Gearhead responsible for quiet new Rolls-Royce
Christian Wettach loves noisy gas power, but his day job is supervising the rollout of the almost silent Phantom
One of the people responsible for bringing the all-new 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom to market, Christian Wettach, is a study in contrasts.
First, he's a German working for a staunchly British brand, albeit one owned by the BMW Group.
Second, as a mechanical engineer by trade, he professes pure passion for noisy, gas-powered things.
So there's irony in this latest assignment, as the flagship Rolls-Royce flagship delivers the ultimate in serene driving experiences. If the previous Rolls-Royce was whisper-quiet, the new eighth-generation model is absolutely crypt-like.
"I'm a gearhead – I love the sound of an engine, the smell, everything. I could not live without my motorcycle, my chainsaw…" he says, his voice tapering off, as we motored around Lake Lucerne in the eighth-generation Phantom.
In 2011, he'd become head of product management for Husqvarna Motorcycles, the Swedish brand under the BMW Group umbrella. The affable engineer was clearly qualified for the job: He had spent a decade working for BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle division of the German manufacturer, at the global headquarters in Munich.
Upon his arrival at Husqvarna HQ in Italy, he drew upon his passion for internal combustion engines and combined it with another great love: adventure sports.
At an earlier point in his career, Wettach concocted a promotional arrangement with the World Wok Racing Championships. For the uninitiated – as well as those yet to see National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation – the event had athletes racing down a bobsled track aboard the same sort of appliance used to prepare a Saturday night stir-fry. The televised spectacle, an invention of German TV personality Stefan Raab, was hugely popular with the target group most interested in dual-purpose, enduro and motocross bikes: young people. Wettach hired a stunt rider to coax the TV star off the wok and onto a motocross bike fitted with studded tires for a demonstration run down the bobsled track.
Wettach moved over to Rolls-Royce from Husqvarna in 2013, after the new Phantom project had been launched, but well before it was fully realized. His experience working for a BMW subsidiary outside of Germany made him a natural choice to move to the U.K. and help bring this British flagship to market. But it's curious that a product manager who hadn't managed anything on four wheels was given the wheel to one of the most exclusive things on four wheels.
"At the end of the day, the Phantom still has an engine and it's still designed to get drivers from one place to the next," he says. "Of course, riding in a Phantom is a lot quieter and more comfortable and more special than riding a dirt bike."
The Phantom rides on an all-new aluminum spaceframe platform – dubbed "the Architecture of Luxury" – that will form the basis of all Rolls-Royces going forward. Previously, models shared underpinnings with parent company BMW. The platform is some 30 per-cent more rigid than that of Phantom VII, which creates the basis for increased sound isolation and a more composed ride.
The self-levelling air suspension system which produces the patented "Magic Carpet Ride" automatically makes millions of calculations per second, then adjusts the shock absorbers to keep the Phantom gliding along effortlessly. A stereo camera system also "forecasts" the quality of the road ahead, at speeds up to 100 km/h, to adjust the air suspension proactively.
The Phantom's engine is an all-new, twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V-12, which replaces the naturally aspirated V-12 from the previous edition. The numbers are big: 563 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque. The engine develops 50-per-cent more torque below 2,500 rpm, giving the big saloon an effortless quality when accelerating from a stop or merging onto the nearest autoroute.
The press materials refer to the twin-turbo V-12 as the "silently beating heart" of "the most silent motor car in the world." To further separate the occupants from any possible fluttering from the engine bay, the car is stocked with some 130 kilograms of sound-deadening material. The Rolls also features a world-first developed together with tire supplier Continental – a foam layer in the "Silent-Seal" tires that reduces overall noise by nine decibels.
"We worked directly with our tire supplier for months," Wettach said. "We drove all sorts of roads, tried all compounds and solutions. They did a great job."
When you tally up all the refinements, the new Phantom is some 10-per-cent quieter than the old Phantom at 100 km/h. The car runs so silently, it should be a simple transition for Rolls-Royce when they eventually come to market with all-electric models. The new platform is designed to accommodate various models of various sizes and powertrain types.
Yes, all-electric Rolls-Royces are on the horizon, but Wettach won't commit to timing.
How does someone so enamoured with odorous two-stroke engines find job satisfaction working on the Rolls-Royce program?
"It's actually giving me my hobby back, it's giving me the chance to separate my job from the rest of my life," he says. "It's great to work on a project like the new Phantom and it's great to go out riding on my motocross bike."
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.