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Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Published: 6th Sep 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
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Fast Facts

  • Best model: Shadow II/T2
  • Worst model: Anything bodged
  • Budget buy: Mid 70’s cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L5194 x W1829
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Not bad at all
  • Club support: Especially good
  • Appreciating asset?: Only regal Rollers
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Cruised through banger phase with distinction
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First monocoque Rolls, the Shadow has mellowed with age to become a great Crewe classic. Plenty around but standards vary greatly and the best command top money although an easy car to own and run

Even old Rollers don’t instantly become classics or collectible. Like any other car, they go through the sad but inevitable ageing process where they are simply an old car before magically gaining classic recognition. Some achieve this circle of life better than others and it has to be said that the Silver Shadow had a tougher time than many, despite its impeccable upbringing and breeding.

It wasn’t that long ago that Shadows could be bought for shrapnel and simply ‘smoked’ around in. A good many were but recent times has seen Shadows emerge in a new light and deservedly so. This has naturally caused prices to soar but there’s still enough good value ones around.

History

1965 Announced that October, although deliveries didn’t start until the following spring. Unlike any Rolls before, the Shadow featured a monocoque body with no separate chassis, and was the most technically advanced production car in the world for its time. Re-grilled Bentley T-Series launched soon after.

1967 After a bespoke two-door coupé was launched in 1966 to complement the saloon, a convertible followed in September 1967 with a power hood.

1968 Rear anti-roll bar fitted and the front bar is also enlarged to improve car’s handling.

1969 The most important milestone was the new threespeed gearbox care of General Motors, the latter always fitted to export cars. Longer wheelbase saloon option, identified by its Everflex vinyl roof.

1970 Late in 1969 for ’70 models saw air conditioning made standard along with US-inspired safety padding for interior.

A smaller steering wheel with altered gearing is fitted, while the engine’s power is upped by a 6750cc engine in July. 1971 The two-door range was rebranded as Corniche with a revised, somewhat sleeker look. Steering ratio is changed again for better precision.

1972 Radial tyres are adopted and the chassis is retuned to suit. Enhancements include wash/wipe, centralised locking and a modified ventilation system.

1973 Ventilated front disc brakes are fitted, eight track cartridge player is now standard.

1974 Wheelbase increased to 120 inches, flared wheel arches incorporated to accept lower profile tyres. Superior quadraphonic tape player fitted. Engine’s compression ratio is lowered, plus subsequent upgrades to fuel and ignition systems to improve economy.

1976 Engine beefed up with tougher ‘bottom end’. Silver Shadow II launched for 1977; improvements included rack and pinion steering, new dual zone automatic air conditioning with superior dash and new, US style rubber bumpers incorporating front spoiler. In February, the Corniche was similarly revised. LWB saloon model is now called Wraith.

1979 Final change was to fall into line with the Shadow’s imminent replacement, the Silver Spirit, receiving that car’s new rear suspension and its mineral oil hydraulics. Air conditioning system is further revised to fall in line with Camargue to provide better face level ventilation.

1989 Corniche III has active suspension, ABS and fuel injection, and IV in 1992. The final run of 25 cars was designated Corniche S in 1995. 16,717 Shadow Is were made, along with 2776 LWB versions. In contrast, half as many Shadow IIs were sold, but 2144 Wraiths. Less than 2000 Bentleys (which gained the same mods and upgrades as Shadow) were made in total.

Driving and what the press thought

Best car in the world? Debatable. To be honest, the real satisfaction comes from owning rather than driving most old Rollers. The earliest Shadows are pretty wallowy, although the handling improved greatly after the 1972 tweaks. Post ’76 cars boasting rack and pinion steering and other mods are the best for spirited driving but, all models are for gliding along, not tearing around bends.

The real pleasure comes from – once becoming accustomed to its foibles, such as a numb steering – just wafting around, luxuriating yourself in all that finest wood and leather. The creamy, classy nature of a good Shadow (or Bentley T) is still hard to match even if the ride is appreciably better in a good XJ6.

