The editor’s account of driving a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud Ill
PLEASURE that had been denied me for a long time materialised last July, when I was able to road rest the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III. It was not possible, as I had originally hoped, to take this much-discussed car on a Continental journey but it is possible to report on a long test carried out in this country with this £5,632, 4,640 lb., V8 Rolls-Royce.
Some journalists work on the assumption that well-deserved superlatives are necessary when writing of the modern Rolls-Royce and concern themselves with how the public react to the car, how lorry drivers cram on their brakes to give it a clear run at roundabouts, how hotel-porters raise their arms in salute and hotel-managers their tariffs as the classic radiator bows to rest outside their portals, and so on. It is true that a recent-model Rolls-Royce is a status symbol but, in my opinion, such comments are out of place in a report of this kind, if only for the fact that any other costly object, be it suit or mansion, camera or private ‘plane or whatever, is apt to have this effect, even in a country under the control of Socialists. I prefer to remark that possession of such a car eases many of life’s anxieties, and let it go at that.
The fact, nevertheless, remains that ownership of a Rolls-Royce is a way of life and the price one has to pay for it and its mode of travelling and performance should be related to this fact. I will confess here and now that there exist cars which I would prefer to drive when in a hurry, but, equally I can say in all sincerity that there are few, if any, other makes which match the tireless, dignified, fast travel offered by the current car from Crewe.
In the first place, there is the extremely restful and very impressive quietness of Rolls-Royce motoring. It has been suggested that certain American automobiles approach closely to the ideal of completely silent running. I think the truth is that the mechanical quietness of the Silver Cloud is such that slight sounds like the rumble of the big Dunlops, something loose in the cubby-hole, the faintest creak from the bodywork or a slight air disturbance round a ventilator intake intrude, noises which its lesser cars are absorbed by the hiss of air through the carburetters, a greater degree of tyre noise, and so on, which merely make them seem quieter, when in fact their occupants endure a higher level of sound than those in a Rolls-Royce. For the Rolls-Royce is generally quiet; if 3rd gear is held in there is a slight increase in noise from the power unit as engine speed rises; acceleration, even under kick-down, passes virtually unnoticed from the aspect of an increase in sound level, providing the windows are kept closed, as they are intended to be, in the refrigerated version of the car. Let us be honest, however, and admit that when starting up from cold the tappets protest mildly for a while and that, if when idling the big engine is so unobtrusive you can hear the ticking of the clock, it does transmit a certain amount of vibration through the steering-wheel, and that in action there is quite a whirr as the automatic transmission gets out of low gear. Unexpectedly, too, the well-sealed doors, not easy to close, require to be slammed, which results in a loud metallic noise. On the other hand, the steel saloon body of this hard-used specimen of Silver Cloud III had but one minor rattle, audible over bad road surfaces, and possibly emanating from the n/s. safety-belt stowage.
Then the brakes! Deceptively powerful yet very light to apply, they have the additional merit of being notably progressive and they are entirely devoid of scream or screech. In normal driving the slight lag when they are applied at a crawl is scarcely noticeable, being less apparent than that experienced with certain vacuum-servo layouts. But these brakes do get quite surprisingly hot, producing an obnoxious smell of near-charred linings after a spell of normal driving, for the ribbed cast-iron drums have to dissipate a great deal of heat to bring a couple of tons smoothly to rest and are almost completely shielded from the air-stream by the wheel discs and the adequate mudguarding. Nevertheless, these are brakes, the smooth purposeful fade-free action of which is entirely in keeping with the character of the car they retard and they gave me complete assurance when driving fast, as well they might, for their duplicated hydraulic system with two master cylinders and combined hydraulic and mechanical rear brake actuation was designed with safety in mind.
