FROM OXLEY WITH LOVE
Meeting the man who manages the world’s largest Rolls-Royce fleetBy Jason K. Ang
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Peninsula Hotel, and you can’t help envision the hotel’s grand façade flanked by some of the world’s most prestigious vehicles. For the flagship Peninsula Hong Kong, that means no less than 14 Rolls-Royce Phantom limousines, with extended wheelbase, and customized via the company’s bespoke equipment program.
There’s also a venerable 1936 Phantom II, just six years younger than the hotel itself. On a rainy Saturday morning, as King Kong peeked at us in Peninsula Manila’s Salon de Ning, we met with the man who manages this fleet, Martin Oxley. He shared with us his association with the marque, on how he equipped the Peninsula’s fleet of Phantoms, and how the hotel is keeping up an open mind with its latest motoring acquisitions.
From a young age, Martin Oxley has had an association with the world’s finest motor car brand: Rolls-Royce. At the age of 16, Oxley left school and joined Roll-Royce Motor Cars in London as an apprentice mechanic. He went up through the ranks, taking positions as reception engineer and eventually General Manager of the London division. However, the company had decided by then to leave the responsibility of sales and service to its authorized dealers.
Oxley then had the opportunity to look after the Royal Family’s Rolls-Royce limousines and Bentley sedans. Soon, another post opened up, this time at The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited, parent company of the Peninsula.
The relationship between the Peninsula group and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has been in place since 1970, when the hotel
first placed an order for seven Silver Shadows. Lord Lawrence Kadoorie, then chair of the The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, inquired with Rolls-Royce as to acquiring a fleet of its cars. That purchase became the largest single order for the marque, a tradition that continues with the hotel’s current fleet of 14 Phantoms.
Eight Silver Shadows followed in 1976, nine Silver Shadow IIs in 1980, and eight Silver Spirits in 1987. In 1994, the hotel acquired its vintage 1934 Phantom II, as well as nine Silver Spur IIIs. In 1995, another nine Silver Spurs were bought, with an additional four in 1998, and one more in 2004.
With Hong Kong set to construct a new airport on Chep Lap Kok Island, Oxley began studying closely the possibility of replacing the fleet with new cars that would be more efficient and more reliable. Oxley recalls: “That was about the time when Rolls-Royce and Bentley split, and Rolls-Royce came under the BMW umbrella. The new Rolls-Royce then was an unknown car… untested and untried. And we couldn’t have that in Peninsula. We started talking to them in 2002, and we actually purchased the new fleet in 2006.”
Tenders were made for the replacement fleet, and three brands were considered: Rolls-Royce, now under BMW; Bentley, now under VW; and Maybach, a Mercedes-Benz brand. Rolls-Royce submitted the most attractive bid, in terms of price and quality.
Oxley and Sir Michael Kadoorie himself visited the new Rolls-Royce factory in Goodwood in England, and scrutinized the cars. A whole slew of customization requests was made, from the location of the rear air conditioning switches, relocation of the ashtrays and power sockets, under-seat coolers for drinks and cold towels, larger door pockets, and illuminated door sill logos.
“Sir Michael and I sat for half an hour inside the car in a dark room, looking at what worked and what didn’t work. We changed the lighting inside the car. We had the interior door handles permanently illuminated, and the switches for the map lights,” Oxley said.
The batteries and compressor for the air suspension beneath the trunk floor were relocated to enlarge the luggage
compartment. From a meager capacity, they were enlarged to enable them to swallow four large suitcases.
Aside from the fleet of fourteen Phantom extended wheelbase limousines in Hong Kong, the company also maintains two Phantoms in Beijing, four in Shanghai, and two in Tokyo. Peninsula Bangkok has two Silver Spurs. The group also operates a fleet of BMW 7 Series. In Manila, the hotel runs a fleet of Mercedes S-Class, also done in the hotel’s signature dark green color.
On the other end of BMW’s automotive scale, BMW had something interesting to the Peninsula as well. The hotel acquired several bespoke Mini Cooper Clubman cars for the use of hotel guests in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo and Chicago; their use is complimentary for those staying in the suites.
“It’s a fun car. We’re coming up on 80 years old in the hotel. We still feel young; let’s have some fun,” said Oxley. The Mini Cooper Clubman cars are available for use in the city—sightseeing and shopping. They’re done in Rolls-Royce leather and have amenities such as cooler boxes and a large overhead storage bin.
Oxley and the crew at Peninsula have some other automotive projects in store, all to enhance the unique experience that they hope their guests would have.
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