Hunting meteors can be a tricky business. In case of emergency better take a Rolls-Royce Phantom that contains its own private constellation…
The sky is on fire.
Well, maybe not ‘on fire’ as such. More sort of smouldering. A bit more conscious than usual. Dammit, so I’ve fallen for a slinky little chunk of hyperbole: it would be more accurate to describe the dying embers I’m seeing flash briefly across the sky every half-minute or so as the dusty orbital leavings of 16-mile-wide comet Swift-Tuttle flash-frying themselves against the Earth’s atmosphere. But it’s not so poetic. Whatever, the star-speckled blanket of midnight is currently being slashed by little trails of superheated plasma smearing themselves across the firmament. It might not have the same effortless intensity as a man-made fireworks display, but knowing that we’re watching tiny pieces of space rock make the change from meteoroids (in space) to meteors (when they hit the atmosphere) to – occasionally – meteorites (if they actually make landfall) at 37 miles per second, it all just seems a little bit… grander.
It helps that I’m perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon at 4am, staring out at a yawning, acoustically vampiric pit and leaning against the front wheel of a £350,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, but there you go. I can’t actually see the Canyon, mind. Not really. The sky is so dark it looks like someone bolted a black velvet cape to the edges of the world, and the only light comes from stars that wink like tiny, spinning diamonds and a moon that waxes like a searchlight. It’s the annual Perseid meteor shower like you’ve never seen it, and there’s only one thing that keeps spinning a childish mantra in my head: the sky is filled with wishes.
I look back, and at the Rolls. It contains one of the features that I have been endlessly obsessed with ever since it was introduced in 2007 – the ‘Starlight Headliner’. One thousand six hundred handwoven fibre-optic lights embedded into the roof to recreate a clear night sky.
Or the constellation of any significant date you care for, should you wish. Does it match the beauty of the real thing? Not quite. But it’s a damned good try. A feature that no other manufacturer could carry off with such delicacy and class. But just like the meteors above me, the Phantom is dying. A new version is due in a year, and it has one hell of a car to live up to. So we decided to bring the last of the Phantoms, and its incomparable roof, to compare it to the best night sky view on the planet. One last adventure, before the new Phantom becomes the old.
It didn’t start well. Let me explain…
Rewind 48 hours, and you’d have found us driving a battleship grey Phantom Coupe worth more than my entire life down an unmade road 40 miles from the nearest rescue option, easing the three-tonne avalanche of premium luxury automobile through a dry riverbed usually only traversed by stumpy little ATVs and lifted Jeeps. There is, please note, no spare wheel.
“But what if it’s… um… cloudy?” asks photographer John Wycherley.
“It won’t be cloudy – we’re in Arizona. In summer,” I reply, wincing internally and trying desperately to think positively. “And if it is, I’ll deal with it.”
“How? By changing the weather?” asks John, deadpan.
The following silence is pregnant with accusation.