The cam-and-roller hydraulic power-steering is about the best I have experienced, sensitive, accurate, acceptably light, although not possessing quite that one-finger lightness of those too-sensitive power steering systems which emanate from the other side of the Atlantic. If any criticism is merited it is that the gearing is too low, 4 1/4 turns lock-to-lock calling for considerable arm work in traffic or when taking right-angled corners, although it has to be conceded that the turning circle of 41 ft. 8 in. is conveniently small. The steering wheel transmits shake-back only when held on right lock and there is useful castor return action. On the test car one or two inches of free play at the wheel was apparent. The Rolls-Royce was unexpectedly easy to park—and to drive.
The suspension naturally provides a pretty good ride and has the traditional hard/soft control of the rear damping. The latter is worth having, although I did not find the variation in stiffness of the rear shock-absorbers very pronounced, and missed the former progressive action of this control. This is, however, far from scientific suspension, for some quite emphatic movements reach the Silver Cloud’s occupants on bad roads; there is even some shake transmitted to the steering wheel and scuttle. The Silver Cloud does not handle like a GT car, nor would one expect it to. I found the suspension unduly supple and when cornering fast strong understeer changes to quite considerable roll as the heavy tail comes round. However, when the initial disappointment had given way to more mature experience, I found that the modern Rolls-Royce can, in fact, be cornered rapidly, with considerable enjoyment. More skilled drivers than I have forced the Rolls-Royce round a race circuit and proclaimed it surprisingly controllable and driving more cautiously (after all, I was on a public road) I found the Silver Cloud predictable and quite an inspiring car in which to press on. This notwithstanding, the suspension system—rigid back axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs, with a single radius rod, i.f.s. by unequal length wishbones and coil springs with torsional anti-roll bar—by no means completely disguises the weight and comfort of a hurrying Rolls-Royce. I have at times excused cars with supple suspension by observing that providing they possess good acceleration and effective brakes there is no necessity to rush one’s corners. This applies to the Rolls-Royce, although if driven thus a little more low-speed pick-up, even in kick-down, would be welcome, or so it seemed, without putting a watch on the speedometer.
Having said this it is only fair to remark on the fluid manner in which the Silver Cloud III deals with twists and turns and traffic hazards, which derives from a smooth, inaudible, flow of (unpublished) power from the light-alloy 90º 104.14 x 91.4 mm. (6,230 c.c.) V8 engine and the nonchalant arresting power of the now unique (although once well-known) gearbox-driven servo braking system (but for how much longer will it survive, even at Crewe?). Indeed, I rate the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III as at its best in heavy traffic, when visibility from the lofty driving seat contributes to the pleasure one enjoys in conducting this superb motor car.
The Rolls-Royce is a large car, measuring 17 ft. 6 1/4 in. x 6 ft. 2 3/6 in. x 5 ft. 6 in. high, but to the person fortunate enough to be behind its wheel it feels of medium size—one of the greatest compliments I can pay it and qualifying the foregoing comments on traffic negotiation. The luggage boot, deliberately contrived so that the spare wheel can be withdrawn without disturbing the contents, is deep but low. I cannot think how you would get several large cabin trunks into it, but I do know that five big heavy suitcases, a sizeable soft-bag, tennis rackets, an oddments box, many coats, a pair of gum-boots and a mass of odds and ends went in eventually, after some re-arrangement. This load made absolutely no difference to the car’s handling. . . .
The standard saloon body seats five comfortably, but is not intended to be packed with humanity. Six slim people, perhaps, but seven would be uncomfortably intimate. You don’t pack people into the Rolls-Royce as if it were an Underground train . . . ! I have implied that the Silver Cloud’s suspension system is somewhat antiquated and I must confess I have experienced smoother automatic gearboxes, although the Chief Engineer of Rolls-Royce explains the quite vicious kick you experience if open throttles catch the gearbox out before it is in low gear by saying that this is the biggest unsolved problem confronting users of this particular form of automatic transmission. Apart from this peccadillo, it is a smooth, silent gearbox controlled by a lever working in a notably simple quadrant, and the “hold” available in 2nd and 3rd gears makes it nearly the equal, performance-wise, of a manual-change gearbox for enthusiastic drivers. In fact, it becomes customary to select 3rd gear for maximum acceleration.
