Shopping for a Rolls-Royce

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92

I HAD always intended to “buy” a Royce from old-pal “Bunty” Scott-Moncrieff, but Leek is a long way up the map and, to my shame, I never got as far as his new showroom full of R.-R. and Bentley cars in Staffordshire. David S.-M. has been the self-styled “purveyor of horseless-carriages to the nobility and gentry since 1927” and some of us are old enough to remember his classic panel-advertisement in the back of a pre-war Motor Sport which showed a picture of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang II upside down, captioned as “seen from the Brooklands bar.”

In recent times Scott-Moncrieff has specialised in the great cars from Derby and Crewe and last year claims to have taken £79,000 at the game. So when he offered to bring one of his wares down to London for me to try, I was glad of the opportunity. The car presented for appraisal was a Series H 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I standard steel saloon with 56,039 miles on its odometer, in two-tone beige and gold, with power steering.

Scott-Moncrieff considers the three best models Rolls-Royce have ever built to be the Silver Ghost, the Continental Phantom II and the Silver Cloud I, excepting the Silver Shadow, of course, as too recent to pass judgement on. He says the Cloud II performs better than the Cloud I but that the former is a complex piece of machinery, a pig to work on and, being the first of a new V8 series, is, of necessity, nowhere near as troublefree as the last of an old line, which the Cloud I is, being the i.o.e. six-cylinder 4.9-litre car, exactly the same as the S-type Bentley except for the radiator.

Bunty says “I think future historians will class the late Cloud Is as one of the all-time ‘greats’ of motoring. They are,” he continues, “certainly infinitely preferable to the early Silver Cloud Hs which must, like the Phantom III, have been rushed on to the market without being fully developed, for unless they have been extensively (and expensively) modified by Rolls-Royce Ltd. they are a right big bag of troubles.”

That was the background to the Silver Cloud I, RDB180, which I collected from Frank Dale & Stepsons’ Sloane Square premises, where it had been garaged, and drove away into one of London’s worst Motor Show traffic hold-ups. Being a Rolls-Royce it behaved impeccably, naturally, and I was reminded once again how absurdly easy these big cars are to thread through confined spaces, thanks to high seating, the automatic transmission with holds for second and third gears that provide such impressive acceleration for coping with what Rob Walker once referred to as “huffs” in the game of traffic draughts, and the truly splendid power steering with castor return that fairly spins the stately three-spoke steering wheel through one’s fingers. And the steering lock would not disgrace a Triumph Herald.

The run home was not altogether uneventful, but then most journeys are fun in a Rolls-Royce. Noting that the fuel gauge light was shining and the gauge close on zero I stopped for some B.P.—and it is fun in filling up this impressive and dignified car with regular-grade petrol. It was then that I realised I had forgotten where the control for releasing the filler-cap plug is situated on a Silver Cloud—but the Flying Lady turned round and said in her silvery voice, “Try the button to the right of the switch-panel, sir”—and, lo, we could be refuelled.

Next, there was a narrow gap even the Royce couldn’t share with oncoming traffic and as I waved the lorries through one driver leant from his cab and in a simulated affectation thanked me “most awfully, old boy.” . . Then there was a fire-engine which pursued us, lights flashing, across Barnes Common, shooting over red traffic-lights, where it nearly scraped a truck then slowed down for no apparent reason, stopped, crawled away, stopped again, then reversed steadfastly towards our famous radiator. Loud, undignified horn-blowing saved an overcharge on Motor Sport’s insurance policy, nor did I reverse through the Mini behind, as a young fireman indicated I should do. As I was in a Rolls-Royce, there was no punchup. . . . Incidentally, the fate Laurence Pomeroy always maintained that the way to get waved into the Directors’ carpark of any establishment you might be visiting is to drive a Rolls-Royce, and this seven-year-old Silver Cloud proved this to be quite true.

There is no need to go into details, because RD13I86 is very similar in layout to the Silver Cloud III road-tested by Motor Sport last year, even to the electrically-controlled back shock-absorbers, with their H/N switch on the steering column. Like all S-types, the ignition-key operates the starter and that the latter is noisy, and the power-steering (4 turns lock-to-lock) inclined to stick momentarily at full lock, and somewhat rough idling, are minor shortcomings not, I think, confined to this particular car. The general condition was good, the interior woodwork and leather especially so, and the picnic trays and companions, although sickly-smelling leather restorer had been used on the bench-type front seat cushion. This made one feel sick most of the time I was in possession of the car, nor was the seat itself 100% comfortable, its cushion having settled. But apart from a slight metallic sound from the region of the radio, the body creaked but was immune from rattles. There was sometimes a scarcely discernible transmission hum at around 50 m.p.h. but otherwise silence was more or less absolute. The straight-line running was lurchy on cambered roads, The carpets were somewhat marked. Externally there was evidence of fibre-glass patching of blemishes on both front wings, which had crazed at the front of the near-side wing where a dent had been filled in. A patch on the near-side back wing had also been filled in with fibre-glass and the headlamp rims were rusty. There was a shabby A.A. badge and the front number plate was dented. Otherwise external paint and plating were faultless. This car was taxed to January, 1967.

The Cloud I differs from the Cloud III in having two Lucas R700 headlamps instead of twin headlamps, a control on the right of the facia-sill instead of a steering-column stalk for the twin-indicators, and no air-vents on the facia, although the heater works extremely well. The famous instrument layout and switch-gear are almost the same, with a 110 m.p.h. clockwise R.-R.-Smiths speedometer.

Equipment included Lucas spotlamps and an H.M.V. radio. The near-side front quarter-light wouldn’t open and the off-side one was very stiff. The car was shod with three Firestone Nylon 8.20 by 15 tubeless tyres and an India Super on the off-side back wheel. These had tread depths as follows: n/s front, 2 1/2 mm.; n/s front; 3 mm.; o/s back, 7 1/2 mm,; n/s back, 4 mm. The Firestone spare 3 mm. of tread left.

Driving this big car was, as usual, both a pleasure and ridiculously easy. The power steering makes light of parking and the gearbox-driven servo brakes work impeccably. I always think they give the impression that a Rolls-Royce shouldn’t have to stop but if the need arises it will slow progressively, coming to a standstill very firmly and with a faint curtsey. They are the nicest brakes I know when working properly and those of RDB186 were. Mechanically the car seemed very sound, although the screen wipers did not park out of sight and, far more seriously, the brake-lights were erratic.

No performance figures are taken but there was very ample acceleration and effortless, hushed cruising at 70 m.p.h. When new these Cloud Is would do a s.s. 1/4-mile in under 19 sec., and appreciably exceed 100 m.p.h. This one was giving roughly 16 m.p.g. Scott-Moncrieff & Son, Ltd. were offering this very fair specimen (one of 2,238 S.C.I. models built between 1955 and 1959) for £2,680.

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