The new Rolls-Royce Phantom is causing much controversy, especially, one presumes, among those with £250,000 to spend on a motor car. Autocar has devoted a large supplement to it, and it has caused Steve Cropley to think back to the unveiling of the Silver Shadow in 1965.
I also remember this occasion. Top UK motor-scribes were given firstclass train tickets to Crewe, but as I lived in Wales, I drove to that dreary town in a road-test Ford Cortina GT. I parked it unobtrusively, but soon was asked to hide it, as it was not welcome at such a hallowed place. John Bolster’s 1911 Ghost was treated differently.
I had previously had an interview with Mr Grylls MA, R-R’s Chief Engineer, after having regretted in Motor Sport that the Silver Cloud III, which I admired, had become distinctly out of date. This proved to be a difficult occasion, because he (whose retirement car was to be a VW Beetle, which pleased me) had already designed the monocoque construction Shadow, complete with independent rear suspension, power four-wheel disc brakes, a self-levelling ride, and all that, thus dispelling my criticisms of the old Silver Cloud it replaced. Poor old Grylls! The Shadow was very much on the secret list; but he answered my questions skilfully under the circumstances.
His address to the assembled journalists quickly made it clear what a splendidly modem and technically brilliant car the Shadow was, interrupted only by loud banging on the lecture room’s roof by workmen, which was soon stopped.
And I still recall the very excellent lunch we all had afterwards at The Wild Boar at Beeston. Then the 31 of us were invited to a test drive. As only a Bentley-T and the Shadow were available, four of us had to cram into each car. I suggested that we zeroed the odometer and did nine miles each of the 36-mile, traffic-heavy route.
My Showtime verse, “Oh Mr Grylls, whatever shall I do? I’ve always praised Mercedes, but now there’s a new car from Crewe!” promptly provided me with a Mercedes-Benz 600, which I drove for 530 miles.
We were told that a full road test of the Shadow would not be possible until the following year. So I was astonished when a long report of driving one very soon appeared in a newish motor magazine, whose writer shall remain nameless.
I rang Dennis Miller Williams MA LLB, the very pleasant Rolls-Royce PR chap, to complain. He said no Silver Shadow had been lent to any magazine so the writer must have assessed the car’s ride, its cornering power and performance, the lot, in those restricted nine miles!
When I was able to do a proper test, in 1968, I was asked whether I could collect the car from R-R’s Wormwood Scrubs depot, as they were short of drivers and it was on my way home from the office.
“Of course,” I replied.
But when I arrived, in the dark, the nightwatchman, who had been warned to expect me, could find no car keys allocated to Motor Sport. Next day Miller Williams was terribly apologetic — “R-R, of all people”.
When I went to the depot for a second time, a long delay ensued, prompting me to say I was not sure I wanted to wait — after all, I made clear, the Rover I was using had a V8 engine, auto transmission, the latest Triplex glass, etc, just like a Shadow — and it cost far less.
I got away in the end and we spent the run to Wales intensely studying the instruction book to understand the Rolls-Royce’s complexities. It performed admirably, except for a duff brake lamp.
Delivered back to Conduit Street, it soon vanished down in the car lift. I casually mentioned the duff lamp.
“But the dash indicator warns of this,” I was told.
“Then that was also duff,” I replied. Back up in the lift came the car to prove me wrong…
Neither lamp lit up!