Buyers’ Guide: Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
The timeless styling of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow is the one thing above all else which makes it difficult to believe that this, the Crewe company’s first unitary construction car, was launched as long ago as 1965. Some 10 years of development work had gone into perfecting the Silver Shadow, and although the same 6.2-litre V8 engine that had powered its predecessor the Silver Cloud was employed up front, virtually every other component was new.
Four-wheel disc brakes with fail-safe dual circuits and independent rear suspension with automatic self-levelling control brought Rolls-Royce into the modern world. And although the Silver Cloud had never been a particularly noisy car, the Silver Shadow’s designers went a long way to eliminating cabin noise in the Shadow, by mounting the front and rear suspension systems on insulated subframes.
To a certain extent mass production techniques were employed in the production of the new car, but traditional British craftsmanship, attention to detail and quality, engineering integrity and the usual hallmarks of the ultimate motoring status symbol were retained and self-evident. As before there was a badge-engineered Bentley alternative — the T-series — for those who appreciated the Crewe factory’s motoring philosophy, but who also had a healthy sense of sporting history. Two-door variants — the coupé and convertible — were publicly announced in 1966. Made by Mulliner, these fine cars, which were always more expensive to buy than their ‘tin-top’ sisters, were revised for 1971 and renamed Comiche. A long-wheelbase Rolls-Royce, but not a Bentley version, joined the line-up at roughly the same time.
The original 90-degree V8 five-bearing pushrod engine was sufficient to propel the Silver Shadow up to a top speed of around 120mph (power output was never quoted), but ponderous steering and characteristically soft suspension (in the interest of unrivalled ride quality), both conspired against handling, though not roadholding, dynamics.
In its 15-year production history, the car remained outwardly similar and always recognisable as a Silver Shadow, but several important modifications were made under the skin. The four-speed automatic gearbox fitted to cars sold on the home market was replaced in 1968 by the superior three-speed unit, which had seen service in left-hookers since the beginning of production.
Just two years later the engine was enlarged to 6750cc by increasing the stroke. Further modifications to the power unit, inspired mainly by stringent American emissions legislation, included a lower compression ratio to allow for the use of unleaded fuel, Lucas electronic ignition and twin exhausts with no fewer than six silencer boxes.
In 1974 the suspension was revised, fatter tyres were fitted and the wheelarches were flared to accommodate the new rubber, giving the car a much sportier look. A major change to the dashboard layout came in 1976. Before production ended in 1980 to make way for the Silver Spirit, some 32,000 Silver Shadows and Bentley equivalents had been manufactured all told, with 17,000 of these being exported abroad.
While the Silver Shadow may not have been ‘The Best Car in the World’, it was certainly among the best crafted and most technically advanced automobiles of its day. Unsurpassed in prestige, the appeal of the Shadow remains as broad as ever but, up until two or three years ago. a hefty purchase price put ownership of secondhand examples out of the question for the majority of enthusiasts.
A change in the economic climate and increasing pressure to conserve energy have, however, changed all that, and values have tumbled. For the cost of acquiring a used medium-size family hatchback, this RollsRoyce is an attractive and viable alternative. But before rushing off and writing out a cheque for the car you’ve always promised yourself, it is important to consider the pitfalls.
A fine car whose image has been tarnished by the ‘white wedding trade’, there are dozens of Shadows on the market which, in many cases, having suffered from poor maintenance and infrequent servicing, fall a long way short of what one might reasonably imagine or expect. It therefore pays to ‘shop around’, join the Rolls-Royce Enthusiast Club, ask questions and learn as much from the experts as you can before parting with hard-earned cash.
Don’t even consider a Shadow that hasn’t got a full service history, unless you’re certain that it’s a good ‘un. and while you will obviously want to carry out an extensive test drive, it is equally important that the owner also demonstrates his skill, or lack of it, behind the wheel; his technique will quickly reveal whether the car has been abused or not.
Although depreciation is unlikely to fall further in the foreseeable future, running costs remain as high as ever. Replacement parts, which admittedly are not needed very often, are only available from main dealers and are far from cheap. Crunch a front bumper and a wing and you’re immediately into the kind of money for replacement parts that would buy you a perfectly serviceable secondhand Volkswagen Polo.
Find a good Shadow though, treat it carefully and enjoy it for the purpose it was intended, and all your motoring needs could be answered for ever. Keep the annual mileage low and, as a bonus, you could also enjoy low classic car insurance premiums.
What to look out for:
Rust is prevalent on well-used cars around the front and rear wheelarches, at both ends of the sills and in the front and rear valances. Good quality bitumen underseal was applied to the underside of the floorpan at the factory, but it can dry out and crack in time, allowing water and mud to cause corrosion. Check the inner wings, especially at the front around the area where the suspension struts are attached. The boot floor and rear suspension pick-up points should also be thoroughly inspected for evidence of ‘tinworrn’. The doors, boot and bonnet lids are made of aluminium-alloy, but can corrode where items of trim are attached.
Both the 6.2-litre and 6.7-litre units are virtually indestructible, provided they’ve been maintained and serviced as Rolls-Royce intended; mileages in excess of 150,000 between rebuilds are commonplace. Chattering valve gear is quite normal with a cold engine, but everything should quieten down as the engine reaches its optimum operating temperature. Blue exhaust smoke may be indicative of worn piston rings or cylinder bores.
No inherent faults other than those that occur as a result of old age. Inoperative electrically-powered items such as the windows are usually expensive to correct.
Due to the weight of the car and nature of the supple suspension tyre wear is high. Uneven wear across the tread may indicate that lengthy suspension geometry adjustments are due.
Check that the rubber seals between the doors, bonnet and boot lid and the bodywork are in good condition. They are vital in preventing alloy panels coming into contact with the all-steel bodyshell. Suspension
High-pressure hydraulic pipes can corrode and leak — the entire system requires overhauling every 48,000 miles. Pay particular attention to the bushes around front suspension compliant mounts, the condition of the rear universal joint and torque arm rubbers.
Pump for power-assisted steering is prone to leaks. Steering should feel light.
Discs and pads wear out relatively quickly: don’t expect more than 12,000 miles from a set of pads. Transmission:
4-speed and 3-speed auto: no manuals. Changes up and down are almost imperceptible on well maintained cars; 4-speed autos fitted to early British cars can become ‘clunky’ after 65-70,000 miles. The 3-speed autos are generally smoother and more durable.
Like all dropheads, hoods are vulnerable to attacks by vandals. Replacement hoods are extremely costly.
The Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club, The Hunt House, Paulerspury, Northamptonshire NN 12 7NA.