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Rolls Royce Silver shadow

The Gold Standard Published: 21st Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls Royce Silver shadow

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Shadow II/T2
  • Worst model: Anything bodged
  • Budget buy: Pre -77 cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Usually
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): mm L 5194 mm x W 1829
  • Spares situation: Good
  • DIY ease?: Tricky
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes, but you have to pay for it
  • Good buy or good-bye?: We’d say the former
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Once regarded as the best car in the world, isn’t it time to step out of the shadows with this Roller (or a Bentley)?

Pros & Cons

Rolls ambience, or sporting Bentley name, beautifully crafted, cruising abilities, feel-good factor, surprising ease of running
Many tired examples starved of maintenance, wallowy feel of early models, thirst

At its peak, the Shadow was the best car you could own and arguably the last of the real Rolls-Royces to be dispatched from Crewe. Now this magnifi cent and majestic saloon, 45 years on since it hit the showrooms, is temptingly affordable to buy and run, plus smacks of sheer good ‘old money’ taste – unlike some of the modern Rollers. If you’ve ever fancied one then there’s no better time to fulfi l your ambition.


Rolls-Royce for many was the ultimate symbol of success and the motor car of choice for the landed gentry. It was easy to see why; presence, bearing, quality and prestige. These qualities were as true after the war as before; the Silver Dawn had given way to the Silver Cloud, first with a 4887cc straight six and then the 6230cc V8 in the Silver Cloud II and III. The trouble was that the Cloud was still using a separate chassis, when most competitors had switched to a unitary construction and Rolls-Royce had no answer.

Rolls’ solution was the Silver Shadow, announced in 1965, but which didn’t go on sale until the following April.

Unlike any Rolls before, the Shadow had a monocoque body and no separate chassis. Not only that, but the square-cut shape was surprisingly modern – lower and shorter (by eight inches), it made the Cloud look ancient overnight.

That wasn’t the only surprise either. The braking system was now fully hydraulic, based on Citroen patents and included four-wheel discs, twin circuits and rear self-levelling. These innovations ensured the Silver Shadow was the most technically advanced production car in the world in 1965 and the buyers agreed.

In all, a total of 37,000 were made by the time it was replaced by the Silver Spirit in 1980, and over 2000 improvements dialled-in along the way.

The most important milestones included the fitment of a rear anti-roll bar and stiffer dampers during mid 1968, a three-speed GM box (replacing a four-speeder, strangely) in 1969, introduction of the 6750cc engine in ‘70 with an altered steering ratio then radial tyres and a suspension retune in mid ‘72, along with vented front disc brakes.

The next year saw cruse-control and a tape player fitted as standard, while for ’74 the wheel arches were slightly flared to accommodate increased track and wider tyres.

The most significant changes came with the Silver Shadow II in 1977. This was the final incarnation of the Shadow and the most critical improvements included rack and pinion steering, new dual zone automatic air conditioning with superior dash, US style rubber bumpers and a front air dam. Together it transformed the Shadow, making it much tauter handling car.

A longer wheelbase model, surfaced in late 1969 and then of course there was the upper crust Corniche. Basically it’s a Silver Shadow with two doors and that’s exactly how it started out and evolved. The job fell to coachbuilder Mulliner Park Ward in Willesden, North London, which was now fully owned by Rolls-Royce. The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Mulliner Park Ward Two Door Saloon (to use its full title) was born in March 1966. In September 1967, a 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 indeed with the bulky roof neatly 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 fi ve years on sale, they were heavily revised in March 1971 and re-launched simply as Corniche. 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 fi nest 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 carburetor, instead of the two SUs, and the compression ratio was increased, giving superior performance to its Shadow sibling, but with prices 33 per cent higher, so it should have! In February 1977, the Corniche was heavily revised, along the lines of the Shadow II. 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 and it’s as well to remember that all of the above applies to the Bentley T Series which shadowed the Shadow in production.

Out of interest, 16,717 Shadow I were made, 8422 Shadow IIs. In contrast just over 1750 Bentley T Series cars were made, of which just 558 were the T2 saloons! As you can see the Bentley is the much rarer pick. Similarly, in comparison with the Rolls Cornice, just a relative handful were produced out of the 6394 made over a 24 year period.


The early cars are wallowy on the road and not up to the standard of the later, post ‘76 Shadows. The old recirculating steering box is vague and can be quite a handful on a winding road. The limitations of that 40 year old chassis design manifest in various creaks and groans over a potted road – just don’t expect it to be quite as serene as the reputation suggests, even if the sense of occasion is still there in buckets.

