pondering-einstein-and-rolls-royce’s-existential-phantom

We have long loved Rolls-Royce’s ornate press releases. Rolls-Royce’s official communications generally arrive as if written by an exceptionally erudite Edwardian butler, every sentence a cascade of elegant subordinate clauses, each fully expunged of the sort of vulgar commercial terminology used by lesser automakers.

Rolls-Royces are commissioned, not sold, and they end up in the hands of patrons or clients, never mere customers. These statements for the press are perfectly readable and yet also nimbly stop short of outright comedy.

Then along comes the Phantom Tempus Collection, its production limited to 20 examples and its “design concept inspired by time, astronomical phenomena and the infinite reaches of the universe.”

One presumes even exceptionally erudite Edwardian butlers probably got stoned from time to time.

“At a moment in history when so much in life seems ephemeral, our patrons are seeking solace in the unique timelessness, longevity and permanence offered by a Rolls-Royce motor car,” chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös says in the release. “It is thus the perfect moment for Phantom Tempus Collection—a magnificent incarnation of our pinnacle product, inspired by a mysterious celestial phenomenon and Time, which Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds in human history, defined as a persistent illusion.”

And to prove that time is in fact an illusion—or to at least engage in a little sleight of hand—Rolls-Royce’s grandest sedan won’t actually come with a clock. Back to Mr. Müller-Ötvös: “As we all know, Time never stands still, waits for no one. Hence, we manage it, guard it, account for it, weigh and measure it to its smallest fraction. With Phantom Tempus, we have created a space in which those strictures no longer apply—as illustrated by the deliberate absence of a clock. Rolls-Royce clients are not bound by Time; the outside world with all its pressures and demands are forgotten.”

Rolls-Royce

Which is why the “completely reimagined Pulsar Headliner combines fibre-optic lighting and intricate Bespoke embroidery,” and the “Phantom’s Gallery features 100 individual columns, milled from a single billet of black-anodised and hand-polished aluminium.” Also: “hundreds of illuminated perforations form swirling, twisting patterns in the door linings.”

That’s the kind of stuff that can shelter a patron from a tempest. Not a clock.

Yet while the idea of a six-figure Rolls-Royce lacking a feature that was standard in a 1970s Datsun might seem questionable, Rolls-Royce says it has already sold out the limited run. And that’s despite a price tag that, although not disclosed, will doubtless be considerably higher than the $463,350 the regular plain old clock-fitted Phantom costs. Time might be money, but money clearly isn’t time.

While we wouldn’t want to pit our collective intellect against the considerable brainpower that Rolls-Royce has on standby to come up with this stuff, we’re intrigued by the big questions the Phantom Tempus Collection asks about its place within the time-space continuum.

Einstein went on to say, “people like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Meaning anyone buying the Tempus could save themselves a bundle by realizing they’ve already owned it and cancelling the order.

And on the wider subject of time, we prefer the contribution on the subject made by some equally serious British philosophers: “hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.”

That, and being late for everything because your car doesn’t have a clock.

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