The lever, however, is not best-contrived for operation as an ordinary gear lever. The gap between 2nd and 3rd is too wide, however, causing a falling-off in acceleration if the change-up takes place on a hill. The 1965 Rolls-Royce gives very adequate but hardly sensational performance. Fully laden with six human beings and their luggage it went to an indicated 85 m.p.h. along the average length of straight road. A stretch of dual-carriageway enabled it to exceed 90 m.p.h., but a Motorway was required before 100 m.p.h. would come up—but it cannot be too strongly emphasised that at three-figure speeds, to a maximum of 114 m.p.h., the quietness level remains virtually the same as it is at 30 m.p.h., so that the volume of the radio does not need to be increased. This is an extremely impressive factor which justifies the considerable cost of the Rolls-Royce. Qualifying the theory that Rolls-Royce ownership is a way of life is the fact, normally apparent to any observant person who has seen the car being built at Crewe, that not only is this machinery built to endure for a very long time, but is mechanism which will not quickly get out of adjustment. Continual full-throttle cruising or repeated heavy application of the brakes should have no detrimental effects on the Silver Cloud, and over the years a Rolls-Royce can be expected to behave the same and impart the same “feel” as it did when it was a brand-new car.
This longevity factor was emphasised by the test car itself, because it was a 4-year-old Series SCX Silver Cloud III which had nearly 50,000 hard miles of demonstration behind it, including many fast journeys to the South of France, to Spain, to Germany, etc., to its credit before I had the chance to drive it. Rolls-Royce expected me to be critical but did not deem it necessary to produce a cosseted new car for the MOTOR SPORT Road Test. This alone makes such a car; which in character but not in timed performance possesses much the same indefinable appeal as the older Rolls-Royce models, seem well worth its high purchase-price to a surprisingly large number of people in most parts of the World. That a front wheel has to be removed before the sparking plugs can be changed and the service charges seem astronomical to family-car owners are items of absolutely no concern to Rolls-Royce’s clients.
The concept of the Rolls-Rove is decidedly vintage. The driver sits high on a separate seat upholstered in the best English hide, a seat out of the ordinary vet comfortable for hour after hour, the shoulders well supported by the high squab. Each of these separate from seats has an adjustable squab which can be angled over many degrees (aIthough not tailing into a posture anything like so vulgar as a bed) and its own folding armrest, matched by deeper adjustable armrests-cum-pulls, on the front doors. Forward vision is excellent, over the handsome but not unduly long bonnet. Over the classic radiator rides the “Silver Lady,” the latter now fairly secure against petty theft. I am of average height and I could see comfortably the n/s front wing. The central mirror gives a good but vanishing rear view and is supplemented by well-placed wing mirrors.
The big 3-spoke steering wheel is pleasantly thin-rimmed, with finger grips below the rim, and is unencumbered, the deep-note horn being sounded by a modest button on the hub. Below the wheel, slightly inaccessible, is a flick switch labelled “N/H” for varying the settings of the rear shock-absorbers—the famous R.-R. ride control.
The facia is a thing of beauty indeed—made of polished French inlaid walnut veneer, and carrying discreet Smiths instruments, all dials bearing the R.-R. initials. These instruments, mounted on a central panel, comprise the combined fuel gauge, water thermometer, oil pressure gauge and ammeter (which while not so impressive as separate dials, is at least a more compact way of accommodating these instruments), a clock and a 120-m.p.h. speedometer, with decimal trip and total odometers. The calibration of the combined dial is not in figures, inscriptions in white sufficing:—High/Low (oil), Hot/Cold (water) O/1/2/F (fuel.), and 30 minus/30 plus for the Lucas ammeter. The needles of the oil pressure gauge and of the water thermometer normally stand horizontal so that a glance suffices to ensure that all is well in these departments. The accurate clock is matched by a plated cigar lighter, and in the centre is a typically R.-R. circular electrical switchbox, incorporating warning lights for dynamo not charging and low fuel level, the turnswitch bringing in the side lamps, the dual Lucas sealed beam headlamps and finally the Lucas foglamps in conjunction with the sidelamps, when turned in a clockwise direction.
