Then it dawned on me.
Driving a new Rolls-Royce, you expect to be the object of envy, not pity. But it’s the latter that I was experiencing 15 minutes into my half-day loan of the R10m Rolls-Royce Dawn.
I was on the N1, beginning to let the twin-turbo 6.6l V12 engine stretch its legs, when I became aware of a siren behind me, and then of flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror. One of Jo’burg’s finest had noticed that the dealership had fitted illegal number-plates. After I followed him to the side of the road, he found the car’s paperwork wasn’t in order either.
So while I spent the next 20 minutes receiving a stern lecture on why I deserved to be locked up, passing motorists eyed me and the Dawn with pity and, yes, even scorn. Only when dealership staff arrived with the necessary plates and documentation, and replaced me as the object of the officer’s ire, was I allowed to go.
When I did, it was like inhabiting another world. The Dawn is a convertible but there was drizzle and chill in the air so I kept the top up. After the noise of hundreds of highway vehicles and a shrill traffic cop, the peace was glorious.
Rolls-Royce used to boast that the only thing you could hear in its cars was the ticking of the clock. The digital age has put paid to that but not to the sense of serene detachment the car engenders. Sinking down into the pale leather upholstery, I felt cocooned from the hubbub outside.
This sense of detachment is intensified by the interior design. Everything is for comfort and minimum effort. There’s even a button to automatically close the driver door, so you don’t have to stretch for the handle.
Only when I reached the Cradle of Humankind, a favourite area of mine with almost no midweek traffic, did I put the top down and let the Dawn do what it’s designed for: cruise. The car’s proportions are generous — 5.3m long, 1.9m wide — and the interior feels big. But when the Dawn moves, everything changes.
On tight corners, the car’s mass does tend to lean into the bend but its no-fuss acceleration (the eight-speed automatic transmission can push the 2.5t vehicle to 100km/h in five seconds) and handling are almost sporty. It was perfect for the tight West Rand and North-West Province roads and sweeping corners. Almost before I knew it, I was approaching Brits. It was time to turn back.
I had one detour before returning the Dawn to Rolls-Royce. My wife’s work colleagues knew I had the car and had insisted I take it to their place of work. So for five minutes, they took pictures of each other in the car.
But only in the passenger seat. These professional ladies knew what they wanted: not an expensive car but a boyfriend or husband with an expensive car. Look out, boys.