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Rolls-Royce Shadow vs. Bentley Mulsanne vs. Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud

With the demise of the Rolls-Royce V8 engine later on this year we look at four generations of classic saloons. Is it time for a Published: 17th Apr 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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After more than 60 years of sterling service, the iconic L-Series (410) V8 engine is to be phased out this year when the Bentley Mulsanne is discontinued. Toughening emissions law finally caught up with this faithful servant that was the only all new post-war engine from Rolls-Royce and, with internal combustion engines to be outlawed, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll even see another engine with such a long production run. It goes without saying that the engine changed tremendously over the decades and models but it still remained an overhead valve dinosaur.

If you fancy a slice of history then it’s not so much the engine but the car it is fitted to because their characters differ like chalk and cheese yet amazingly there’s an uncanny price parity between the Silver Cloud, Silver Shadow, Silver Spirit (and Bentley Mulsanne to which for the purpose of this feature we will refer to for both cars-ed) and Bentley’s Arnage. So what’s right for you?

Which one to buy

1st Shadow | 2nd Mulsanne | 3rd Cloud & arnage

Grouping them in order isn’t fair as they have their own special qualities and will appeal to different age groups as it’s a case of old against modern. What they do have in common– apart from the appeal of the badge – however is how they are perceived as second-hand buys because all Rolls-Royces go through a ‘banger’ phase before classic status kicks in resuming the status quo. Shadows have only recently come out through the tunnel, Spirits and Mulsannes are still passing through and this seriously affects their residual values. You can buy a fairly sound Shadow for around £20,000 whereas the Spirit and Mulsanne (but not the Turbo) can be half this.

Opinions are split on what’s the best Shadow; some specialists like the last of the traditional chrome bumpers even though the ’77 Shadow II (Bentley T2) is the more modern to drive. The earliest cars now feel very wallowy, although handling improved greatly after 1972 tweaks.

While the Bentleys were traditionally rebadged Rollers, the Mulsanne – and not before time – took on its own identity being notably sportier than the Silver Spirit. The Turbo is the most talked about model due to its hike of 50 per cent more power and Aston-like character. However, they can cost double too, particularly in the case of the Turbo R, and if you don’t want or need such pace then go for the Brooklands or non Turbo S as they benefit from a much the same Turbo suspension set up and, while not in the same performance league as the Turbos, are cheaper to buy and easier to own.

Don’t overlook the stately Spirit! It’s true that the car was put in the shadows by the Mulsanne but if you’re not a speed freak then they are perfect, especially as specialists say that there’s a greater percentage of good original cars left compared to the Bentley version, which by nature have been used harder and perhaps customised. There’s also a longer wheelbase offshoot called the Spur if you’d like more luxury and length.

The replacement Arnage needs some explaining. Originally, it was the replacement for the Spirit/Mulsanne until the Rolls was bought by the BMW and VAG and as a result the brands split with Bentley bringing the stalwart V8 out of retirement and comprehensively reworked to produce the Red Label (Green Labels used the BMW V8) where over 500bhp was offered. In classic circles it’s the Red Label that’s going to be remembered most but don’t be too quick to dismiss the BMW powered cars. “The Arnage T is noisy and aggressive but very powerful with a sharp throttle response, while the Arnage R is more refined. The key is to try before you buy, to ensure you like the driving characteristics,” advises one specialist. We’ve seen Bentleys at auctions selling for less than £15,000 which is spectacular value. In contrast, Arnage Ts are already seen as modern classics; and it’s not unknown to see cars advertised for £50,000 plus.

The Cloud (Bentley S Series) is the last of the old school Rolls-Royces and smacks of ‘old money’. Launched in 1956, the 6230cc V8 didn’t arrive until the Cloud II (S2) in 1959. Three years later the last of the line Clouds/S3s were introduced with power boosted from 185bhp to 200bhp and externally, modern twin headlamps adorned the front end and although the Shadow repacked it in 1965 the old timer survived as the Phantom limo well into the 90s. Living on Cloud Nine costs the most; bank on north of £70,000 for the best saloon (dropheads work out considerably more) with average cars probably £25,000 or so.

What’s the best to drive

1st Mulsanne/spirit | 2nd Arnage | 3rd Cloud & shadow

This hinges on what you want from your V8. If it’s modern manners our pecking order holds good but if it’s that traditional feel then it would have been reversed which is why we place the Mulsanne and Spirit at the top as is the best compromise. Power from the Turbo models (298bhp, 324bhp and 350+bhp depending upon model, more on the Turbo R) is relentless, yet it’s pretty much an iron fist in a velvet glove sort of car although ride is harder than other models in the range and the chassis can creak and groan a bit. Spirits are the polar opposite but perhaps too soft and numb for some which is why the slightly tauter Mulsanne will suit many best, made better with a switch from three to four ratios in the automatic from 1992 followed by changes to the suspension on the Mulsanne II which also ushered in active ride suspension.

All Arnages are sports saloons. They may look similar enough but these two illustrious names, once joined at the hip, are now chalk and cheese. Both the Arnage and Silver Seraph represent a huge advancement on the Shadow-based Mulsanne displaying none of their moans and groans and is certainly a sharper tool to pilot. Make no mistake though, these Bentleys are serious driving machines, despite the Rolls being the lighter car plus sporting a better gearbox providing five-speeds against the Bentley’s older four-speeder, although this changed for 2007.

