Last night, we had thundersleet — a rare thunderstorm that spits frozen ice pellets, which topped an already icy coat of freezing drizzle we had earlier that day. This effectively turned my Toyota Land Cruiser into a popsicle — and since I was already late getting my daughter off to school, I didn’t have time to thaw it out. Thankfully, tucked away warm in the garage was my Rolls-Royce Phantom, a vehicle that truly is the ideal family car for all conditions — so it had no problems making the school run.
It’s too bad I didn’t check my emails to see that school was canceled due to icy conditions, but I had no problem getting around in my V12 powered, rear-wheel-drive luxury land yacht. Many Kansas car buyers think they need a lifted 4×4 vehicle to get around in an inch of snow, along with three rows of seating and tons of cargo space for their family of five — and that’s just plain silly. Before the SUV craze took over, people were perfectly happy getting around in their land yachts, sized similarly to my Phantom — a trend I feel wouldn’t have died so quickly if weren’t for three things.
The first two are rather obvious, one being the added utility of a lifted station wagon with a higher roofline — so families can pack their entire house when they go on vacation, or just to grandma’s house. Of course, the cost of fuel is the other reason, but even large SUVs took a beating sales-wise in 2008, when soaring fuel prices had Americans screaming for fuel-sipping crossovers. A few even more harsh fuel shortages in the 1970s also put a big damper on land yacht sales, and the hastily developed fuel-saving and emission restricting solutions caused a big dip in performance and durability of American cars as well.
The final nail in the coffin for land yachts, in my opinion, was the slow erosion of comfort and quality in the interior by the new millennium, but these traits could still be found in SUVs. Pillowy seats with plenty of thigh support, making a car feel like a rolling living room, were quickly being replaced with harsher foam and bolstering in what appeared to be a cost-cutting measure — or worse, designed to resemble sport seats in race cars. Trying to copy European sport sedans was the fatal mistake for American luxury car makers, in my opinion, but I don’t think it’s too late for the American land yacht to make a comeback.
With gas prices very cheap again, with no end in sight, I think a giant, cushy, affordable American car would be a very welcome addition. I have no problem with Cadillac transforming into an electric-car-focused brand like Tesla, but they shouldn’t forget their luxury roots. If you take away Tesla’s technological wonders, you’re left with a very sparse, and fairly uncomfortable car that doesn’t have the wow factor of an old Caddy. If the best traits of an old Cadillac and a Tesla were combined somehow, you would have something truly magical.
Land yacht cynics will argue it’s pointless to bring American luxo-barges back — especially considering the sluggish sales of, for example, the new Lincoln Continental. Unfortunately for Lincoln, though, it seems they were too scared to go full land yacht, and instead attempted to give the Continental some performance at the sacrifice of ride quality and smoothness. The fact that a fully loaded, all-wheel-drive model cost $72,000 doesn’t help things either.
As for my Phantom, I’ve had six months and 6,000 flawless miles of almost daily driving — and I have zero intention of selling it any time soon. Having a modern interpretation of the old school luxury land yacht, in its purest form, is the best driving experience ever. I’m very surprised by the reliability, as well, especially considering how much BMW DNA is in this thing. It really has been a joy to own.
Sadly, like the Lincoln Continental, a Phantom certainly isn’t an affordable daily driver for most families. If GM were to bring back models like the old Chevrolet Caprice or a Buick Roadmaster, and Ford were to bring back the Crown Victoria and the Grand Marquis, I bet they would sell reasonably well. Nobody is offering a real luxury experience like my Phantom, with focus on comfort and ride quality over performance and technology, at an affordable price point today.
Obviously, if I were ever hired as the CEO of a major automotive company, and attempted to actually develop a car like this, I would be fired almost immediately, but a guy can dream. Even if it were built, journalists wanting to appear like professional racing drivers would roast these cars for wallowing through a slalom course and their overall poor track performance — without thinking about how well these cars would perform cruising down the interstate, or gliding through a McDonalds drive thru. That’s the test I’d really like to see …