SPECULATION over the name of the new Rolls-Royce can now be ended with the news that the Silver Shadow is to be replaced by the Silver Spirit, the Silver Wraith by the Silver Spur and the T2 (Model-T) Bentley by the Mulsanne. The Corniche two-door convertible and Camargue models continue unchanged.
The new cars employ the same floor-pan as the previous model, but are wider by two inches and slightly lower. The extra width is accentuated by the treatment of the headlamps at the front and by the rear lamps which link with the number plate panel to give a full-width display. The waist line is lowered, and the bumpers, which have large wrap-around at the rear, are integrated with the styling of the rest of the car. All the exterior fittings comply with world-wide safety regulations, including the radiator mascot which disappears into the shell on the slightest impact.
The reduction in overall height of the car has not meant any loss of either ground clearance or internal head room, for the head lining has been fitted closer to the roof and the rear seats have been completely re-designed, giving much more lateral support and considerable improvement In comfort. Head rests are fitted to all seats, as are lap and diagonal seat belts. A lap only belt is provided for an occasional third rear seat passenger, for whom there is room if the centre arm rest is folded up. Two door mirrors are now fitted as standard equipment (previously a passenger’s door mirror was an extra), and both of these are electrically adjustable, the controls being positioned between the two front seats. Also between the seats are the two eight-position joy-stick type switches for adjusting the position of the seating. The door frames are of increased strength, and the fittings are recessed in thick padding. The instrument panel from the Shadow is retained, but a digital display showing time of day, external temperature and journey elapsed time is positioned in the centre of the traditionally veneered dash panel. The air conditioning system follows the extremely efficient design employed on the Shadow, bother been uprated. The central locking system has been retained, but is now controlled by door rail plungers rather than switches on the door panels. The parking brake has been changed to foot operation, being released by a hand grip under the dash.
It is interesting to note that the bodyshell of the Silver Spirit is of sufficient strength for it to have been possible to carry out all crash impact tests, side penetration tests and roof strength tests with a single bodyshell.
Mechanically, the major alteration is to the design of the rear suspension. This is now brought into line with the suspension already in use on the Camargue and Corniche. The semi-trailing arm layout is designed in such a way that the roll centre of the car has been raised, and the wheel camber change increased, so the car rolls less and the wheels are kept more upright on the road. The suspension is now mounted on a sub-frame, rubber mounted on the body at its four corners. The substantial coil springs of the Shadow have been decreased in size, and gas springs which provide a rising spring rate with increasing load have been fitted, which have enabled Rolls-Royce to soften the suspension slightly without any loss of load carrying ability. The shock-absorbers are incorporated in the gas spring units. The track has been increased by 1/2″, and further improvements in fuel economy are claimed for the well-proven 6 3/4-litre light alloy V8 engine, although how much of this improvement is due to the better aerodynamic properties of the new body style is not clear. Plans are under way for further improvements in this area with reduced overall vehicle weight and a reduction in engine capacity being on the cards for the future.
Once behind the wheel, the benefits of the re-styling start to become apparent with a big improvement in visibility (the glass area has been increased by 30%). The engine fired immediately, and at tickover was quite imperceptible, slipping the electric gear selection lever into the drive position produced a slight settling in the suspension and the car started to creep forward as soon as the brakes were released. Gentle throttle openings wafted the car through traffic with barely noticeable gear changes and there was a slight, mute, roar from the exhaust as power was increased intake the car up to motorway cruising speeds. However, it is not until the car is taken off the motorway and used on sweeping, curving, uneven, hilly roads that the driver will feel he is driving a different model; it is in such conditions that Rolls-Royce engineers’ claims for the new rear suspension layout become justified. The handling of the car is much more positive, making it easier to position the car on the road with precision, and the lurch which was a characteristic failure of the Shadow when pushed round corners, or having to change direction suddenly, has been very much reduced giving passengers a much more comfortable ride when the driver is in a hurry. Road rumble is also much reduced.
Obviously these alterations in styling and improvements have not been achieved for nothing, and the new car will be rather more expensive than the replaced model. At their press launch in the South of France recently, Rolls-Royce would not commit themselves on a price, but did say that the Silver Spirit would not cost more than £50,000. A number of cars have already been made, enough, we are told, for there to be a Spirit in all UK Rolls-Royce dealers showrooms on October 1st . — P.H.J.W.