For such a big, heavy luxury limo that’s 55 years old, the Shadow still impresses. Performance was decidedly brisk in its day and naturally totally unflustered. Autocar heaped similar praise on the car’s ’77 revamp, especially the new steering which the mag said, “is perhaps the best thing that has happened to the design in its evolution” before adding that “the car handles pretty well for its size and class… and its [all disc] brakes are beautifully weighted”. In contrast, the old recirculating steering box is vague, found on Shadow/T1s and can be a handful on winding roads and it’s generally regarded that pre-70 models, designed for cross-ply tyres, aren’t particularly nice places to be honest but fine if all you want to do is slowly cruise – which is what old Rollers are all about?

Hustle one along and a Cloud disappoints – understandably so – but take a relaxed attitude and let it waft along and you will well enjoy it. As a classic cruiser, there’s little to touch Crewe’s finest after almost 65 years, and this includes the Shadow. Comfort reigns supreme and there’s plenty of space in the back, especially in the longer wheel-based versions. Opt for a front bench seat car and there’s more than ample room for six to savour the experience.

Improvement potential

1st Mulsanne | 2nd Spirit | 3rd Shadow| 4th Cloud & arnage

There’s fair potential with the Mulsanne (and to a lesser extent the Spirit) should you feel the need although if you yearn for the thrills of a Turbo then you’re off buying one as you may find it hard to sell a tuned car because it’s not how most owners want their high-class carriage to be. On the other hand, improving the suspension and brakes, using factory components is not a bad move and subtle improvements will be welcomed from all quarters including owners clubs.

Rolls experts, Phantom Motor Cars of Surrey, built a mighty 700bhp Mulsanne Turbo for club racing and promotional work so there’s certainly some scope for improvement if you want it, although Phantom wisely warns that performance tuning Crewe’s classics is both difficult and dear.

No one’s going to buy a Shadow to turn it into a Mulsanne Turbo even though in theory you can as the engine did go into the Corniche S. However, sensible Mulsanne-style upgrades to make a good car even better don’t go amiss, especially to the suspension.

Even those who like to cruise will find the handling a bit too soggy once they step out of their daily driver and should be stiffened up but without spoiling that magic carpet-like ride. You can’t fit the Shadow II front end to enjoy its sharper rack and pinion steering as it’s too involved say specialists, so opt for the long stroke damper conversion, teamed up with better shock absorbers. The long established Harvey Bailey handling conversion works a treat, too.

We don’t know whether a Mulsanne Turbo will fit, nor whether Silver Cloud owners want more speed. Cloud experts G Whitehouse used to market a package that modified the chassis with front disc brakes but no longer offers the product – but you may find one on eBay or at a Rolls’ car meet. However, the specialist still sells modifications to the ratios for the automatic transmissions that are well worth going for. Modern radials work well on the car, even though it was designed for cross-ply tyres but speak to an expert first on the best type for the chassis, which may well require the steering geometry adjusting to suit. Better headlights, electronic ignition, alternator, and so on are sensible upgrades on all models.

The Arnage? You won’t need any extra power while the brakes are strong and the suspension is pretty well set up as long as you accept that the focus is on comfort rather than handling – there’s only so much you can do to tame well over two tons at high speed. Some owners also like to indulge in a few cosmetic tweaks, such as bigger wheels and vents in the front wings. The latter were standard on the Le Mans, but with just 50 of these built.

Owning and running

1st Shadow | 2nd Mulsanne/spirit | 3rd Cloud | 4th Arnage

None are cheap to run but they needn’t be heinously expensive either thanks to the army of spares suppliers and specialists including dedicated breakers. IntroCar regularly reissues factory spec parts with three years warranty.

Complex cars when new, even now certain systems, such as the hydraulics, aren’t DIY friendly and you need heavy duty jacks and stands for safety’s sake but, thanks to their engineering, are a pleasure to work on. The Shadow is probably the easiest to live with as they are a known quantity, closely followed by the Mulsanne. However, early Mulsannes weren’t too well built, especially the carb-fed Turbos and later cars with the rear suspension’s electronic ride and assorted brake sensors are a hassle.

Clouds may be simple in design but experts say they can be difficult to maintain at home as some jobs require heavy duty tools normally associated with lorries. In complete contrast, the delicate nature of modern technology and electronics means Arnages are hardly the type of classic that lends itself to home care.

And The Winner Is...

Going against the normal practice with these comparison tests, there’s no overall winner because they appeal to different types of enthusiast after different things. However, for the first timer new to Rollers the Spirit and Mulsanne strikes the ideal balance between traditional and modern. The downside is that there’s many ropey examples around that, due to their lowly values, have been run on a shoestring and, dare we say, don’t quite shout the same level of class and image you’d expect from the badge? Shadows have passed through this phase. Clouds are lovely old things although their driving is vintage – it’s the complete opposite for the awesome Arnage and a car we consistently prefer over the over flashy WAG Continental GT.s

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