A small ignition key starts the engine, or, turned the other way, enables the radio and wipers, but not the horn, to function when the engine is not running. Matching inset panels carry the air conditioning switches, respectively for upper and lower ventilation, the former switch pulling out to bring in a 2-speed fan, and other switches controlling panel lighting and wipers/washers. Throughout the identification lettering is in white and, needless to say, the plated switches are easy to operate, well positioned and work with precision.
Below the instrument panel are the radio speaker with knob for front/rear selection and the Radiomobile radio which is fitted as standard. A simple radio aerial on the leading edge of the roof can be rather untidily retracted to avoid fouling a garage roof or overhanging trees, etc., by turning a knob the upper screen rail. Small lidded ashtrays are provided at each end of the non-dazzle capping rail above the facia, this being crash-padded. The door sills are of French walnut veneer, matching the facia and each other. Under the facia there is a pull-out ashtray and polished veneer walnut shelf and on the left the facia contains a deceptively commodious cubby-hole, its lid having a Yak lock and clicking shut with a pleasing suaveness.
The vents of the elaborate Rolls-Royce ventilation system occupy each side of the facia rail and there is another at foot level. These vents each have five hinged vanes, the positions of which can be controlled by plated handles and thus direct the flow of hot or cold air where required. The wipers, which are of the 2-speed type sweep an adequate area of the flat windscreen; pulling out their switch brings in the washers. The panel-light switch rotates to select dim or bright illumination and if pulled out brings in a map light for the convenience of the front-sear passenger. The dual headlamps are dipped by foot button and hill beam is indicated by a discreet red light in the speedometer dial. The turn indicators are operated by a well-placed kit-hand stalk lever which also provides for daylight headlamps gashing. The turn indicators’ warning lamps consist of tiny strips in the speedometer to show which indicator is in use. The rigid anti-dazzle vizors swivel and the near-side one contains a vanity mirror. Tire accelerator and brake pedals, the latter with the magic R.-R. on its rubber, are of conventional size. A gear lever extends from the right of the steering column in a black quadrant labelled simply R, 2, 3, 4, N, a plated press button on the tip of the lever having to be depressed before neutral (necessary before the engine can be started) or reverse can be selected. This lever moves downward for holding third gear and downward again and round the gate to hold second gear. In “hold third” the change-up to fourth speed will take place automatically when peak revs. arc reached but in “hold two” the driver is responsible for making the upward change, although if required an automatic change into bottom gear will occur. On light throttle openings upward gear changes occur at 9, 16 and 24 m.p.h., respectively, but kick-down raises these speeds to approximately 26, 40 and 74 m.p.h. Downward changes on light throttle happen at about 16, 10 and 5 m.p.h., respectively. The usual parking position is obviated by having a lock which operates when the lever is in “R” with the engine off. I was surprised to find that there is no hill-hold in any gear position, so the aforesaid slight brake lag can be embarrassing on steep hills.
Reverting to the facia layout, there is a button for releasing the flap over the screw-type fuel filler cap which is concealed in the nearside rear of the car. A flick-switch provides for bringing in the built-in electric rear-window demister, and an inspection lamp socket is provided, while there is a big handbrake-on warning light. Incidentally, the speedometer, calibrated in steps of 10 m.p.h., has its lowest figures on the right of the dial, the needle moving steadily in a clockwise direction. Not only does the white needle record speed steadily, but it is sensitive to slight changes of speed as the car is accelerated or decelerated.
