars.

Still, I wished the front power seat controls were more conveniently positioned. They reside in the center armrest between the two front passengers, so both must move their elbows away if one wants to adjust the seat recline, height, etc.

But everyone, even back-seat riders, has a sumptuous and roomy seat in this car. Passengers ride higher above the pavement than they do in regular cars.

Rolls officials put a fabric top, not a hardtop, on this pricey convertible. But it's not just any fabric. It has five layers providing good sound insulation, and the lining visible to passengers inside the car is a classy cashmere blend.

This top is all power-operated and goes up or down in 25 seconds, coming to rest in its own compartment behind the rear seats. Thus, it never impinges on the car's trunk, which can hold three golf bags.

Drivers need to be aware of the sizable triangle of windshield pillars, because they can obscure views of pedestrians at intersections during turns. Optional front and rear cameras are helpful for detecting objects around this big auto.

Don't be surprised if the Drophead Coupe becomes a collector's item in the States. For one thing, of the 200 built a year, only 80 are planned to come here, making them rare autos indeed.

Secondly, the 2008 Drophead Coupe marks the first convertible produced by Rolls since German carmaker BMW bought the brand and began selling the Phantom sedan in 2003.

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