All models have their own following, but we’d recommend seeking out a Shadow II as these are much friendlier to drive in modern traffi c conditions. That said there are many who like the S1 for its serene less sporty drive plus favour the look which isn’t spoiled by a spoiler!

For such a big heavy luxury limo, the Shadow impresses. Performance was decidedly brisk in its day and naturally totally unfl ustered. A dash to 60 may seem an unremarkable 10 seconds but it was exceedingly good going back then. “The discerning driver derives enormous quiet satisfaction from the way one can hurry along…” said Autocar who heaped similar praise on the car’s ’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”.

Of course these cars are best suited to cultured cruising and swanning around in a Shadow is a privilege. There’s ample room and great comfort for all and, while the switch gear may seem quirky, it’s easy to master. Economy is never going to great, and at 15-17mpg it isn’t, but there again for the restrained use the car will obviously receive, it’s not too horrendous either – not much worse than a MK2 Jag or XJ6 in fact. Talking of the XJ, the XJ12 is smoother and quieter than the Shadow – just – but you’ll always feel that little bit special in the latter.


You now see Shadows as low as £3500 – Mondeo money – although these are really best avoided. Most specialists suggest that £10K is the minimum and ideally you need closer to £15K to secure a good car that won’t need thousands spent on it to make good unlike many cheaper versions – check them out on eBay. A 1980 Shadow II with low mileage and full history will average at £14,000 but can exceed £20,000 if top notch. Corniches or earlier two-door Shadows can be purchased for £15,000 – just. Naturally, the later you go, the more it costs, with the last Corniche III/IV cars commanding £60,000 plus.