The handbrake is a T-type handle affair, twisting and pulling out from its substantial mounting under the facia, for operation by the driver’s left hand. It protrudes quite a long way when in the “on” position and, although I became adept at avoiding it it could be a nasty trap for the elderly or the unwary. However it holds the car most effectively on gradients.
Much better contrived are the bonnet releases. The bonnet is still sufficiently old-fashioned to have an openable top panel on either side. These panels are released by handles under the scuttle. When the time comes to close them they are drawn neatly down and locked by these same handles, there being no need to slam a Rolls-Royce bonnet.
The doors are far less effective, needing a hearty slam and being noisy to shut, although this is no doubt due to effective dust/air sealing. Two keys are provided, enabling the boot and the cubbyhole to be locked while the car can still be driven. The floor is covered with lined Wilton pile carpets. There is an additional fresh-air vent on the nearside of the scuttle, opened by a small knob on the right of the handbrake. This air vent “zizzed” faintly, which was irritating in an otherwise so-silent motor car.
The Rolls-Royce is not a vehicle to be littered with oddments, but discreet wells, closed by covers, mounted on plastic slides for quietness, are provided in the front doors, and there is the usual, not very deep, shelf behind the back seat. When the doors are open they disclose token running-boards or steps but these are of little help when dismounting and it is more usual to step directly down on the road or pavement. The doors can be locked internally with rather old-fashioned but fully effective vertical handles and they have neat press-button external handles, the key action of the external locks being notably precise. The recessed circular roof lamp has courtesy action from any of the four doors, and a recessed plated door-pillar tumbler switch also operates it.
The rear compartment, in which the passengers sit well back from the windows in secluded isolation from the vulgar affairs of the world without, is provided with recessed mirrors in each corner, and adjacent illuminated cigar lighters. The scat has a central folding armrest, and folding picnic tables with inbuilt ashtrays can be pulled out from the backs of the front seats (the n/s table on the test car tended to jam). In addition, there are adjustable footrests permitting the fitting of lambswool rugs to the floor. Spring-loaded “pulls,” and a re-circulating air vent in the floor. Incidentally, the lamps for the cigar-lighter compartments, which have recessed plated tumbler switches, can also act as reading lamps. The luggage lid is self-supporting and contains a lamp which illuminates the boot.
The test car was provided with neatly-stowed Irvin Safety belts for the front seat occupants and a small Bradex fire extinguisher. The car also had two very desirable extras, namely the under-wing refrigerator unit, and the electric window lifts. The former, while not so dramatic or complex as I had anticipated and rather noisy, kept the interior of the car delightfully cool, so that the hot air without slapped you in the face as you alighted. The complete heating and ventilating system enables any desired combination of cool or warm, cold or hot, air to be delivered to those riding in the front or the back of a Rolls-Royce. It costs nearly as much as a Fiat 500 but is certainly worth having if much driving has to be done in a hot climate. It also enables the windows to be kept closed, keeping the dust out of the car and considerably enhancing the low sound level. What this elaborate refrigerator does not do is to give an individual supply of hot or cold air to occupants on different sides of the car, nor does it enable air at a predetermined temperature to be maintained within the car’s interior. The cost of this refrigerating unit includes tinted window glasses and windscreen. The electric window lifts work stolidly but noisily (there are four press-buttons for the driver, over-riding the individual controls provided for the passengers) and are perhaps more immediately desirable than refrigeration, although after driving other cars in which one can keep cool only by opening the windows-at the expense of draughts and dust, one appreciates the advantages of possessing a refrigerated Rolls-Royce. In humid weather the refrigerator has a habit of venting on to the road a small quantity of liquid in the vicinity of the o/s front wheel, which is a rather undignified habit for a car of this calibre. On the road the Silver Cloud III is sheer enjoyment, if you are prepared to drive it as it is intended to be driven. Roll on corners it does, but the roll is consistent, the steering extremely accurate, the brakes superb. I have mentioned previously the desirability of rather more low speed pick-up, but dropping into “Hold 3rd” provides all the acceleration most fast drivers will require, to nearly 75 m.p.h. Incidentall, Rolls-Royce encourage the driver to use the gearbox as a manual one, but operated thus, the lever is rather stiff and clumsy. Under favourable conditions this Silver Cloud will run up to a maximum speed of 114 m.p.h. or perhaps a little more; at the opposite extreme it can be inched forward mutely at a m.p.h. in heavy traffic.
