Buying a Used Rolls-Royce or Bentley

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THIS ARTICLE will deal with the areas that we, at Phantom Motor Cars, have learnt to look out for over the past 30 years when purchasing a used Rolls-Royce or Bentley Motor Car, either for re-sale or on behalf of a client. It is written with knowledge gained from years of experience in correcting all such faults as mentioned and many more. Even now, one never stops learning to understand their complicated design. It is to be used as a reference for motor cars from the Cloud 1 to today’s current models. Motor cars produced prior to the Cloud 1 are again a specialist field and all prior models should be dealt with individually. Obviously there is no substitute for having a specialist look at these vehicles and to assess their overall condition and to make any recommendations. Most specialists will, for a sensible fee, carry out inspections which could save a lot financially, and will also give you peace of mind.

Cloud 1s, 2s and 3s along with their Bentley partners, including coach built vehicles, can be covered relatively easily. The first impressions of a prospective purchaser are all important. Without looking under the skin the first thing that will be noticed is the finish and condition of the body and the interior, to include the head lining, carpets, leather hide and of course the woodwork. All of this can be assessed without an in-depth knowledge of the workings of the motor car and are applicable to every Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Once one has viewed these areas and has decided that they are acceptable, and therefore wishes to take a further look, then there are specific details that should receive particular attention.

All the Clouds and S types have a common type of chassis. These do suffer from the dreaded corrosion but usually only in certain places. All the “Standard Steel saloons”, suffer in two major areas. Firstly, the chassis below the battery is commonly rusted through, but repair sections are available. Similarly, the N/S body mount at the back of the front wheel arch, which usually collects a vast amount of mud is prone to rot as is the front wing where it meets the front door. The opposite body mount is protected by the heater matrix and so is usually sound. Inner and outer sills can be badly corroded, but only in extreme cases.

On the mechanical side it is important to make sure that the front suspension is not worn. All replacement parts are available but can be very expensive. The braking system is usually very reliable and works well when correctly set up. This runs from a gearbox driven servo motor, and so the brakes only work when the vehicle is moving so there can be a short delay in their action when manoeuvring at very slow speeds. It is obviously important to check that the engine and gearbox function correctly with no “hiccups”. The change from second to third gear is always slower than the others due to design. Lastly, check all instruments, switches and controls.

Again, all Shadows and later Spirits can be collectively assessed. Cosmetic condition we have already talked about, and all instruments and electrics can be checked for correct operation. These vehicles are much more complicated and so it is far more important to gauge their condition and service history. The hydraulic system is of major importance and only technicians with a true understanding of the operation should carry out maintenance to this system. Thousands of pounds of damage can be done if the incorrect type of brake fluids are used. Can you clearly see the brake fluid levels in the reservoir through the sight glasses? This can be a good indication that the hydraulics have received the correct attention. What are the brake discs like? Are they smooth and “shiny” over their whole surface, and smooth and progressive in their operation? If not, it can prove to be expensive for replacements.

On the older Shadows, have the flexible brake hoses been replaced? It has been known for these hoses to restrict internally causing delay in operation as brake fluid is forced past the blockage. Also the brakes drag as the fluid is unable to return, causing, in extreme cases, pad fires and bearing failure as the grease melts and runs out. Front suspension bushes do wear and, again, can be expensive. Does the rocker cover gasket leak? If so, the oil from here runs down the back of the engine and deposits itself upon the rear triangular lever suspension bearing pins and perishes the rubber, thus necessitating replacement. However, these engines are not usually completely oil tight, particularly from the rear crankshaft “Scroll” seal, due to design.

Rust can be a problem with both Shadows and Spirits. Particularly the front wings where they join the door sills on Shadows and the rear wheel arches on both Shadows and Spirits. Check both these areas carefully.

Shadows and Spirits do not like long periods of inactivity, so low mileage vehicles are not necessarily the best to buy. Regular services are very important and should be carried out every six months regardless of miles covered. One year is too long to “slam” the bonnet and assume that all is well on such complicated motor cars.

Used Roll-Royces and Bentleys are now excellent value for money and can cost no more to run and service than other large saloons, but don’t get caught out with a “pup”. Buy it from a reputable specialist with its own workshops, one who will recognise a problem where others don’t. Specialists again will carry out servicing and maintenance for sensible hourly rates and usually are able to do this quicker with their experience, thus saving money.

S Worthington
(Phantom Motor Cars, specialists since 1961)

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