Some prefer the original Shadows for their purity of line rather than driving thrills, but if you must have a chrome bumper model, it’s best to avoid the pre-1969 versions as they suffered a poor four-speed gearbox plus the fact their chassis were never set up to run on radial tyres, which many will now ride on. Shadow II is the nicest of the lot but some R-R experts claim that late 1976 cars are currently the most wanted.

Were hard-nosed road testers taken in by the ‘Best in the World’ claim? Autocar got its hands on one of the first in 1966 and put the record straight by saying such an accolade is no longer “entirely realistic” but admitted th Silver Shadow was “an exceptionally comfortable and refined car with effortless high-speed cruising speeds”, although admitted that it was not a car hurrying along. The same test remarked the export cars, with their three-speed automatics (complete with a torque converter), were much better than the original poorly-geared four-speeder utilised for the home market for a good few years. In a 1969 appraisal, Motor said of the new General Motors automatic, “Much improved smoothness is the most obvious virtue” but one wonders why it took Crewe so long to bring UK cars into line and giving them second best instead.

By the time the same weekly retested the Shadow in 1973, the game had rolled on somewhat and cheaper rivals, such as Jaguar and Mercedes had caught up and in many areas comfortably beat this Rolls-Royce at its own game.

However, the testers still praised the car for its space, comfort, improved handling and beautiful build. “We cannot deny that riding in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow gives one a special feeling of contentment with the world”, was its verdict.

Three years later saw Autocar evaluating the last Shadow I, fresh from a latest round of upgrades, which included a revised chassis and suspension plus wider section tyres. These changes improved the handling further but Autocar rightly pointed out that “Rolls know their market”, and it’s one that “does not demand Ferrari-style handling and steering – and doesn’t get it.”

What was interesting was the magazine’s comment over its pricing. When the magazine last tested the car in ’72, it retailed at £10,550 – four years on it was almost 20 grand, but, as the report duly remarked, “this underlines what many owners have found, that a Silver Shadow can turn out to be an investment.”

Car magazine caused a national storm in 1977 with its coverline “Britain still makes the best car in the world… but it’s not the Rolls-Royce”, giving the accolade to the Daimler Vanden Plas Double Six. On the Shadow its verdict was; “It might be the best finished, the most enticing; but it’s not the quietest, it does not have the best ride, the best steering, the best brakes, the best roadholding, the best engine.” By the turn of the decade, Autocar was testing a Bentley for a change, and a bang up to date T2 at that, with the new suspension set-up and a sharper rack and pinion steering. Carrying a £36 grand price tag, it hit 60 in under 10 seconds went right up to almost 120mph, yet was also the most frugal at 16mpg. That’s progress. “The change to rack and pinion steering is perhaps the best thing that has happened to the design in its 14 year evolution” said the testers who added that now the car “handles pretty well for its size and class”. Other praise went to the advanced Camargue air con, but took a real swipe at Rolls-Royce and its ‘cavalier’ approach to the great Bentley name. Then along came the Brooklands, of course, to change all that…

Classic caring

Yes, you still see them for Mondeo money, but such models will be tired and what you paid will probably need to be spent yet again on making one reasonably worthy of the badge. Restorations are possible but questionably logical and bear in mind that while well over 50 years old, Shadows remain complex, if pleasurable machines to work on, although that’s mainly the hydraulics which require specialist help. Thankfully, there’s plenty around to contain costs with refurbed or used parts and there’s some specialist breakers on hand.

By employing the services of a good specialist, like IntroCar, and Flying Spares, owning one is not that much dearer than a Jaguar XJ. “With over 5000 products introduced to market to date, IntroCar continues to support the Rolls-Royce & Bentley community by providing products which are no longer available from the factory… all sold with a three year warranty,” says John Tupper, managing director.

IntroCar further adds, “For owners of Silver Shadow cars, we have built a comprehensive online catalogue of parts and exploded diagrams which enable you to source parts easily and check availability on all options including Original Equipment (OE), branded aftermarket, used or reconditioned exchange. We list over 245k Rolls-Royce and Bentley part numbers online with live pricing and availability.”

Excellent workshop manuals are available and owners’ clubs are extremely helpful with the RREC even running workshop seminars to assist DIY fans. Even if you are handy with the spanners, make sure you’re equipped with heavy duty jacks and axle stands.

Majestic metal?

