By Stuart Schwartzapfel
First unveiled at the 2006 Geneva International Auto Show, and making a special appearance at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles on Aug. 23, the Rolls-Royce 101EX comes from a long line of experimental (hence, the "EX") models that began with the 1EX in 1919. Like other concept vehicles, the EX cars serve as idea and innovation generators for future production models.
Built and designed to explore the styling and engineering requirements of a smaller Rolls-Royce, the 101EX Experimental Coupe is based on the 100EX Concept, an elegant V16-powered four-seat convertible produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the meeting of businessman Charles Rolls and engineer Frederick Henry Royce. Both vehicles sit on the same BMW-designed spaceframe chassis used in the Phantom, but the 101EX has had 9.8 inches removed from the wheelbase.
PHANTOM RESEMBLANCE. Created under the direction of chief designer Ian Cameron, the 101EX is meant to embody the virtues of a classic grand touring car-a high-performance 2+2 coupe designed for long-distance driving. GT models such as the 101EX differ from pure sports cars in that they tend to make less compromise in comfort for the sake of driving ability. Front-mounted engines (which leave more space for the cabin than mid-engine configurations), heavy curb weights, long wheelbases, and softer suspensions also distinguish GT cars from their sports car brethren.
Despite a striking resemblance to the sibling Phantom, the 101EX has different dimensions, which means most every body panel differs from the four-door production car. The concept's trademark Rolls-Royce grille is less boxed off and more curvaceous.
Also, compared with the Phantom sedan, the 101EX features a more dramatically angled windshield, higher window line, and a rearward sloping roof that creates a more flowing, aerodynamic look. Combining the aforementioned design cues with the 101EX's already lower ride height and shortened wheelbase, it appears dramatically sleeker and less imposing than the standard Phantom sedan.
The two-toned exterior color scheme is handsome, and the gray material that adorns the rather long hood and windscreen pillars is brushed aluminum rather than paint. This may be a nod to the advanced aluminum spaceframe that serves as the vehicle's backbone.
TWINKLING STARS. The rest of the bodywork is painted in dark tungsten. The 101EX also employs two different types of headlamps; the narrow eyebrow-like slits are LED, and the circles below are Xenon. Other nice design cues worth mentioning include flush-mounted aluminum exhaust pipes and aluminum door handles, and lightweight nine-spoke 21-inch wheels all around.
Rolls-Royce claims the frameless windows and pillarless side styling provide 101EX occupants with excellent visibility. The big, heavy doors are long and tricked, hinged at the rear, and feature a self-closing design. The long doors make coming and going easy for those who ride in the front and in the back.
Interior layout and equipment don't stray too far from the Phantom's opulent quarters. An especially cool touch is the 101EX's fixed metal roof, which features special fiber-optic lighting to mimic twinkling stars in a clear night sky.
Unlike the 100EX, the 101EX uses the same 6.75-liter V12 engine from the standard Phantom, and is driven through a six-speed column shift automatic.
The Verdict: There seems to be a market for premium GT cars that are fast, luxuriously appointed, sure-footed, and built from the finest Old World construction practices. They appeal to deep-pocketed drivers who are not interested in sacrificing comfort for blinding performance. This is exemplified by Bentley and its wildly successful Continental GT.
Just as Rolls-Royce intends to build a production version of the 100EX, it also needs to build the 101EX and price it somewhere in the $150,000 neighborhood. The two cars would not only complement each other but would broaden the product line.
By Stuart Schwartzapfel