What To Look For

  • By far the biggest problem is the owner, rather than the car, as many have just spent the minimum of time and money on keeping their Roller rolling along. So, when car hunting, vet the owner as much as the car; do they look type to have maintained one properly – you know what we mean!
  • A good car will have a solid service history, despite being now 30 years old at best. Look for a fat wad of receipts etc proving that the car has been looked after. Tyres are a giveaway – cheap rubber always suggests corner cutting has also been done elsewhere, for example.
  • It’s rotten metalwork that’s likely to present the biggest opportunity for your bank balance to be drained. When you consider that a Shadow can be bought for £5000, it only needs rotten sills and the repair bills will exceed the original purchase cost. It’s more likely that only the sill ends will have corroded, but if the each side is rotten as a pear, it’s typically £3500 per side to put things right.
  • If the sills have rotted out, it’s likely that there will be significant deterioration elsewhere. The usual suspects are the wheelarch lips, especially those at the rear because of a built-in mud trap just inside the inner arch. It rots from the inside out, so by the time you can see rust bubbles, the whole thing is corroded – and the repair panel alone is some £200.
  • Front and rear valances also need to be checked well for corrosion; the former get battered by stone chips while the latter rusts from the inside out simply because of mud building up on the underside and festering.
  • You don’t need to worry about rust in the bonnet, doors or boot lid as they’re all made of aluminium – but they can still suffer from what is known as electrolytic corrosion between the two differing surfaces. It’s behind the door handles and brightwork that they’re most likely to be suffering, while creases and dents are also likely because of the metal being so soft.
  • The battery sits in the boot and this often spills its acid into the tray in which it sits. Rolls-Royce had the foresight to put sacrifi cial wooden batons in there to save the metalwork, but once the wood has disappeared it’s the steel that gets attacked.
  • The boot lid seals often perish, allowing the boot to fi ll up with water, so check the luggage compartment isn’t awash with rainwater.
  • The front and rear screen seals also perish, allowing the footwells to fi ll up with water. Once this happens, then the carpets will rot and the wood trim will delaminate – and that’s when the bills really start to mount up.
  • Unless the screen seals have perished, it’s unlikely that there will be any problems with the fl oorpans. It’s still worth taking a look at them though, especially the spring pans for the trailing arms at the rear, which are usually the fi rst areas to corrode. Repair kits are freely available for this problem however.
  • It’s not just corrosion that you have to look out for, as past accident damage is also a strong possibility. It’s the front end that’s especially prone to damage, so open the bonnet and take a look at where the chassis arches just behind the front panel. This should be level with the alternator and perfectly fl at on the nearside – be wary if it isn’t. Also check the alignment of the grille, bonnet and so on.
  • You can easily tell an original car by the glassfi bre protective panel that’s held in place by the screws that come through the inner wings. Each of these screws should also have a protective cap on it, although few cars still sport a complete set.
  • Even if the metalwork is all okay, make sure the paint doesn’t need any TLC. Because of the sheer size of the car, resprays are much more expensive than for most classics – especially if you want paintwork of the original high standard. If the car is two-tone, with freshly coloured fl anks, then suspect some crafty bodging for rust.
  • If you’re looking at a car with an Everfl ex (vinyl) roof, check the condition of the material. Replacing the fabric is costly, which is why most owners prefer to simply repaint the roof once the material has been removed.
  • That trusty V8 which stayed in service for half a century is as unstressed as they come, and shouldn’t have been revved too hard in its life. It’s also unlikely that it’s been neglected; if it has, the rest of the car is likely to be tatty. This is all just as well, because you don’t want to be hoodwinked into buying a Shadow with a knackered engine; replacement costs with new can easily run to five figures.
  • The reality is that even if the engine has had it, you don’t have to fork out for a new unit; there are specialists who can sort out a used unit for you. It still won’t be though of course, but it will allow you to fi t a unit for less than you pay for the car in the fi rst place.
  • Piston ring sets cost £300-£375 depending upon type, new head valves on average cost £100 depending on engine (same for guides), a decoke kit at around £280 and bearing sets from £200, depending upon what’s needed. A typical top end decoke is around £3-4000.
  • The greatest threat to the V8’s lifespan is a lack of coolant changes; it has to be done annually using the correct Castrol/ICI fl uid from a Rolls-Royce dealer. If this isn’t done, the cylinder liners contract through corrosion, squeezing the piston and causing a knocking sound like a worn bearing or sticking tappet. However, even if all sounds fi ne when you’re buying, there’s no guarantee that all will remain okay; the malady can occur at any time with no warning. That’s why you need proof that the work has been done every year.
  • Lack of use is another worry as it can lead to scuffed pistons and ‘picked up’ cylinder liners – although these are replaceable and fairly easy to do.
  • Exhausts manifolds can be a problem and they vary in price from £200 to more than £400 depending upon model and what side requires attention. A new system ranges from £400-£700+ depending whether you go for mild steel or staninless. 
  • Expect to see some evidence of oil leaks; key culprits are usually the rocker covers and sump, along with the rear main bearing scroll seal. If the latter, the oil will end up underneath the gearbox.
  • Automatic gearboxes, which are linked into the engine’s cooling system. The pipes that carry the automatic transmission fl uid to the radiator and back for cooling run alongside the gearbox; you need to ensure there’s no corrosion. If the pipe bursts, the transmission will lose its fluid within seconds, wrecking it in the process.
  • The early four-speed unit isn’t particularly nice to be fair and may have been changed for the type fitted after 1970.
  • The suspension and brakes incorporate a hydraulic self-levelling system which works well as long as its fl uid is renewed every four years. Despite its complexity, the system gives few problems if maintained, so check the sight glass on the hydraulic reservoir (on the nearside of the engine bay) for fl uid level and condition. Also check for perished hoses and corroded pipes; once these give way, things can get very costly.
  • Aside from the self-levelling mechanism, the suspension gives few problems. The main one is the likelihood of the rear spring pans rotting away, allowing the springs to fall out. However, you also need to check the condition of the subframe mounting bushes, which perish. Charmingly called ‘brillo’ pads, replacement can be a real pain, so check the work doesn’t need doing.
  • The braking system has a hard time because of the car’s weight (Shadows typically weigh around 4700lb, or 2136kg) – which is why pads can wear out in less than 10,000 miles, depending on how the car is driven.
  • Rear brake maintenance is a pain, with disc replacement needing specialist attention to remove the hubs. Expect a bill of around £1500 for the work to be done, with more than half the cost being for the parts alone – new callipers from Rolls are said to be on ‘back order’ and hard to obtain.
  • Poor brakes on a test drive? If the system is okay then it could be that the wrong pads have been used and not the special Ferodo type. Evidently Escort Mk2s fi t in nicely… They really can’t take the weight of a Silver Shadow in full fl ight so if you experience fade even after just moderate use then this could be the reason and a cheap fix.
  • The Shadow’s braking system is maintained at high pressure as long as the engine is running. There are two pumps so give the brakes a thorough work out and ensure all is well in the anchors department. 
  • Because the hydraulics are kept at high pressure all the time, the various hoses are under a tremendous strain not to burst. That’s why they have to be replaced every 96,000 miles, even if they look fine.
  • There are sensors in the braking system that feed a warning light on the dash in the event of a failure. It’s common for this light to be disconnected, so check that all the lights illuminate when you start the ignition.
  • Tyres for a Shadow are costly and critical as they’re sized at 235 70/15; a suitable set of Avons are £130 per corner. That’s why you need to make sure there’s plenty of tread left. Cheap tyres mean skinfl int ownership. 
  • The rack-and-pinion steering of the Shadow II is far superior to the re-circulating ball set up of earlier cars, and it’s not possible to swap between the two. However, if there’s lots of play in a Series I car’s system, the worst can usually be adjusted out – although there’s a limit to how much slack you can take up.
  • Play can also be caused by wear in the half-dozen ball joints fi tted. They’re easy to replace, but with a price tag of over £100 apiece, (plus wheel alignment) the cost adds up. Odd front tyre wear is a good give-away.
  • Power-assisted steering was fitted from the outset as you’d expect, and you need to make sure the various pipes are in good nick; they can corrode. The belts that drive the power steering pump can also fail, so check there’s evidence of perishing – but that’s just routine.
  • Squeeze the steering rack gaiters, to see if they’re full of fluid. The rack can leak internally, and if the gaiters then split, then the power steering fl uid will be lost. That’s why it’s worth checking the fl uid level in the PAS reservoir.
  • The exterior trim doesn’t give problems as it’s all stainless steel, except for the rear bumper on the Series 1 cars which collects mud then rots through in the corners. The brightwork is generally horrendously expensive to renew, and it’s accident damage that’s most likely to crop up – especially in the case of the front bumpers which cost £500 for a three-piece set.
  • Another weak spot is the famous radiator grille, which splits along the soldered edges. Fixing it yourself isn’t really an option – but you can snap up an exchange replacement for a mere £1300 or so. However certain items, like sills, are quite inexpensive at under £150.
  • The Shadow’s interior is a real work of art, but reviving a tired one can be alarmingly expensive. It’s unlikely that a full re-trim will be needed though, because it’s usually possible to patch things up by matching hides. If a full re-trim is needed, you’re staring down the barrel of a bill not far short of fi ve figures.
  • Carpet sets are also costly if you want to go for the Wilton that was originally specified, although the £1500 that you’ll typically pay isn’t the end of the world. 
  • Woodwork can be very costly too, so make sure it hasn’t started to delaminate. Matching veneers is very tricky, so unless you want an odd capping, you may have to have the whole lot done – which is when you have to brace yourself for a bill with lots of zeros on the end.
  • The amount of electric adjustment in a Shadow is amazing, with servos and motors all over the place. That’s why it’s crucial that you ensure everything is working, from the air conditioning to the electric seats and windows. Fuseboxes, relays and motors are generally fault-free but the wiring can break having hardened with age.
  • If you’re looking at a Shadow II on which the heater matrix has started to leak it’s bad news. Look for signs of anti-freeze staining on the footwell carpet – replacing the matrix means taking out the dash and the coolant will have leaked onto the climate control circuit board, which will need replacing as a result, at a cost of well over £500.
  • There’s a good spread of specialists who deal in pattern and used parts (such as Intro Car, based in South London). Don’t be fooled into thinking that later bits from a Silver Spirt can be used as most of the hardware isn’t interchangable even if it appears similar.
  • Shadows do vary in quality and condition and it’s a good idea to check out as many as you can. Many specialists will also do this for a fee that could save you a fortune.