As well built as they are old Rollers will rot like any old classic if neglected. Beware of a fresh respray and especially if the flanks have been two-toned because while it looks smart, it may be hiding rust and filler. Popular red ruin areas include the sills, it costs £3500 per side to properly replace. Other areas include the wheel arch tips, front and rear valances, around the screens and so on. No worries about the bonnet, boot, doors as these are all alloy. What you need to be careful of however is the electrolytic reaction of the different metals where they meet steel, such as hinges, and so on. You must inspect the underneath, concentrating on the subframe, mounts, floors, inner wings and boot floor, the latter because that’s where the battery resides and spilt acid will attack the metalwork – after it has eaten through the wood baton work Rolls fitted at the factory. Once the screen seals perish, water attacks the floors and bulkheads so check. At the rear, look at the suspension spring pans; these rust away at the suspension trailing arms causing the spring to fall away but thankfully cost not much more than £100 to replace.

Crewe’s cruiser

A legend of 60 years standing, a well maintained V8 can rack up 250,000 miles with fair ease. A typical top end overhaul and decoke runs into thousands but can be done at home fairly easily. A kit costs around £300 but valves cost £100 a go. Problems occur if the anti-freeze isn’t changed periodically to ensure it doesn’t lose its anti corrosion properties. Internal corrosion causes the block’s iron lines to contract and squeeze the pistons resulting in a knocking sound. Fitting new lines isn’t a DIY job as block has to be heated up to make them fit.

Frequent oil changes are also vital to prevent sludging up of the hydraulic tappets. Exhaust manifolds are known to crack and if they can’t be welded up means new ones at £250-500 a bank although second-hand ones are available. Don’t be alarmed to find oil smeared engines as they are prone to leak a bit, usually the rocker covers, sump and rear main bearing, rather like a Jag XK unit. The auto boxes are linked to the engine’s cooling system and the union pipes rot, so look for evidence of leaks and repairs.

Improvements

We’re not talking about go-faster mods here (although the Mulsanne Turbo engine did go into the Corniche S) but sensible upgrades to make a good car even better. Most will find the handling too soggy but, alas, you can’t fit the Shadow II front end as it’s too involved. Opt for the long stroke damper kit conversion at around £250 and better shock absorbers. The long established Harvey Bailey handling conversion works a treat, too and we hear that simply upping the tyre pressures by six pounds helps a lot, too. The brakes were some of the best in their time although poor braking may be because Escort Mk2 pads may have been fitted! Even the Mulsanne Turbo used the same system so you can uprate accordingly. For many however, just a thorough service and sort out by a Shadow specialist is the best ‘mod’ of them all along with the correct and recommended quality radial or cross-ply tyres…

Values and specialist view

Shadows were dirt cheap about a decade ago but now values have greatly risen for the really good ones. Hanwells Of London, for example, has one of the very last Shadow IIs for sale at over £75,000, which is Corniche cash. Admittedly, it’s claimed to be like brand new and with less than 7000 miles on its odometer. Much more representative is an older 1978 model at £25,950 with a resto and engine rebuild (by Hanwells) to its credit. Sub £15,000 buys are liabilities although some quite honest cars do turn up from time to time. Proprietor Stephen Brown reckons Silver Shadows still sell too cheaply and, using a comparable Aston as a yardstick, should be worth three times what they go for given their better build quality. He says that the ‘Chippendale dashboard’ models, made up to 1970, are said to be the current in-thing because the wood is a thing of beauty (Hanwells currently has a beaut for sale at £21,950) but advises against buying a model equipped with the original B/W four-speed automatic transmission; best year is 1969 Brown says when the GM ’box replaced it.

The increasing problem is unearthing the best models. Later Shadow IIs by far outweigh the ‘chrome bumper’ models now and while they drive better a lot are in an average state; “Show me a 100,000 miles Shadow II and I don’t want it” says Stephen. Bentley or Rolls? It appears that the prices are broadly the same but you can expect to pay a touch more for the Bentleys due to their sheer rarity. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a T-Series” admits Brown.

