The back pages of Autocar looked very different in 1915. Squeezed between all the classified ads for mechanics and engineers were large sections advertising chauffeurs.
Here, young men posted ads “seeking situations” with employers. One was my own great-grandfather, a professional butler whose job included ferrying his employer, the ninth Earl of Shaftesbury, around the country on visits.
Which got me thinking: do I have what it takes to become a professional chauffeur in the modern era? Step forward Rolls-Royce. It still trains professional drivers in the art (and etiquette) of chauffeuring, under the banner of White Glove Training, although it’s currently an exclusive service available to high-profile customers only.
My trainer is Andi McCann, the man asked for by name to drive Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös in the UK and abroad. He’ll adopt the Autocar star rating system to see if I have what it takes.
First things first: we need to go for a drive, so we borrow an extended-wheelbase Phantom and head for the roads surrounding Rolls-Royce’s Goodwood headquarters to allow McCann to assess my base driving level.
I’m nervous and McCann isn’t giving anything away. We choose a short route with plenty of roundabouts and obstacles to see how I handle the 2670kg, V12-engined Phantom, and I try to be as smooth as possible. Balance the throttle to prevent any lurching movement, steady the brake as we stop, no sudden movements.
I think I’m doing well as we turn back onto Rolls-Royce property. McCann hands me a three-star rating. That, according to the back pages of this magazine, means I’m average in most areas and outstanding in none. Room for improvement, then.
We go right back to basics, including the proper way to open the car’s mammoth doors and the correct procedure for shielding a female passenger from the prying lenses of the paparazzi on arrival at a major event.
That procedure involves keeping the rear doors locked – some paparazzi will try to open these doors on arrival, says McCann – as we arrive, before I get out and walk around to the passenger side.
I then reach into the front passenger door to retrieve the famous Rolls-Royce umbrella from its holder, before unlocking the rear doors.I stand in front of the opening to protect my passenger’s dignity, opening the umbrella to mask the camera flashes. When the passenger is ready, she’ll tap me on the shoulder and together we move forward, and it’s only then that my role is complete.
We also cover in-car etiquette, including angling the rear-view mirror upwards so that the passenger isn’t faced with the driver’s eyes, and using technology like the Surround View cameras to position the car at the correct distance from the kerb when pulling up.
It’s fascinating to learn how much preparation goes into a simple ‘pick-up’, too. Professional drivers will scout their locations and routes to maximise efficiency, because their clientele won’t be left hanging around at any cost. McCann tells me he was once berated for being six seconds late for a client. Crikey.
Next, it’s driver training. We go through the four key skills of the chauffeur – braking, accelerating, steering and balance – and how to keep the experience “sharp and effortless” at all times.
Finally, it’s time for my retest. We take the same route as before, and this time I’m far more aware of my surroundings. If there’s no traffic approaching a roundabout, I’ll keep the Phantom rolling rather than coming to a halt, and I look farther ahead to anticipate any obstacles or dangers. I also learn to slow the Phantom down more effortlessly, by pre-warming the brakes first.
I find much of the skill is in looking two or three cars ahead. Even something as simple as accelerating to join a dual carriageway must be done smoothly and with finesse.
Again, McCann says nothing as we pull up at the end, and I’m truly nervous as he reveals the final score: four and a half stars. Not the full five-star verdict, then, but at least I’m near class-leading in some key areas. Good enough, says McCann, to one day become a professional chauffeur. I’ll thank my great-grandfather for that.
The chauffeur’s top tips
1 – Be sharp and effortless in everything you do.
2 – Know your limits and don’t drive beyond them.
3 – Know everything about the route and your passenger.
4 – Whatever the job, remember safety first.
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