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Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud

Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud Published: 9th Jul 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud
Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud
Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud
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Stuart looks back on the car which made the greatest impression at the time - the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud

Just turned 25 years old, and in 1958, my fourth year on the staff of The Autocar, I was sent off with colleague Mike Clayton to road test the new Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud in Belgium and Holland. The journal had tested the basically similar Bentley Series S back in October 1955, soon after the joint introduction of the new models, and in the intervening three years the power had been increased by raising the compression ratio from 6.6-to-1 to 8-to-1, and the big improvement for such a large car was the availability of power assisted steering, albeit at extra cost of £165.

We had an interesting programme ahead of us because we were also to test a car whose make was almost unknown in Britain in 1958: Volvo. We were to cross on the night ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, drive to The Hague and collect a Volvo Amazon. We would then take both cars to Belgium for performance testing on the famous Jabbeke autoroute. It had the makings of a marvellous trip.

THIS IS THE LIFE!

As we set off to Harwich I was simply amazed at the luxury of that Silver Cloud. It was not only the superlative comfort of its soft pleated leather seats, the beautiful polished walnut facia, the wonderful aroma of leather and carpet, but above all the astonishing quietness. I don’t think that more modern cars with radial ply tyres can ever quite match the silence of that Silver Cloud running on cross-ply tyres. Gazing along that vast tapering bonnet with the rear view of the beautiful Spirit of Ecstasy mascot, I was completely overwhelmed by it all.

We landed at a fairly civilised hour after a quick breakfast on board and made our way to The Hague and the private address of the agent. Even before we found his name on the list of flats and rang the appropriate bell, we saw the Amazon looking very smart at the roadside with its two-tone finish and whitewall tyres. The Swedish manufacturer was very keen to begin selling in Britain, although at that stage it could come in only as a private import priced at 12,600 Krona, equivalent to £868. The Silver Cloud by comparison was £5694.

We knew that the Tulip Rally was on its final day, with high speed runs at the Zandvoort circuit, so agreed to make our way there and watch the Rally. I jumped eagerly into the Amazon, and as we drove off I was impressed by the lovely crisp sound of the Volvo’s four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine producing 85 bhp – a lot for those days. It was particularly appropriate that we should be testing a Volvo as the Rally was won by an older model, the Volvo PV444. After the rally we made our way south towards Belgium where I had been asked by the editor to look in on the great Brussels World Fair.

It was another brilliantly sunny May day when we went into the Brussels Fair, and the arrival, walking down the great stairway from the entrance hall and seeing all the wonderful floral displays and fountains was something I shall never forget; and down below was the extraordinary Atomium. It was originally intended to be dismantled at the end of the Exposition, but instead was left standing to this day.

We managed to park the Rolls with the Atomium in the background, and I took a picture with several passers-by turning to look at the beautiful car. It made a fine heading picture for the Road Test in the 16 May 1958 issue, though the caption which Mike suggested – Silver Cloud, silver balls – was not used!

MONEY TO BURN IN A VOLVO

After the visit to the Exposition we set off to Ostend to start doing the performance testing on both cars. I had quite a job keeping up with the Rolls, but was managing to keep it in sight quite well when suddenly I became aware of a strong smell of petrol.

Realising that there must be a leak I switched off the engine, and coasted quietly to a stop on the grass beside the autoroute, seeing the Rolls fade away into the distance.

It was as well that I had taken the precaution of stopping the engine while still motoring at speed, otherwise there would undoubtedly have been a fire. The engine bay was awash with petrol. I looked up to see a patrolman from the Belgian automobile service walking towards me with a jolly salute. He quickly appreciated the situation, took from me the remaining float chamber bolt, and said he would try to get one to match it.

My patrolman was away nearly two hours, but eventually with great relief I heard the engine of his motor-cycle combination returning, and he climbed off the machine proudly holding up one carburettor bolt in each hand.

We eventually started doing the performance checks on the Rolls, before returning to spend the night in a rather dreary Ostend hotel. The Silver Cloud proved capable of accelerating from rest to 100 in under a minute and the maximum speed was 106mph. Fuel consumption? Well, the Suez crisis was well past, so no one was too worried by an overall figure of 12mpg!

Next morning Mike enjoyed his party trick: getting the hotel porter to come out with us bringing the luggage to the cars, and he would quickly open the door of the Rolls-Royce, put down the window, then reach in to put the key in the slot and press the starter button. There was always a gentle ‘clonk’ as the starter engaged, and then the engine would be purring over. The porter would then come to the boot, notice the slight burble from the exhaust and exclaim: “Il marche? C’est pas possible!” as he marvelled at the quietness of the engine. The way it would do this certainly was impressive.

When we had finished testing the Volvo Amazon, I said: “Right, I’d better have the key to the Rolls. You’ll be wanting to get some experience of the Volvo on the drive back to The Hague.” That first long drive which I enjoyed in the Silver Cloud, marvelling at the lightness of the steering, the response of the brakes and the engine, and the wonderfully smooth transmission, was a most memorable experience. But there was more to come: after the night crossing from the Hook back to Harwich, there was a problem preventing them from craning the Rolls off the deck until they had cleared the hatch behind it. This enormously expensive car had spent the crossing lashed to the deck with a tarpaulin over it, and they had – either thoughtfully or jokingly – cut a hole in the tarpaulin for the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot to protrude through it.

We were warned that there would be a long delay. One of us had to be back at the office to get the test copy and data ready to go to Press the next day, so he took my films, the valuable road test record cards, and set off by train to London. I was left eventually to drop my bag in the boot, climb into the driving seat, and once again press the silvery starter button ready for another lovely drive in this amazing car. There would be many more such experiences in the future, but this was the first and most vivid memory of what was then undoubtedly the best car in the world.

 



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