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Rolls Royce Silver Shadow

Published: 17th May 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
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Me and my Shadow

It was the car that most ordinary folk dreamt of owning if they ever won the pools and at one point acclaimed as the best car in the world says Andrew Roberts

In many respects the Silver Shadow is a victim of its own popularity; not only was it the best-selling Rolls of its day but also far too many examples spent their retirement years as faintly down-at-heel wedding transport.
There also remains the fact that, in the 1970s, a ‘Roller’ was almost a standard company car for any British comedian – image-enhancing if the owner was Eric Morecambe or Ronnie Corbett.

But this is to overlook the fact that, in terms of automotive history, the Silver Shadow was as radical a step for Crewe as the Mini was for BMC in 1959. Perhaps the best encapsulation of its appeal is found in a Motor road test of 1968, which began by establishing the magazine’s own criteria for automotive greatness, “A car with less engine than a big American automatic, for example, is a very quiet car indeed; anyone who succeeds in uppressing road noise better than in a Peugeot 404, or wind noise more effectively than in a Saab, is doing well, as is the designer who succeeds in making a big car steer and handle better than a Jensen FF, or ride more smoothly on rough roads than a Citroen DS”. As a result, the Rolls-Royce scored, “a big total of solid alphas…in a way that few cars can rival.”


As early as the mid-1950s, Rolls was considering a radical step into the unknown by making its first unitary construction car. So, shortly after the launch of the Silver Cloud in 1955, Crewe commenced the Bentley Burma and the larger Rolls-Royce Tibet projects, whilst a new aluminium V8 had been developed from as early as 1952. This power plant was first fitted to the Silver Cloud II, Bentley S2 and Phantom V in 1959, the same year that the Burma project was dropped – a wise decision given that it bore an unfortunate resemblance to a PA Vauxhall Cresta! An early plan to badge the Cloud replacement as the ‘Silver Mist’ was abandoned when it was realised that this translated into a very unfortunate phrase in German.

The Silver Shadow when it debuted at Crewe to an ensemble of Rolls-Royce dealers, on the 30th September 1965 (Bentley franchisees had to wait until the following day for the launch of the T1).

Blatchley’s original brief demanded that the Silver Shadow was “lower, narrower and shorter, with better visibility and luggage space, and a bigger petrol tank. My biggest challenge was getting all this paraphernalia, plus passengers, into a car that still looked all right”. And indeed it did, the beautifully proportioned lines made for an imposing machine with a modern purposeful air, one with equal appeal to the landed gentry and a nouveau riche beat-combo manager.

But the real fascination was in the engineering, for the Silver Shadow was not merely radical by R-R’s standards but marked a complete sea-change in company ethos. Gone were the semi-elliptic springs – a design feature with its origins in 18th century horse drawn coaches – in favour of independent rear suspension with trailing arms. The Silver Shadow also boasted Rolls Royce’s first ever disc brake system, but Crewe did not adopt the then common device of vacuum power and instead fitted dual circuit brakes powered by two camshaft-driven hydraulic pumps backed by a master cylinder circuit. This mechanism was also linked to a high pressure automatic height control (as developed by Citroen), which was devised to insulate the Silver Shadow’s occupants from the distasteful effects of cornering and braking.

The only elements of the Silver Cloud III retained by the new car were the V8 (although the heads were redesigned for ease of spark plug servicing) and the four-speed automatic with fluid-flywheel coupling. As to the owner-driver, he (and it would have been a ‘he’ in the mid-1960s) was presented with a cabin upholstered in the finest of hide and equipped with electric windows, vanity mirrors and footrests for the rear passengers, three cigar lighters, and servo power for adjusting the reach, height and tilts of the front seats.

All this for a mere £6556 – only £900 more than the Silver Cloud III, but ten times the price of a Morris Mini-Minor!

The official launch was at the 1965 Paris Motor Show, with Pathe News Film’s wonderfully gosh-golly announcer proclaiming that the Silver Shadow was, “Perfection in motoring”. In the USA, the Rolls may have cost $19,700 – three times as much as a Cadillac Sedan de Ville – but this did not stop an impressed Car & Driver from noting that, “The doughty dowager comes of age”.


Sadly, the Silver Shadow initially encountered teething problems in the manufacturing, meaning that no cars actually reached customers in 1965. There were also issues with the heavy understeer and over-light steering but then the Shadow was largely intended for freeway motoring – the fact that the gear selector was mounted on the right of the steering column, even in British registered cars, was a clear sign of the importance of the Yank market.

March 1966 saw the standard Silver Shadows and T1s augmented by a two-door version, built by Rolls-Royce’s own coach building subsidiary, Mulliner Park Ward, and more beautiful than even Julie Christie in Billy Liar. One of the first customers was Peter Sellers, who drove a metallic red example, whilst the convertible version of the following year caused even more of an impact; one famous owner was a young Michael Caine.

In 1968 the range was fitted with a rear anti-roll bar and stiffer dampers and for 1969 Rolls Royce replaced its own transmission with the GM 400 Hydra-Matic three-speed unit. The new gearbox met with much approval – “changes pass virtually unnoticed when wafting through town, and even when gunning the car hard from a standstill they upward shifts are heard in engine note rather than felt”, observed Motor. These improvements were paralleled by the Bentley, which remains a far more exclusive sight, with Crewe producing fewer than 2000 T1s.

In addition, ‘69 saw air con as standard and the introduction of the Silver Shadow and the very rare T1 LWB. The wheelbase was extended by four inches and a glass division was an optional extra, making it the ideal car for anyone who did not want to buy a Phantom VI, on grounds of cost or the fear of being confused for a mad Commonwealth dictator.

In 1970 the V8 became 6.7-litres and in 1971 the two-door models were re-badged as Corniche. Two years later the Shadow was fitted with vented front disc brakes and, in 1973, the standard kit was extended by cruise control and a tape player.

The greatest change to the range came in February 1977 with the Silver Shadow II/ Bentley T2. Potential buyers may have been offered additional anti-pollution controls, an elaborate split level air conditioning system, rack and pinion steering and revised front suspension geometry, but this was at the considerable aesthetic price of black polyurethane bumpers (although these had been fitted to US market cars since 1973).

Black rubber bumpers notwithstanding, automotive scribes found the technical upgrades made Shadow II much more of an owner-driver’s car than its predecessor – “The improvements to the steering and suspension have helped to make driving more fun and passengers more comfortable” concluded Motor whilst Car magazine tested the Shadow II against the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, the Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas and the Cadillac Seville. The monthly concluded that, although the first two rivals were better all-round cars, and the American import extremely good value for money, the Rolls was still, “a marvellous pampering car to ride in and to be seen riding in”.

Autocar heaped similar praise on the ’77 revamp, especially the new steering which it said, “is perhaps the best thing that has happened to the design in its evolution” adding that “the car handles pretty well for its size and class… and its brakes are beautifully weighted”.

However in a 1979 test of the Bentley T2 the weekly called that the “cavalier misuse of a great name a mistake” but nevertheless thought the car “very impressive” even at 36 grand – £14,000 dearer than the better Daimler Vanden Plas V12.

The ranges were replaced by the Silver Spirit and the Mulsanne in October 1980. After a period of relative banger motoring, it has gained a new following of younger enthusiasts who see the Silver Shadow as it truly was intended to be – a machine which, to quote Car magazine, had been “touched, and lovingly, by human hands” and where, “everything is in exquisite, conservative, taste.” The best car in the world? That’s debatable, but for many the Silver Shadow still remains the Rolls that dreams are made of.

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