The Scottish Borders hold some well-kept secrets. The landscape is stunning, the towns and villages are full of personality and the people are strong-willed but welcoming.
Oh yes, and the roads are pretty good too – even if you have to watch out for the muck spreaders and combine harvesters which have a tendency to pop up as you’re negotiating the narrowest of lanes.
The side roads around Kelso, Jedburgh, Galashiels and Selkirk are good and not busy, which makes them the perfect place to put a fine piece of machinery through its paces. And they don’t come much finer than the very latest model from that pinnacle of excellence, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
The quarter-of-a-million-pound, two-door coupe, the Wraith, was first unveiled just a year ago and described by the BMW-owned, but firmly UK-based company as “a debonair gentleman’s GT”.
I’m not sure that adjective could apply to me but after a few days with the car, I settled into and appreciated the lifestyle, comfort, security and all-round finesse which it fed back to me by the crystal decanterful.
Like all the current Rolls-Royce range, including the vast Phantom and the smaller Ghost, the Wraith is hand-built at the purpose-built production centre at Goodwood in West Sussex.
It’s still pretty rare to see one on the road, so I was delighted that Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Edinburgh let me have one of its demonstration fleet – an immaculate dark grey and silver two-tone beauty – to take to the Borders for our long weekend. Sales manager Brian Dickson was remarkably calm as he handed me the keys and talked me through some of its features, including the starlight roof lining and the button which activates the powered closing of the massive 1.3-metre long, 60kgs rearward-opening doors.
I was anxious to ensure it would be returned in pristine condition so it was re-assuring to find not only parking sensors but also a rearview camera and two more covering the front and sides to reduce the risk of kerbing this two-metre wide and more than five-metre long beauty.
A lovely security touch is that when the car is parked and locked, the gleaming Spirit of Ecstacy or “flying lady” on the horizon at the end of the bonnet above the classic RR grille, drops down through a flap safely out of the grasp of thieving hands.
Heading south, the car’s 6.6-litre V12 engine made progress understandably effortless and, harking back to Rolls-Royce’s original marketing claim that you could hear a pin drop in the cabin, it was amazingly quiet, helped by a double front bulkhead to keep out troublesome engine noise.
The fabulous self-levelling, roll-cancelling air suspension with adaptive dampers absorbed every bump and rut and made every surface feel like polished marble. The engineers have done a remarkable job in creating a car that retains RR’s trademark wafting ride but with great performance and agile and responsive handling from the eight-speed silky smooth automatic box, especially when you engage the “low” button (Rolls-Royce wouldn’t call it “sport”) on the steering column gearshift.
Inside, you’re cocooned in a world of deep-pile carpets and the softest quality leathers to be found in any car, with a low driving position which suits the coupe concept.
The designers have cleverly incorporated the latest technology including a large high definition multimedia display (which is very similar to what you’d find in a top-of-the-range BMW) and a BMW-style rotary controller to access all the information. The difference with this one though, is I’m told it’s made from cut crystal and inlaid with a Spirit of Ectasy figure.
This example of the very latest in the automotive world attracted a great deal of interest wherever I went, especially when I took a breather in the welcoming village of Ancrum.
Outside the local pub, I bumped into one of the regulars, Mike Povey, who’d been exercising his pride and joy, one of the earliest in that same automotive world, a 1912 Model T Ford. Not only did he delight in talking me through the car’s features including its kerosene side lights, which tend to blow out when other cars pass, acetylene gas headlights and wicker basket umbrella holder, but he also took me for a quick spin.
Far from being the bone-shaker I’d expected, the thick black leather seats were remarkably comfortable and even with only two gears, it could happily chug up to a breezy 35 mph.
When new the car, which is one of the last hand-built Model Ts to be manufactured before Henry Ford introduced his famous assembly line, would have cost about £120. Nowadays, says Mike, a retired oil distributor based in the Borders, it’s impossible to put a value on it, especially with the remarkable T 1912 number plate which he managed to get hold of a few years ago, transferred from another T.
He reckons there may be around 50 Model Ts in Scotland but his, imported from Alabama in 1993, must be one of the best examples and even features on the Isle of Man £1.70 postage stamp.
Getting spares and replacement narrow pneumatic tyres is not a problem. “The biggest challenge I have is polishing all the brass,” he said.
Parked alongside the Rolls-Royce Wraith it was a remarkable machine – and an amazing 102 years older.
The Borders is a special place and the people enjoy their cars, both the very old and the very new.
Car Rolls-Royce Wraith
Engine 6.6-litre V12
Performance Max 155mph (limited); 0-62 mph 4.6sec
MPG 20mpg combined