AS golf games go it was surely the greatest prize in the history of the sport. One pleasant summer’s day 18 years ago two Germans met on the field of battle. At stake was the fate of the last meaningful British car manufacturer and the prize was worth a scarcely believable £430 million.

The two men were Ferdinand Piech, chairman of the mighty Volkswagen group, and his opposite number at BMW, Bernd Pischetsrieder, and the prize they were playing for was Rolls-Royce.

The two rivals had been vying for control of Rolls ever since its British parent, Vickers, had offered the company for sale through an auction process.

Piech, who dreamt of creating the biggest car company the world had ever seen, appeared to have won with a bold strategy.

No matter what other suitors may bid, he told Vickers, the Volkswagen group would top it by £1.

But Piech had figured without the wily Pischetsrieder who had forged strong links with Rolls-Royce as part of a charm assault that, he hoped, would end in a takeover. By 1998 this extended to supplying engines and other modern automotive systems for Rolls and its sister brand Bentley. Thanks to his hard work, Pischetsrieder had put BMW at the very heart of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Nevertheless, Vickers' decision to auction Rolls appeared to wrong foot Pischetsrieder (he described it as like selling “fake Persian carpets manufactured in India”) but he lost no time in a putting down his marker.

The first would-be buyer to feel his wrath was Mayflower, the British bodywork company which was in-line to make the new Rolls Royce Arnage bodies. When Mayflower said it would be interested in buying the company from Vickers Pischetsrieder threatened to stop the supply of BMW motors - effectively stopping the production line until a replacement engine could be found.

Mayflower, anxious not to lose lucrative contracts to build the MGF and Discovery for BMW-owned Rover, hastily withdrew from the bidding process.

But Ferdinand Piech wasn’t so easily rattled.

On November 14 1997 VW announced that it was entering the bidding.

This galvanised other interested parties and by January 1998 there were six would-be suitors - several car companies and a group of wealthy Rolls owners, fronted by ex-Rover man Kevin Morley, who claimed to have deep pockets. A venture capital group also threw its hat in the ring.

By March 30 it appeared to be game over when Vickers said it had accepted a £310m bid from BMW. However, Piech was determined to get the prize and rumours of another bid began to circulate.

Sure enough, VW returned to the table with a massive bid of £430m. On June 5, Vickers said it was selling to Piech.

A furious Pischetrieder then played his ace hand. Rolls Royce Plc, the aero engine manufacturer, still owned the rights to the Rolls-Royce name and BMW had craftily signed a licensing deal months earlier. VW had the company, the factory in Crewe but no right to call the cars Rolls-Royces.

To prevent a potentially ruinous court battle the two men agreed to a round of golf in Neuberg, north of Munich. Gerhard Schroder, the then Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, acted as ‘honest broker’.

When the game was finished a deal was agreed: BMW would get Rolls-Royce, VW would keep the factory and the rights to make Bentleys.

The destiny of two of the world’s most prestigious marques had been carved up over a round of golf.

With the benefit of hindsight this very public squabble was perhaps the best thing that could have happened. Under BMW and VW’s stewardship both Rolls-Royce and Bentley have prospered.

Bentley has diversified into SUVs and is steadily reinventing its model range while Rolls bosses recently unveiled that rarest of vehicles: a brand new Phantom.

From the moment Sir Henry Royce introduced the Rolls-Royce Phantom in 1925 it was judged ‘The Best Car in the World’ by the cognoscenti. A Phantom has conveyed some of the world’s most influential and powerful men and women to the most defining historical moments over the past 92 years.

Every new Phantom that has subsequently appeared has claimed the title of ‘Best Car in the World’ – an epithet they usually deserved.

According to Rolls, the eighth generation Phantom points the way forward for the global luxury automobile industry.

Built on an entirely new platform - which will provide the basis for other Rolls-Royce motor cars, including the new Ghost and Wraith, over the next decade - The so-called Architecture of Luxury is an all-aluminium space-frame that is 30 per cent stiffer than the out-going Phantom’s chassis.

Rolls-Royce’s celebrated Magic Carpet Ride improves as a result of this lighter architecture combined with the latest generation of self-levelling air suspension. The suspension makes millions of calculations every second as it continuously varies the electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system – reacting to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs and camera information. A stereoscopic camera integrated in the windscreen scans the road ahead and adjusts suspension proactively rather than reactively up to 62 mph. Rolls calls this system the Flagbearer after those men who were required by law to carry a red flag ahead of early motor cars.

Of course, comfort is worthless if it doesn’t go hand-in-hand with peerless refinement so Rolls has spared no expense, including double-glazing, more than 130 kg of sound insulation and a double skin in key areas including the bulkhead (which otherwise transmits the engine’s noise, vibration and harshness into the cabin).

Rolls-Royce also worked closely with its tyre supplier to invent ‘Silent-Seal' tires – which feature a specific foam layer placed inside the tyre to wipe out tyre cavity noise and reduce overall tyre noise by 9db, meaning that conversation within the car is completely effortless.

Determined not to let the oily bits spoil this otherwise serene picture, Rolls built a new 6.75-litre V12 with more low-end output at lower revs to ensure that silence. It employs two turbochargers that contribute to a low-end torque output of 900 Nm from just 1,700rpm while also delivering 563 bhp, resulting in calm low speed progress associated with state occasions and a surge of power when one needs to press on.

Naturally, the Phantom is a high-tech tour de force. Among the systems on board are: alertness assistant, a 4-camera system with panoramic view, all-round visibility including helicopter view, night vision and vision assist, active cruise control, collision warning, pedestrian warning, cross-traffic warning, lane departure and lane change warning, an industry leading 7x3 high-resolution head-up display, WiFi hotspot, and the latest navigation and entertainment systems.

No one can say BMW’s stewardship of this great British marque hasn’t been good for the company.

And to borrow a golfing phrase, all this new technology might seem par for the course if you can afford the near £350,000 asking price of a new Phantom but, for the rest of us, a new Roller remains the stuff of dreams.