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Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn

Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn Published: 14th Dec 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn
Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn
Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn
Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn
Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn
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Why not own a... Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn

Think of classic Rolls-Royces and Bentleys and thoughts usually spring to the Shadow/T Series or the earlier Cloud and S options. But go further back and you’ll enjoy perhaps something even better – and certainly rarer – the Silver Dawn and Bentley MkVI (later rebadged R-Type). More genteel than Bentley GT, both provide unbridled luxury and class at relatively affordable prices that usefully undercut what top Silver Clouds can sell for but that’s changing as you read this so if you want one don’t let the thought linger.

Model choice

Rather than ponder should you go for the Rolls or a Bentley-grilled alternative, of more importance is buying a good one and this classic (in more ways than one) maxim has never applied more than here.

Yes, these pre-Cloud classics may be tempting to buy, but not to restore. In fact, unless a reputable company has carried out the work you may even be better off reviving an unmolested but tired example.

Ever since the launch of the Mulsanne 37 years ago, the Bentley badge has been on a roll and with few exceptions, are more sought after than the Rolls alternative. This car is no exception and the Bentley MkVI/R-Type is the one buyers now want most even though the only mechanical differences between the Rolls involve the Dawn drinking and driving on one carburettor while the sportier Bentley sported two – a sign of power back in the 1950s!

The Bentley MkVI came out before Rolls’ Dawn but the model name soon changed to R-Type when the model was facelifted. Why not MkVII you say? No one knows but the general view was so the name didn’t clash with the new big Jaguar saloon of the same name.

Changes to both models before the Silver Cloud and Bentley S Series took over were fairly fundamental and yet largely insignificant as a classic as condition and history count the most.

For ’52 the rear body styling was revised (7.5in longer) for more luggage space coinciding with a strengthened chassis and realigned rear springs to aid handling. A year later, the engine’s compression ratio was revised to add more power and counter the weight of the new body plus the chassis build became fully welded and did away with rivets while in the Summer of 1954 the rear axle ratio was raised.

Behind the wheel

Adjust your hats now please. Even drivers not expecting to experience WAG V12 Bentley GT prowess will find a R-Type/Dawn a bit of a shock to the system – and, yes that also includes owners used to driving a Silver Cloud or even a Shadow!

With a length of a whisker under 16 feet, they are hardly not the most agile classics around, but easy enough to manoeuvre, not appearing at all unwieldy from the driver’s seat chiefly because all four corners can be seen nicely from a commanding driving position. Performance is leisurely, even with 4.5-litres under your right foot, but they motor on pretty well (0-60mph in under 14 seconds according to contemporary road tests) and because top speeds are almost good for the ton, 60-70mph cruises are effortless. These regal cruisers at last heralded automatic transmission coming to Crewe although many are manual and the floor mounted gear change on the driver’s right knee needs some getting used to but once you do it becomes second nature. Lefthand drive models, incidentally, came with a column gearchange.

The real beauty of these big old engines are their superb top gear performance which can saunter along at walking pace or power up hills with sneering ease.

As you’d expect from Crewe, comfort and refinement were world leading in their day and still impress more than 65 years on with their British drawing room ambience and ample room – great for Goodwood!

What to pay

Leaving aside the numerous special builds for a moment, any reasonable but hardly concours standard steel saloon will be priced from £25,000 if it wears Bentley badges and a bit less for a Dawn although it’s difficult to pin down exact values due to their bespoke build but experts say £40-£60,000 is good ballpark figure.

Many Rolls-Royce variants in particular featured special bodywork while Bentley MkVI specials also come pricey with dropheads (built by Park Ward or a Radford Countryman) easily fetching more than £80,000 – and six figure sums are becoming more common!

Expensive, but there again so is a proper restoration job on these old lovelies so you choose. Whatever, like so many traditional classics, the days of real bargain buys are history.

Making one better

Originality ranks highly on these models or at least an original specification. Specialists Paul Wood of P&A Wood confirms that an increasing percentage of owners, which respecting originality do like one particular upgrade, and that’s – understandably – power steering, such as an electric EZ set up that is fully reversible if need be. The renown Essex experts can fit it for around £4000 – well worthwhile.

We’d add perhaps a better dynamo or alternator along with electronic ignition for peace of mind when out and about.

As with all specialist cars, the best ‘mod’ if you can call it that is to have the car thoroughly serviced and sorted out by an expert, such as P&A Wood, to make one drive as they were designed – the transformation on the majority will be dramatic.

Hardly a car to tune or hot up… but it is perfectly possible to fit the later straight six engine from the Cloud which sports a better head for 170bhp-200bhp – ideal if you fit the Continental’s rear axle as it’s a really long-legged affair at .3.077.1.

Buying tips

Body and chassis

The body is durable, but if you buy badly it’ll cost more to put things right than the car may be worth. A far better job will have been done by separating the bodyshell from the heavy duty chassis.

Shell comprises of two central members running the length of the car, with a central cruciform and a series of cross-members. It’s a tough design, if there is any rust it’s likely to be at the back.

Pre-1954 cars are worst-affected for rot because earlier chassis were riveted together instead of welded. Coach-built cars can suffer from the rust bug in all sorts of places.


Early units were fitted with bypass oil filters; most have by now been modified to full-flow. Those that haven’t often suffer from bottom-end woes and low oil pressure. Having said that, they go on and on if serviced on time but dear to repair.

Silting up of the water works is fairly well known and can cause expensive faults. A caring owner will have regularly flushed the system through. Has it been done?


Although the four-speed manual is fairly tough generally, it suffers from weak first and reverse gears with a full renovation costing up to £5000. The first thing to check for is clicking in first gear but they are usually noisy in service anyway.

Check the flexible pipe that connects the gearbox with the rear shock absorbers. This allows the driver to adjust the damping, and if it fractures the gearbox will lose its lubricant.

Running gear

One-shot lubrication system should be exercised every 200 miles, ideally.

Check front kingpins, the needle-roller bottom joints at the front and the threaded rear spring shackles; once seized, a spring will soon snap.

The front brakes are hydraulic while those at the rear are mechanically operated – sounds odd but work quite okay for the car’s performance if well serviced.

Common problem is the servo, as it works off the gearbox dragging on mechanical linkages when the brake pedal is pressed.

In good order, it’s ok, but oil can contaminate clutch plates.

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