Three Of A Kind

Mercedes W126 S-Class
Mercedes W126 S-Class
From an era when Mercedes stood for peerless build quality, the S-Class has long been the company’s technological tour de force and it’s no different here. Superb engines, excellent safety credentials and spacious (if rather bland) cabins add up to a great package that’s indecently affordable too.
Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit
Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit
Little more than a re-skinned Silver Shadow, but with many welcome advances, Spirit prices are surely now at rock bottom. Always powered by that iconic 6.75-litre V8, the Spirit has presence like few of its contemporaries. Post-1989 cars are the best, but buy badly and you could easily be bankrupted.
Jaguar/Daimler/ Vanden Plas XJ12
Jaguar/Daimler/ Vanden Plas XJ12
This was the car that stole the crown from Rolls in its heyday and a good XJ12 of any declination is a fabulous classic, combing a sporty drive with limolike luxury – especially in Daimler and Vanden Plas forms. S3 is even smoother and quieter than a Rolls but space can be wanting. Great value but buy wisely.


The Shadow is the last of the real Rolls Royces, which is why it is still so well loved. Full of culture and class (especially the Corniches) they are still great value for money. And, so long as you buy a good one, you’ll fi nd one surprisingly affordable to keep too. As an owner you’ll certainly be pulling yourself out of the shadows, when it comes to on-road presence!

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