Back in 1965 I was aware that other motor journals were publishing roadtests of used cars. It seemed sensible for MOTOR SPORT to join in. But instead of reports on various cars, I thought it would be more use to see what was available in the secondhand market for a given make. Hence our “Shopping for a Rolls-Royce” series.
Looking back, how inexpensive these fine motor cars were! We asked a number of specialist dealers in the noble make to select, not top specimens nor bargains, but to let me try a mid-range example of their offerings.
Enthusiasm had been stirred by a previous loan of a 1935 Phantom II Marshalsea limousine (CMY 541), which went well, at a 50mph cruise and 10mpg. The owner, who had another R-R, a go-kart, a steamroller and a ‘hot’ Hillman Imp, was an experienced pilot, who took my youngest daughter up in a motorised glider. He said he could only afford to run a R-R as they cost nothing for repairs. That got the shopping spree going.
First, I tried a very nice 1927 Twenty with Southern Motors’ saloon body from the aforementioned pilot. It was in fine fettle, doing 50-55mph in top gear, the heater the noisiest thing within, but a roof repair and a new tyre needed. The price? £350. Phantom Motors lent me a 1939 Series B Wraith with an H J Mulliner sedanca body (FLP 990), an outwardly scruffy but good example of an average R-R. I went twice to London in it and Jenks condescended to be ‘second chauffeur’. But I could only hear the clock ticking when it was parked…
Frank Dale & Stepsons then found me a very good 1951 Silver Wraith semi-razor-edge saloon, with sunroof and ride control. It had 28 lbs/sq in oil pressure, sound tyres, and cruised quietly at 70mph, belying its 92,800 miles. They wanted £1250 for it.
By now I was getting used to riding behind a scantilyclad Silver Lady, in crouching position to prevent her posterior being clouted by a flung-open bonnet. I took a long run up to Huntingdon to a dealer who specialised in inexpensive R-R spares as well as cars, and who produced a 1938 25/30 Park Ward saloon, with 82,700 miles recorded. It was decidedly scruffy but acceptable as an average Royce, at the price of “1,550-ish”. It had 28 lbs/sq in oil pressure and adequate pedal brakes but useless handbrake. Finally, there was the loan of a 1959 Silver Cloud I, from a well-known purveyor of such cars to the well-heeled. As his premises were far from London, he promised to deliver the car. So I had a call late one afternoon from another R-R dealer, telling me that a Cloud intended for us had been left outside his premises completely out of petrol, the lady delivery driver rushing off to catch her train. “You had better bring a canfull,” I was advised.
I did so and drove down to a motoring event, the leather-restorer on the seats making me feel slightly sick. As I drew up a young chap asked if it was my car and, told no, asked if I had noticed the glass-fibre filler on the mudguards?
On the whole, however, RDB 186 was a very fair example of a desirable car, easy to drive in London traffic, quiet and comfortable, although the driver’s seat had settled and the headlamp rims were rusty. The asking figure was £2880. The tyres were the usual mix of makes, including remoulds, but the automatic gearbox was acceptable.
I decided to close the R-R series with a Bentley, and Broughton’s of Cheltenham produced an immaculate 1954 big-bore 41/2-litre R-type, PGF 497, its engine rebored in their works after 82,180 miles. The original tools and bulbs were in their case, the black gold-lined body was handsome, the carpets unworn and the instruction book in place. The doors of the all-steel four-door body had dropped only slightly. Oil pressure was correct, the dynamo healthy. I did not go for top speed with the stiff engine, but 70 in 3rd and 80 in the 3.73 to 1 top gear was easy. 1,1195 seemed very fair. The company is still in business.
I wonder if any of these cars have survived?