There is something ominous about the High Desert sky at night. Without barriers at the edges, it can be almost too enveloping, especially during the longest nights of the year, around the winter solstice in late December. So, when I visited Yucca Valley at that time, I brought my own constellations.
This celestial array, known as the Starlight Headliner, consists of thousands of tiny white LEDs impregnated into the black leather ceiling of the $492,250 Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge — a unique trim of the venerable British ultra-luxury brand’s “entry-level” sedan. For visual effect, the lights not only glow but also create randomized shooting stars that dart across the ersatz sky (ceiling lining) with stunning verisimilitude.
With its black carbon-fiber wheels, and blacked-out chrome trim, grille, and Spirit of Ecstasy flying lady hood ornament, the Black Badge spec felt suited to winter in the desert. While all this dark, light-absorbing componentry might not be tolerable in the summer, it made perfect sense in the cooler months. The hazy light caught its silhouette perfectly. And the contrastingly bright interior trim bits — ours was a rich mauve — add another soupçon of delight.
The package is meant to be “sinister” to express owners’ dark sides. “The reason why it is so successful, it’s not that we have changed some technical details of the car or murdered the car into black,” says Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the brand’s chief executive. “It was more the appeal of this story that Black Badge represents an alter ego, that you are entrenching yourself in this more menacing, bolder, darker world of Rolls-Royce. That appeals extremely well.”
I certainly felt sinister driving this car around the area. Perhaps it was the fact that it costs as much as a passel of local houses. Still, I never felt antagonism or derision from other drivers or pedestrians during my week in the car. Instead, I felt insular, in a bubble of anonymous untouchability.
It wasn’t only the ability to power-close all four doors or retract the Spirit of Ecstasy into a panic room compartment at the touch of a button. It was the uncodified effects of divergence, of does-not-compute, visibly fritzing out the minds of onlookers. No one seemed to know how to respond to the Ghost with its aberrant grandeur and alien imperiousness. They simply averted their eyes and left us alone.
That is the glory of a Rolls-Royce. It is what is known as an “occasion car.” Meaning that, as one in a fleet of dozens of vehicles maintained by its owner, it is generally taken out just for a special event or reason. So, it is by definition always out of place. That is its intent: to be distinctive, remarkable, peculiar.
But driving it and being in it becomes, in and of itself, an occasion.
As it turns out, the Ghost Black Badge suits a broader variety of occasions than one would imagine. For example, off-roading. Its adjustable ride height — the ability to power the body up nearly 10 inches off the wheels — its computer-aided suspension that scans the road ahead for imperfections and responds according, and its permanent all-wheel-drive system make it an excellent companion on several backcountry drives through the Sand to Snow National Monument en route to some of the most glorious hikes we’d ever seen in the area.
The Ghost’s adaptability to the difficult and punishing conditions can also be credited to a signature brand feature: waftability. This is Rolls-ese for the marque’s vehicles’ ability to traverse any surface, absorbing bumps, potholes, and washes and isolating occupants. (The flawless leather seats and quagmire-deep wool carpets certainly help.)
In an era in which we are witnessing the dramatic and damaging effects of climate change — wrought in no small part by the transportation sector, which is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions — how does such a profligate vehicle fit? Or, as Lance asked as our 14-mile-per-gallon EPA inefficiency rating caused us to power up to yet another gas station, “Are they planning an electric one?”
In fact, they are. The Spectre, the first all-electric Rolls, will appear in 2024, and the company’s entire lineup will be fully electrified by 2030.
The ghost black badge suits a broader variety of occasions than one would imagine.
In the meantime, if you want a Ghost Black Badge, you will have to wait. According to Müller-Ötvös, Black Badge is making up at least 40 percent of American Ghost orders. With each car designed to an owner’s specifications, this means your order will take time.
“Every market runs far beyond originally budgeted numbers, and we see a thriving demand,” Müller-Ötvös says. “We nearly can’t keep up, and there is no chance now to expand further in the factory in Goodwood, which I think is also good for us because waiting times is exactly what you need to have if you want to be a good luxury brand. And for that reason, I think now people also understand more and more that a luxury car purchase, particularly in the United States, isn’t any longer instant gratification. You need to wait the same as you do when you order a Birkin bag from Hermès or when you wait for a Daytona from Rolex.”
While you wait, you can watch the stars.