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Rolls Royce Silver Spirit

Out Of Order Published: 15th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls Royce Silver Spirit

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Well cared for example
  • Worst model: Neglected examples
  • Budget buy: Early pre ‘86 cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 5270 x W 1890
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Not really
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Slowly, for good ones
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Can be superb value
Wonderful interior ambience but only if the cabin is still in good order Wonderful interior ambience but only if the cabin is still in good order
The good life on a budget? The good life on a budget?
Details like hub caps are dear Details like hub caps are dear
Long lived V8 is surprisingly DIY friendly. Failed manifolds common, early carb cars could prove fi ckle as well Long lived V8 is surprisingly DIY friendly. Failed manifolds common, early carb cars could prove fi ckle as well
Rear valences rust, inspect the chromework for same Rear valences rust, inspect the chromework for same
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Rolls’ replacement for the Shadow has never been a better buy. Here’s why you should choose one over a Bentley, too!

Pros & Cons

Name, image, value for money, craftsmanship, comfort
Mundane performance, many tatty ones around, expensive parts

What’s in a name, or to be more precise, what’s the difference between Rolls and Bentley? For years, the latter has been held in higher esteem and gained the upper hand over the badge that took the ailing sports car company over nearly 80 years ago. For many, only a Mulsanne will do, but the Silver Spirit showcases all that’s good about Rolls-Royce – and old school Crewe at that – plus it can be better value for money.


The Silver Spirit and T Series were pensioned off in late 1980, after 15 years of being, if not at the top, then at least very near the summit of the best in luxury cars. Replacing these iconic cars wasn’t easy, since many cheaper rivals from vulgar upstarts such as Mercedes and Jaguarproved that these companies could build world beaters too – and a lot cheaper. Pensioning off the Crewe classic hadn’t come a moment too soon because the aforementioned S-Class and XJ12 were streets ahead in terms of dynamics and driving pleasure and could provide most of the creature comforts Rolls and Bentley buyers expected, with modernity. One could well imagine Rolls’ heads shaking in disbelief back in 1972, when the sensational Jaguar XJ12 was launched – work started on the Shadow replacement a year later! That said, Rolls did a fi ne job indeed with ’Project SZ’ as it was known, considering it still retained most of the old drivetrain and infastructure from the Shadow, yet wasbrought thoroughly up to date – the rear suspension from the two-door models, introduced in 1979, being the most major change.

By the mid 1980s, the Bentley badge had came to the fore, thanks to the brawny Brooklands Turbos, but the Silver Spirit (and the longer wheel-based Silver Spur), wasn’t being left in the shadows, so to speak. Early cars weren’t particularly well screwed together and it took a considerable amount of on-going development to iron out the bugs. In September 1984 a revised door locking system was fi tted and power washers replaced headlamp wash/wipe plus heated door mirrors. October 1986 was the most significant early date to both, when fuel injection replaced carburettors and ABS became standard fi tment. Two years later power was upped (as usual Rolls never said by how much and to what!) while for 1990 the Silver Spirit II and Series 2 Mulsanne ranges were announced, benefi ting from revised styling and automatic ride control. During 1990 catalytic converters were made optional and the standard stereo was improved, while in September the following year a vastly improved automatic ‘box was installed, now being four speeds. Engine power was increased further after September 1993, yet another, revised automatic was installed (with Shift Energy Management) along with Adaptive Ride control and twin airbags. That’s the sum of the major changes to these modern Rollers and Bentleys, although many detailed revisions were also made along the way. Contact a dealer, specialist or owners club for the full run down.


Although the Silver Spirit is a considerable improvement on the old Shadow, the early cars are basically old Rolls-Royces in modern clothes, and drive as such. That is to say considerably wallowy on the road, with fi nger-light steering, not up to the sporting prowess of the later models, especially the Bentleys. There again Rollers are all about dignity and class rather than a sporty drive – if it’s the latter that you‘re after then the Brooklands is the much better bet. Remember, though, that with the stiffer suspension set up Bentleys ride a lot fi rmer than their Rolls counterparts and this shows up the limitations of the four-decade-old chassis design, albeit refreshed. If you want comfort, then go for the Spirit.

It’s the same when talking performance. ‘Sedate, yet smooth’, best describes the Rolls, while ‘sizzling’ is a good word for the top Brooklands – it depends what you’re after. The four-speed auto models are worth going for as they perform better than the three-speeders. Fuel economy will never be a strong point with a Rolls, of course, but we know of owners who claim 18mpg when cruising gently along, which is the best way to drive this car, letting the frantic world thrash by.Any new Rolls-Royce is a major event and, generally, the press reception to the Spirit mirrored this. It’s fair to say that the car didn’t set the world alight, like the Shadow did back in ’65, but there again the game had moved onconsiderably over the decades. “Not perfect but gets close” hailed on weekly title back in 1981 although by then the hacks had moved on to sportier, faster – if brasher – Jags and Mercs when talking about the best cars in the world.