Frankie Batchelor of Ghost Motors (01732 886002) says that five years ago, you could have bought a really good Shadow for £15,000 – now it’s almost double. They’ve always been good cars he adds, the current problem is finding the good ones as so many suffered when values were at rock bottom. His favourite is the last of Shadow I generation.

What To Look For

First class cabin

Even a Rolls’ interior wears out – bear in mind that a full restoration costs from £5000 upwards and why so many average cars wear sheepskin seat covers, overmats etc. Wood can delaminate and the seat belt buckles are known to damage the door cappings. Happily, good second-hand trim is available. There’s a lot of electrics to go wrong and again it can need an expert to sort out any problems due to the mass of relays, servos, motors etc used – check for dodges and bodges to cut costs. Naturally, check that everything works as it was intended. Chromework can be extremely expensive to make good – a new grille alone runs into thousands but again used parts and panels are available. Talking of grilles, is that Bentley really a T-Series? Due to their comparative rarity, making a Bentley out of a Rolls-Royce isn’t uncommon although not as prevalent as it used to be. Check paperwork over carefully and speak to an owners club if in doubt.

Hydraulic hassles

A Citroën design, this is the most complex part of a Rolls, controlling the brakes and self-levelling suspension and due to cost, the most neglected. It is recommended the system is fully overhauled every 90,000 miles and fluid every four years costing up to £3000 and above. There are warning sensors linked to the dash but these may have been disconnected – check carefully! Gauge state of operating fluid by scrutinising sight glass on the reservoir on the nearside inner wing. Self-levelling front suspension was dropped after 1969, mercifully as it’s a complex and expensive kit to overhaul.

At the rear, the biggest worry are hydraulic leaks (needs a special gauge to check) due to duff seals and valves plus fluid leaks. On later cars with Silver Spirit rear suspension, bear in mind that it’s dearer to rectify if the self actuation rods or spheres play up or there’s a fault in the ECU. New valves can cost around £700 if faulty. Brake pads on this heavy car can last as little as 10,000 miles – ensure only correct quality ones are fitted. The brakes are always maintained at high pressure once the engine is running and this takes its toll on the seals and pipes as well as the pumps. Rear brake maintenance isn’t easy due to special tools required to remove hubs and so may have been neglected. A proper overhaul is a £1500 job, half of which is for parts alone.

As expected with such a big heavy car, weighing in at almost 5000lbs, the weight takes its toll on the suspension and steering. Look for sagging, worn and broken springs and shot dampers. Subframe mounting bushes (also known as ‘Brillo pads’) perish and while they are not expensive, fitting them is hardly a joyous occasion. There’s a bucket load of compliance bushes that deteriorate and wear, ruining that best in the world car feel. At the front, ball joints, bearings and so on all wear and there’s a lot of them so speak to an expert to check what needs replacing (around £100 a go) most. Don’t buy cheap replacements.

You can’t swap over to the Shadow II rack and pinion without a lot of effort. The standard one isn’t that bad and progressively improved over the years although some slop is always inevitable. Good news is that the majority of the wear can be adjusted out by an expert before a new box is really required.

Three Of A Kind

Mercedes S Class W126
Mercedes S Class W126
The W126 model stems from the era when Mercedes stood for peerless engineering. Not as soothing or as special as a Rolls, thanks to functional rather than flashy interiors, but as comfy and roomy plus there’s a choice of engines to suit most pockets. Back up from the factory and independent specialists is excellent. SECs are lovely and all are good value.
 R-R Silver Spirit/ Bentley Brooklands
R-R Silver Spirit/ Bentley Brooklands
Replacement for the Shadow and an improvement in all departments, although build quality before the late 80s disappointed. Bentley Brooklands came into their own and are generally the more preferred pick now, especially the Turbos. All are going through the ‘banger’ phase that afflicted Shadows over a decade ago; some look tempting value, many aren’t.
Jaguar Daimler/VP XJ
Jaguar Daimler/VP XJ
This is the car Car magazine reckoned to be the world’s best, especially in top-flight Daimler and Vanden Plas XJ12 guises. A good one is still a marvel beating a Rolls for comfort and refinement if not for space (even in lwb guise) or trim quality. After too long in the doldrums, these XJ saloons are starting to pick up in value so buy while being so affordable but watch their condition.
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