Consumption of the best grade petrol is surprisingly consistent. Determined driving over mainly deserted roads gave 11.7 m.p.g. Traffic work in London and normal country driving improved this fractionally to 11.8 m.p.g. In a long fast run, heavily laden, together with much country road pottering, it produced a figure of 11.6 m.p.g., so that the overall average came out to 11.7 m.p.g. The fuel gauge gives an accurate indication of how much petrol will go into the tank, except for a slight pessimism towards the empty position, while the low-level light comes on permanently after 164 miles from filling the tank, with scarcely any preliminary flashing. Three gallons then remain, so that the absolute range is approximately 200 miles. This is rather niggardly, but an extra fuel tank can be fitted if required. After 550 miles, warned by the reassuring but actually rather vague press-button oil level gauge which is incorporated in the fuel gauge, an item which has long figured on Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, I checked the oil level. The engine dip-stick would do service for a sword, and access to the oil filler is obtained by opening the n/s bonnet panel and undoing a wing nut so that the big air cleaner can be swivelled up out of the way and restrained in this position by a short length of cable. Fortunately, this is an operation the owner of a Rolls-Royce is unlikely to perform personally. On the first occasion of checking the oil level I found that a quart of BP Visco Static was required. ln all, half a gallon of oil was consumed in a test distance of 1,245 miles. Incidentally, in a fortnight’s use the washers’ reservoir did not need replenishment.
At the beginning of the test the Dunlop Fort tyres showed 8 mm. tread depth, except in the case of the offside rear tyre, which had a tread depth of 7.2 mm. Checked again after 700 miles, the o/s front tyre had lost 0.9 mm. of tread, the n/s front 1.2 mm., the o/s back tyre 1.0 mm. and the n/s back tyre 1.8 mm of rubber. There are 21 chassis points to be greased every 12,000 miles. The floor at the n/s front gets warm, which was nice for the motoring dog!
What more is there to say? Going to the Ithon Valley M.G.’s first and very successful grass track meeting at Cross Gates in Wales, the big heavy car with its 8.20-section tyres proved to have unexpectedly good traction uphill on liquid mud. The restrained and dignified appearance of the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III grows on one, even if dual headlamps look to be rather an afterthought, and the nose does not dip unduly when making a crash stop. The transmission makes some mild sound when changing up at low speeds and the suspension can be caught out by hump-hacks to the discomfort of the rear seat passengers. The brakes work somewhat fiercely when reversing and a faint click can be heard as the linkage takes up again when they are next used going forward. It is hardly necessary to state that in a total distance of nearly 1,300 miles the car never faltered, never put a wheel wrong.
As I have said, the Silver Cloud III is old-fashioned in some respects and for keeping up with the sports cars over winding roads I might be happier, in, say, a Mercedes-Benz 300SE. But the Rolls-Royce is one of the nicest cars in which to drive very fast for hour after hour after hour and this enjoyment is certainly far more than merely psychological. The faster the modern Rolls-Royce is driven the more you discover that it can be thrown about with considerable abandon, and it then still corners accurately and feels like quite a small car. By making good use of the gear lever and those very powerful brakes average speeds which would be commented upon in many other cars pass unnoticed and seem like normal unhurried motoring to the more press-on owners of Silver Clouds, yet the car’s whole demeanour displays in a subtle manner the characteristics of its forebears. This splendid motorcar from Crewe is indeed one of Britain’s best ambassadors and apart from being a status symbol it is a motoring way of life. Regarded thus, its price is quite incidental, even moderate.—W. B.