We won’t overdo the old cliche stuff here, and talk about running such posh metalwork for Ford money, but it’s a proven fact that you can buy an old Silver Spirit for the price of a second-hand Mondeo. Whether that’s actually a good idea is highly debateable. While you frequently see oldSilver Spirits sell for just a few thousand, these are going to be real liabilities to own. Given the cost and complexity of these machines, it’s best to buy the best you can afford – preferably from a known specialist. To get into anything like a decent car you need to spend around £7-8000, and there are plenty of good cars to be had at specialists for £10,000, plus some really superb ones for under £20K. The main rule when buying a Rolls or Bentley is this: pay as much as you can and buy on condition and history, not age or that tempting screen price. Right now these cars are good value, so don’t unnecessarily penny pinch. As Charles Rolls remarked ‘The quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten’. Hear, hear.

What To Look For

  • The main thing to look out for is the bodywork. Shiny new paint can hide horror stories and, despite their quality construction, these cars can rot severely if neglected, and a lot have been. So avoid the very cheap ‘bargains’ and going only for cars with a full documented history, even if you have to pay more, because you’ll save in the long run.
  • Use a good reputable R-R and Bentley specialist rather than an ordinary car dealer, who don’t know the car anything like as well. A good specialist will be able to service and provide aftersales back up and this is well worth the extra asked in the screen prices.
  • Don’t buy the fi rst car you see, and be prepared to reject a few along the way. Because these cars are so way above the normal, you should check and drive a good number to get a feel of the car – otherwise you’ll probably never know a good one from a dud.
  • Check out the vendor! Nice people sell nice cars and does he or she look as though they could afford such a lavish car? If they haven’t owned it long, it points to them not being able to afford the maintenance costs and cheapskate, cost cutting repairs may have been carried out…
  • Tell-tale body rot areas are sills, wheel arches and fl oor pan. Lift the carpets in the front to check for damp, as this will rot out the footwell in no time if left unchecked. Usually a leaking windscreen is the culprit here.
  • Beware of shiny two-tones. This is a quick cheap way of hiding rotten bodywork. Be suspicious if a respray has recently been done.
  • Mechanically, these limos are under stressed with their big lazy 6.75-litre engine, but a common problem is the exhaust manifold gasket leaking, which will cost £500 or more a side to fi x. Also, air conditioning systems malfunction. These are fearsomely complex, so ensure it works properly.
  • All models use the hydraulic braking system, fi rst seen on the Shadow in 1965, but now using 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, so ensure this has been done or negotiate the price accordingly.
  • Later models – 1986 – onwards have fuel injection and ABS instead of carbs but it is well proven and generally reliable. In contrast, early carb fed models could suffer from starting and running maladies.
  • Transmissions are generally reliable but check on the move thoroughly. Second-hand gearboxs are the most cost-effective method of repair new ones are over two grand.
  • Check the rear suspension for wear and rust. The rear arm mountings are an MOT fail point. A main agent will charge four fi gures to rectify this: aftermarket kits cost £500 or so.
  • Those lavish interiors wear well but many look tatty. Worn hides and tarnished wood are hugely expensive to put right, negating that cheap screen price, and it may be best to seek out used trim from a specialist.
  • With post-1990 model cars, there’s active ride as standard, which further increases the electrical complexity (is it working properly?). So, for a fi rst time buyer, a good (and we mean good) early model would probably suit best. They are generally better built after ’82, according to specialists: the fi rst batch of cars suffered from some build niggles including dodgy central locking (improved on later models).

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 highly affordable too. No real classic status… so some cheap buys.
Aston Martin Lagonda
Aston Martin Lagonda
Agreed, if you wanted a sportier ride you’d probably go for the Bentley models and enjoy much the same car, but don’t discount the oddball Aston Martin Lagonda. Like the Rolls they can be spectacular value but the unloved Lagonda can be spectacularly dear to keep as well. A good one is a unique experience, however.
Jaguar XJ12
Jaguar XJ12
This was the cat among the pigeons, in more ways than one. A genuine luxury supercar that could match the Rolls in every department and for a lot less cash. All are great but S3 is best developed of them all and even a ‘six’ is good enough. Cheap for what they offer, but far too many have been neglected and are now a liability.


Silver Spirits have never looked so good and prices are at the lowest they’re ever likely to be. The last of the old school Rolls-Royces, Car magazine described the Silver Spirit as the last of the Edwardian cars and there’s fair truth in this – for all the right reasons we might add. A good Silver Spirit is a superb luxury car. Bentley may have the sportier name, but not necessarily the better one in this case!

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