We had just finished considering whether or not our current car would be held in such high regard if it came packaged with a different badge on the steering wheel. Would it elicit stares and draw myriad cell phones, all pointed in our direction, as it does now? Surely, plush carpeting and massaging seats are common enough nowadays to be found in a Kia K900 or a Hyundai Equus, let alone one of the more and more ubiquitous luxury brands. Was our car really so special?
Then we saw it. Driven by what very well may have been a chauffeur, a brand spanking new Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG pulled alongside us and, sure enough, compelled my co-driver to utter the following:
The New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA)’s annual Ragtop Ramble does this to you. When the always-entertaining John “Bugsy” Lawlor and friends pull together an assortment of rides ranging from the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata (excellence in a $30,000 package) to a 2015 Rolls-Royce Ghost (MSRP greater than that of my childhood home), the extraordinary quickly becomes the ordinary. Considering a car as impressive as that Mercedes to be anything but remarkable would be absurd in any other setting.
Perhaps it now comes as no surprise: My co-driver, Kamil Kaluski, and I were in the Ghost. After our encounter with Karl Benz’s incredible machine, it became clear to us: There was something special about the Rolls. Sure, you could methodically remove each stitched “RR” from the seats, cover the steering wheel’s emblem with a BMW roundel or a big wad of chewing gum, and the opulence wouldn’t be as out of place as it would have been 10 or 20 years prior. Instead, however, the emotional presence of the car would change. The Rolls-Royce brand is as much about exceeding the known limits of luxury as it is anything else. When you’re inside, horsepower and torque figures don’t matter. I can honestly admit that I thought nothing of body roll, suspension, or driving dynamics. All I cared about was my own immeasurable comfort. Yes, I opted to sit in the back seat (behind the empty front passenger seat, so I could maximize my precious legroom). A Rolls-Royce experience isn’t complete until you’ve passed by an arguably more impressive car—such as the S63 AMG—and not felt the slightest twinge of envy.
Of course, the Ragtop Ramble is about more than just upstaging your fellow motorists. With the exception of an incredible, pre-production Cadillac ATS-V, manufacturer PR representatives didn’t drive or ride in their own cars. Instead, the focus was on enjoying the day, fostering relationships, and taking advantage of the motoring opportunities scattered across the Larz Anderson Auto Museum’s lawn, where we gathered the morning of the Ramble.
The second leg of our trip up to Kennebunkport, Maine (where we’d enjoy a fantastic lobster lunch), found Kamil and me in a Lexus RC F. Despite the Lexus’ prodigious use of carbon fiber, both of us noticed the coupe’s considerable weight. Luckily, Lexus also fitted it with a 467-hp, 5.0-liter V8. While it was difficult to wax poetic about the Japanese super coupe after having lived—ever so briefly—in a Rolls-Royce, the RC F didn’t exactly leave us cold.
Other notable showings at the Ragtop Ramble included a BMW i8, which drew rave reviews from anyone who bothered to even sit in it, a Corvette Z06 (convertible, of course), Jaguar’s F-Type convertible (Best Engine Sound), and an Alfa Romeo 4C Spyder, which every man, woman, and child wanted to get seat time in.
Even our ride back, in a comparatively humble Jeep Renegade, was a blast. It was equipped with the base 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, 4-wheel drive, and a manual transmission, but it only ran up a price tag of just over $23,000. Needless to say, it was plenty of car for that amount of coin. Everyone in the Jeep agreed it was a comfortable, good looking, small SUV, although with the My Sky roof panels off, the noise was considerable. Those removable panels are a great option for the summer, but we wouldn’t recommend taking them off before a long highway cruise.
Many thanks and congratulations to John Lawlor and the NEMPA crew for putting on yet another incredible day filled with blue skies, fellowship, and the delightful sounds of unrelenting exhaust pipes. It was a perfect day for a drive.
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Used Kia K900
Used Hyundai Equus
Used Mercedes S-Class
Used Mazda MX-5 Miata
Used Rolls-Royce Ghost
Used Cadillac ATS
Used Lexus RC F
Used BMW i8
Used Chevrolet Corvette
Used Jaguar F-Type
Used Alfa Romeo 4C
Used Jeep Renegade