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Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith

Published: 7th Oct 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • The body is durable, but if you buy badly it’ll cost more to put things right than the car may be worth. A better job will have been done by separating the bodyshell from the 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 of the car.
  • Pre-1949 cars are worst-affected for rust because earlier chassis were riveted together instead of welded.
  • Early engines (up to 1949) 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 if not.
  • Although the four-speed manual gearbox 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.
  • You also need to check the flexible pipe that connects the gearbox with the rear shock absorbers. This allows the driver to adjust the damping characteristics of the rear dampers, and if the pipe fractures the gearbox will lose some of its lubricant. Check the one-shot lubrication system installed, which should be exercised every 200 miles, too.
  • The main points to check for wear are the front kingpins, the needle-roller bottom joints at the front and the threaded rear spring shackles; once these have seized, it’s just a matter of time before a leaf spring snaps.
  • The front brakes are hydraulic while those at the rear are mechanically operated. The most common problem is with the servo assistance, as it works from the side of the gearbox. It operates like a clutch, dragging on mechanical linkages when the brake pedal is pressed. In good order, it works well, but gearbox oil can contaminate the clutch plates.

 

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High class prestige motoring with a difference is yours with these post war Rolls-Royces and Bentleys – and at affordable prices

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. In this Classic Choice with a difference, we not only take a look at buying and owning a Silver Dawn or the more popular and dearer Bentley but also pass on valuable experience from an enthusiast who sold his 1970’s Porsche 911 Carrera for one (and also bought an E-type with change left) and doesn’t regret it one bit!

WHICH MODEL TO GO FOR?

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 relatively cheap to buy, but not to restore. In fact, unless a reputable company has carried out the work you may even be better off a reviving an unmolested but tired example.

Ever since the launch of the Mulsanne 35 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 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!

Leaving aside the 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. It’s difficult to pin down values due to their bespoke build but £40-£60,000 is the ballpark figure. Many Rolls’ models 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 aren’t unknown either! Expensive, but there again so is a proper restoration job on these old lovelies so you choose.

BEHIND THE WHEEL?

Adjust your hats now please. Even drivers not expecting to experience 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 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. Performance is leisurely, even with 4.5-litres under your right foot, but they motor well and because top speeds are well in excess of 90mph, 60-70mph cruises are effortless.

However, 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 ease. As you’d expect from Crewe, comfort and refinement were world leading in their day and still impress more than 60 years on. For a fuller appreciation read Gordon Bruce’s opinion elsewhere. Like our Stuart Bladon, Gordon was one of the UK’s most respected road testers, in this case for rival Motor.

THE DAILY OPTION?

Hardly but there again there’s only a handful of 1950’s oldies that qualify for the job; these cars are for high-days and holidays and don’t deserve the daily grind.

Originality ranks highly on these models or at least an original specification. Specialists Paul Wood of P&A Wood confirms that some owners do like one upgrade, and that’s – understandably – power steering, such as an electric EZ set up that is easily reversible. The renown Essex experts can fit suitable upgrades for around £4000.

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 by an expert such as P&A Wood to make one drive as they were designed – the transformation will be dramatic.

EASE OF OWNERSHIP?

Don’t let their stone age mechanicals fool you, while robust and hardly high tech repairs can work out expensive. Take the engines for example. As long as the powerplant isn’t horrifically abused, it usually lasts for 200,000 miles before some form of overhaul rebuild is needed.

It depends how much work is needed, but expect to pay anywhere between £6000- £8000 for a light head off rebuild along with new bearing shells. But if things are really bad this bill could rise to as much as £20,000 but it won’t need doing ever again and aid resales. If the head and block is silted up and overheats (not unknown) expect a bill of £2000-£3000 to rectify.

Even if the oily bits are okay, along with the bodywork, an interior refresh costs the same as a Silver Shadow.

Timelines

1946

Bentley MkVI announced. Power delivered by a 4257cc in-line six that gave the car a top speed of over 90mph. Rolls- Royce Silver Dawn followed differing in its state of tune with only a single carburettor.

1951

Better 4.5-litre engine fitted to both models with a facelift for 1952 which also incorporated a larger boot, achieved by simply adding more bodywork. At this time, the Bentley model was rebranded as the R-Type.

1955

We Reckon...

As you can read elsewhere in Gordon Bruce’s accounts of buying and owning one, there’s something special about these pre-Cloud classics that smack of sheer class yet are amazing value for money when you compare them against newer Crewe cars. Buy now while they are still accessible.



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