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Rolls Royce Corniche

Published: 20th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls Royce CornicheThe Shadow looks it’s best in stylish convertible and coupe forms and the Corniche is the tops but like all old Rollers can rust
Cabin (right) is beautifully done but beware of tired interiors which will cost a fortune to right Cabin (right) is beautifully done but beware of tired interiors which will cost a fortune to right
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What is a Rolls-Royce Corniche (or the Bentley T)?

On the surface it’s simply a twodoor Silver Shadow/T1 but in reality it’s one of the classiest and most delectable Rollers you could wish for. Unlike the Shadow, which can seem a bit stately and pompous, the Corniche, be in coupe or convertible, is simply full of good taste and almost ageless – witness the fact that it stayed in production well after the Shadow (and Bentley T1/T2 had been discontinued. They are superb pieces of kit that are well loved and respected and hold their value very well too, plus are so usable.


Basically the Corniche is a Silver Shadow with two doors and that’sexactly how it started out. Back in 1965, the Silver Shadow replaced the ageing Silver Cloud with what was then cutting edge engineering.

Features such as hydraulic selflevelling suspension and a monocoque body were very adventurous for conservative Rolls-Royce. It was a gamble, but well-heeled buyers came in droves, ensuring the Shadow (once best car in World) was the fastest selling Rolls ever.Encouraged by this, the firm went about developing a modern successor to the much loved Bentley Continental series. This wasn’t as easy as it first seemed; because the Silver Shadow was to be the starting point for the new car, it was clear the lack of separate chassis meant it was going to have to be developed in house as opposed to an outside coachbuilder. The job fell to coachbuilder Mulliner Park Ward in Willesden, North London, which was now fully owned by Rolls- Royce and the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Mulliner Park Ward Two Door Saloon (to use its full title) was born in March 1966.

Designed in-house by stylist John Blatchley, the two-door was the same as a Silver Shadow forward of the windscreen, but behind this, a new roof was fitted, with curved rear wings and only two doors. The doors, boot lid and bonnet were made of aluminium in order to save weight.

These bodies were made by hand in Willesden and then shipped to Crewe for finishing.

In September 1967, a ‘proper’ convertible version was launched, with an electric roof. This was strengthened substantially in the sill and bulkhead areas to compensate for the lack of the substantial chassis present in earlier Rolls-Royce models.

Visually similar to the two-door saloon, the convertible had the advantage of frameless windows, giving a very elegant appearance with the roof stowed away. Apart from the obvious styling differences, under the skin, these two-door cars were pure Silver Shadow, so performance was much the same. However, after five years on sale, they were heavily revised in March 1971 and relaunched simply as the Corniche both in Rolls and Bentley forms. Outside, to give a more sporting appearance, the radiator was raked forward by three degrees and was half an inch deeper.

The interiors were fitted with every luxury option from air conditioning to individually styled seats trimmed in the finest Connolly hide. This was accompanied by a smaller steering wheel, made possible by a re-geared steering rack.Under the bonnet there was now a four-barrel downdraught carburettor instead of the two Sus and the engine’s compression ratio was increased giving superior performance to its Shadow/T1 sibling, but with prices 33 per cent higher, so it should have.

In February 1977, the Corniche was heavily revised, with the most obvious changes being the split level automatic air conditioning and the rubber faced bumpers from the Shadow II/T2. Mechanically, the biggest improvement was the fitting of a rack and pinion steering replacing the old recirculating ball set up.

The next big change was to mirror the Shadow’s replacement, the Silver Spirit, receiving that car’s new rear suspension and mineral oil hydraulics in 1979, a year prior to its launch. At the same time, the two-door saloon version was quietly phased out and production soldiered on with just the convertible, becoming Corniche III in 1989 (with active suspension, ABS and fuel injection) and IV in 1992. Bentley versions were dubbed ‘Continental’ from 1984. The final run of 25 cars was designated Corniche S in 1995. In total, some 6394 Corniches (including the Bentleys) were produced over a period of 24 years. A great run.


