Meet the man behind the Peninsula’s fleet of green Rollers

Hotel guests can take the iconic cars anywhere in Hong Kong – that they fit

We nose gently out into traffic, the famous winged silver lady atop the radiator grille, politely, but silently, negotiating with the swarms of mid-morning downtown traffic to part. We are surrounded by vertiginous skyscrapers to one side, bustling lines of red-and-silver Toyota Crown taxis to the other. And in front, across the water, one of the most iconic skylines on the planet: Hong Kong.

Amid the Toyota taxis, this, too, is technically a public hire car, but enveloped in perfectly hand-crafted walnut wood and flawless, biscuit-coloured leather, it’s a hire car like no other. How many taxis do you know of where you can lose the tops of your shoes in the shag-pile carpeting in the back?

It’s a Rolls-Royce Phantom EWB, that last acronym standing for extended wheel-base. It’s one of the most luxurious and decadent, cars you can possibly buy, and yet here it is, ferrying me around downtown Hong Kong.

The Brewster Green paintwork on the outside tells passers-by precisely where this car comes from, so there's no point in me trying to look smug and pretend it's mine. It's one of 14 Phantom EWBs operated by the famed Peninsula Hotel, which overlooks the Hong Kong waterfront and has been one of the world's most iconic hotels since 1928.


How iconic? It gets a namecheck from Ian Fleming's greatest creation, when a testy Mary Goodnight informs a certain James Bond: "Everyone knows all the green Rolls-Royces belong to the Peninsula."

It’s easy to get a bit blasé about travel and transport these days, seeing as we do it so much. The flight that deposited me in Hong Kong left almost to the second on schedule and arrived minutes ahead of when it was supposed to, a feat of international air travel that would have seemed almost startling just a few decades ago.

The Rolls-Royce fleet of the Peninsula harks back to a time when passengers alighting from aircraft might have needed at the very least a stiff brandy and a sit-down before completing the journey to their booked room.

Entire fleet

The connection between Peninsula and Rolls-Royce almost didn’t happen. Until 1970, in spite of the hotel’s opulence and top-drawer clientele, it had been thought too expensive to buy an entire fleet of Rollers for the hotel’s vehicle service.

That was until Lord Lawrence Kadoorie, head of the Peninsula and father of the head of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd, Sir Michael Kadoorie, posed a simple question: "Have you enquired?"

Enquiry made and surprisingly affordable price negotiated, the Peninsula bought a fleet of seven Silver Shadow models, and neither company has looked back since.

And this is where Martin Oxley comes in.

Oxley comes from north London, where, fresh out of school at 16, he took up an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce as a mechanic.

"In those days, the honest truth is that they probably weren't the best car in the world, and to a small degree were living on their reputation. But they did get significantly better when Vickers PLC took them over, and pumped in a lot of money, and we were able to improve the quality significantly.

“I’m lucky to be able to say that I had some input into that because I’d moved up to Crewe factory and set up a customer validation department, through which came every car that came off the production line.

“To ensure customer quality, looking at it through the eyes of the customer, we made a substantial saving by having fewer defects to fix.”

Oxley was building up a knowledge that would serve him well, several years and some 10,000km further on, when he became fleet manager of the Peninsula Hong Kong, with responsibility for its fleet of Rolls-Royces.

That fleet had grown piecemeal over the years – more Silver Shadows had followed in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, along with some Silver Spurs and a classic original 1934 Phantom II in the 1990s.

Largest order

But when Rolls-Royce first began to flourish anew under


ownership in the early 2000s, the story really kicked into gear.

In 2006, the Peninsula ordered a huge fleet of 14 Phantom EWBs, at the time the largest order for Rolls-Royces ever made.

“I think these Phantoms that we have here now are probably the best Rolls-Royces that I have ever worked with,” says Oxley. “They’re huge, and you certainly can’t miss them. I think they’re absolutely fantastic.

“They are registered hire cars with our hotel, so anyone staying at the hotel can hire them. They can go anywhere within Hong Kong that they fit, and I say that because some of the parts of Hong Kong are very narrow. We had one instance where we drove into a small fishing village and had to reverse all the way back out again because we couldn’t do a U-turn. But otherwise, anywhere a guest wants to go we will take them.”

The cars are truly bespoke, quite apart from that famous green paintwork, with its single hand-painted coachline of honey-gold. Each car took about 350 hours to build, and even the high standards of “normal” Rolls-Royce design weren’t good enough for the Peninsula. The boot was made larger by removing the spare wheel, while screws that attach various components to that boot were specially counter-sunk so as not to snag on guests’ luggage.

Inside the cabin, the rear air-conditioning controls were moved to the centre armrest to make them more accessible, while space had to be found for a cooled box for chilled hand towels and special lighting to make getting in and out at night a little less clumsy.

Huge Swishing almost noiselessly around Hong Kong, it's impossible not to be aware of the Phantom's huge size, even from the rear quarters (back seat sounds too tawdry) and you start to wonder if a slightly smaller car, Rolls' own Ghost perhaps, might be a better fit for the tight confines of this city – part film set, part construction site.

“Would we ever change the model?” asks Oxley, rhetorically. “Over my dead body. Even the standard Phantom for us isn’t big enough. We want to give the maximum legroom, we want the guest to feel as if they’re in one of our rooms. Our rooms are quite large, they’re sumptuous, and I want the guests to feel like that when they’re in our car. If I can make them fall asleep in the car on the way to the hotel, then I’ve done my job.”

Aggressively commercial

Given the comfort on offer, perhaps he’s right. Small just wouldn’t be the way to go in such a thrusting, aggressively commercial city. Besides, the Peninsula is now locked in a battle of Rolls-Royce one-upmanship. Just down the road, in


, hotelier Stephen Hung has ordered a fleet of no fewer than 30 Phantoms, finished in red with gold detailing in the cabin, to act as the fleet for the Louis XIII hotel. That’s now the biggest order ever for Rolls-Royce, with each car costing at least £500,000.

Will the Peninsula compete in a tit-for-tat Roller competition? Doubtful. Red with gold detailing? That’s for the nouveau riche crowd of Macau. Here in the post-imperial splendour of Hong Kong, subtle green, and that silver lady, rules all on the narrow streets. Once more round the block? I was just settling into a nice snooze . . .

(Many thanks to The Peninsula Hotel and Cathay Pacific Airways without whose help this feature would not have been possible. The Peninsula can be found on Cathay Pacific flies from London Heathrow to Hong Kong five times daily, from Manchester to Hong Kong four times per week, and to over 200 destinations globally. For further information, visit