A coachbuilt Rolls-Royce is an occasion each time you climb aboard – even for the shortest journey – and the Corniche is no different. Never mind that the chassis is based on a 40 year old design which still creaks and groans over rough roads, the feeling of wellbeing and detachment from the outside world makes the Corniche cockpit a cosseting place to be.

The suspension is still very soft and takes some getting used to if you want to travel fast over country roads, but that’s missing the point of a Corniche; wafting along a fast A road, it’s in its element and there are few modern cars with such a pliant ride.

A 0-60 time of around 10 seconds and a 120mph top speed ensure the Corniche holds its own in modern traffic. Clearly, the post 1989 cars with active suspension, ABS and fuel injection are the best performers.


As with other bespoke Rolls- Royces, the coachbuilt Corniche is a distinctive alternative to the mainstream models, but costs are inevitably higher both in terms of maintenance and spares.

Early cars however, can be purchased for very little money; £12,000 will see you in a tidy, but not immaculate two-door saloon and double that for a convertible. Naturally, the later you go themore expensive they become, with the last Corniche III/IV models commanding £60,000 plus.

There are few really excellent early saloon models left, but those that remain in top condition can still fetch £30,000; and we’ve seen a 1980 Bentley version with 24,000 miles advertised recently at a staggering £45,000, so these are definitely classics in the true sense.

A plus point is the availability of good used spares from specialist suppliers such as Montague & Co of Bramley and Flying Spares in Market Bosworth, near Leicester. As the Corniche series shares so much with the more prolific Silver Shadow and Silver Spirits, mechanical problems are relatively easy to rectify. Not so with body and interior parts as they were specific to the Corniche. Wings and doors are a particular problem, as is trim, which is difficult to locate.

Any Corniche is now eligible for classic car insurance with limited mileage and agreed value and this can be quite useful inkeeping costs down. Sort of.

What To Look For

  • Steer clear of the very cheap ‘bargains’ and go only for cars with a full documented history, because you’ll save in the long run. Any Corniche suffers if it’s not serviced to schedule and can deteriorate quickly both bodily and mechanically. One thing you want to avoid is paying for the previous owner’s corner cutting. With a Corniche you usually get what you pay for.
  • The tell-tale body areas are sills, wheel arches and floor pan. Lift the carpets in the front to check for damp as this will rot out the footwell in no time if left unchecked and is usually a leaking windscreen that is the culprit.
  • Mechanically, the Corniche is under stressed with a big lazy 6.75-litre engine, but even this can play up if neglected. Check for fluid leaks underneath as these will be expensive to locate and fix. Malfunctioning air conditioning systems are not unknown either. These are all fearsomely complex, so ensure there’s plenty of ice cold air being delivered and don’t buy if it’s evident there’s a lot of work to do on it.
  • All models use the hydraulic braking system first seen on the Shadow in 1965, but cars from ‘79 onwards use mineral oil. The pipes and hoses last well, but need regular servicing to perform properly. A full hydraulic service at 90,000 miles will set you back at least £2000 but it’s essential so ensure this has been done or negotiate the price down accordingly.
  • Don’t overlook body damage on the Corniche as this is hideously expensive to put right if panel replacement is necessary. They were all hand crafted and no two are exactly the same, so they give bodyshops a real headache; and for that, read expense! It is almost impossible to find replacement wings for these coachbuilt cars and when they are available, the cost is truly eye-watering.
  • Tired and cracked Interiors can be ‘Connollised’ for a reasonable sum (about a grand) but only if there is no damage to the trim. If there are rips and tears, then the project won’t make economic sense as trim parts are very hard to come by. By the same token, check convertible roofs very carefully as replacements can cost £5000.
  • Finally, buying privately can reap rewards, but ensure the car you’re looking at is inspected by a specialist in the marque (many are found in this issue!). If this isn’t possible, then buy from a known specialist where you’ll get the benefit of good advice and a warranty for peace of mind.


There are plenty of dodgy old Silver Shadows around at bargain basement prices. However, the Corniche is a much rarer beast and makes for a wonderful bespoke ownership proposition provided you buy wisely. The convertible is pure elegance and prices reflect this; however, buying a good one and keeping it that way will not only provide extraordinary satisfaction, but also the not inconsiderable bonus of depreciation free motoring. Drive on, James!

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