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Rolls-Royce Corniche

Rolls-Royce Corniche Published: 28th Aug 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls-Royce Corniche

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Anything good and honest
  • Worst model: Anything that isn’t
  • Budget buy: Probably a pre-1972 coupé
  • OK for unleaded?: Generally yes – but additive is advisable
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L51970 x W1936mm
  • Spares situation: Ok, but body and trim parts scarce compared to Shadow
  • DIY ease?: Basic servicing is doable; leave the rest to specialists
  • Club support: Excellent, especially RREC
  • Appreciating asset?: Rising fast for good cars as so few come on the market
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Corniche is the cream of classic Rolls-Royces
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Much more than a shapelier Silver Shadow, the Corniche is one of the best prestigious classic buys around even if they don’t come on the market that often. Expensive, but with excellent club and specialist support

Rolls-Royce’s Corniche was certainly the cream of Silver Shadow crop, staying in service, with successive updates (including Silver Spirit platform), for virtually 30 years, plus also saw off what should have been its replacement, the heavy-handed Camargue. That tells you just how much this car was a Crewe cut above the rest.

Corniches remain in strong demand some 23 years since the model was killed off to make way for the Bentley Continental and its Azure drophead but you’ll need to pay a lot more for their forbearers, such is the enduring admiration for the car. To run, they are little different to a Shadow saloon however.

Dates to remember

1966 Two-door Shadow and Bentley T1 are introduced, made by coach builder Mulliner Park Ward (then a part of Rolls) and John Young. MPW bodies were made by hand at the Willesden factory and then shipped to Crewe for finishing.

In September 1967, a ‘proper’ convertible version was launched complete with an electric roof. The body was strengthened substantially in the sill and bulkhead areas to compensate for the lack of the substantial chassis present in earlier Rolls-Royce models, made exclusively by MPW.

1968 In line with the Shadow, car receives new superior three-speed GM automatic plus a rear anti-roll bar and stiffer dampers during mid year.

1970 Engine size is upped to 6.75-litres.

1971 Relaunched simply as the Corniche both in Rolls and Bentley forms, outside, to give a more sporting appearance, the radiator is raked forward and was half an inch deeper. Under the bonnet, a raised compression ratio and twin pipe exhaust liberates more power.

1972 An altered steering ratio then radial tyres requiring a suspension retune in mid year, along with vented front disc brakes.

1973/4 Cruise-control and a tape player fitted as standard, while for ’74 the wheel arches were slightly flared to accommodate increased track and wider 235/70 HR 15 tyres.

1977 Corniche is heavily revised, with the most obvious changes being the rubber faced bumpers from the Shadow II/T2 including a chin spoiler. Mechanically, biggest improvement was the adoption of a rack and pinion steering coupled with an improved front suspension. Some models wear a new Solex four-barrel carb instead of SU instruments while inside improvements included Camargue’s split level automatic air conditioning.

1979 Receives Silver Spirit rear suspension and its mineral oil hydraulics plus extended wheelbase. At the same time, the two-door coupé is phased out.

1984 Bentley models branded Continental; revisions see colour coded bumpers and revised interior.

1987 Corniche II arrives offering ABS and a fuel injected (Spirit) engine.

1989 Corniche III boasts air bags, high tech adaptive suspension and improved engine ECU system.

1992 Corniche IV has new GM four-speed auto and more power in line with Silver Spirit and Bentley Continental revisions. Special 21 Anniversary limited run of 25, all Ming Blue with a cream hood and marked by a unique silver dashboard mounted plaque. Cars are now made entirely at the Crewe factory. 1995 Final run of 25 cars was designated Corniche S in 1995 and they came with 385bhp Mulsanne Turbo power; the very last car went to a US buyer. In total, some 6394 Corniches (including 730 Bentleys) were produced over a period of 24 years, the vast majority being convertibles. A great run.

Driving and what the press said

You probably need to drive a standard Shadow to differentiate the two, meaning the Corniche isn’t quite as sporty as those looks suggest, although post 1989 cars did sport the better underpinnings of the Silver Spirit plus later upgrades such as fuel injection and active suspension. Press-on drivers will certainly welcome the Corniche II with its changed front chassis with a far sharper rack and pinion steering; if you’re after an earlier car bear in mind they were certainly made more agreeable after 1972 even if Rolls dropped the lovely unique wood rim steering wheel for the larger boring Shadow one by 1974, although they are all inherently soft wallowy barges.

There again, if you’re after cross-country thrills it’s best to look elsewhere and the same can be said if road burning antics are also your game. Rolls claimed the Corniche sported 10 per cent more power over the Shadow (some road tests reported of a hotter Corniche camshaft being deployed) but this is largely counteracted by the car’s added weight over the saloon (making a kerb weight of 5000lbs) so performance levels are pretty similar. Acceleration is brisk at best (0-60 10-11 seconds) yet entirely adequate. As a road test said at the time “Somehow with a car like a Rolls-Royce, actual performance figures seem beneath its considerable dignity.”

Boy racers look elsewhere because the Corniche creams it as a stately stylish cruiser where comfort and refinement (if not cabin space compared to the Shadow yet still generous) reign supreme.

The press was more respectful and inclined to tug their forelocks at Rolls-Royce back then than now and plaudits aplenty rained down on the Corniche, rightly or wrongly. Autocar in 1974, said, “that in most people’s eyes… it’s the absolute ultimate in cars” although still had criticism for the vague steering that was only truly corrected on the Corniche II of which Motor said [on the Shadow II] “encourages enthusiastic driving”. However, there was little escaping the fact the Jaguar’s new two door XJC beat the Rolls in the ride and refinements stakes, if not space and build quality, for lesst than half the price. “Make no mistake the Corniche is magnificent means of transport” said Motor in 1976.

Car thought it represented “the last Edwardian motor car” but still had much respect for this rapidly ageing design saying it was the ultimate status symbol with a “marvellously sensuous feel” despite the price which over the decade had risen from £9849 (still almost 50 per cent more than Shadow saloon) to £160K by the time of its demise…

Values and marketplace

Such was the success of the Corniche that it almost single-handedly saved Rolls from the receivers in 1971 and waiting lists of up to four years caused a black market to prosper. In its 1974 road test Autocar reported that second-hand models or ‘queue jumpers’ have smashed the £20,000 bracket and went as high as £28K – nearly double list price! “Like a piece of select property or a rare antique, a Rolls-Royce is an investment and as such can be readily justified by company accountants,” the weekly proclaimed.

You certainly require deeper pockets to acquire a Corniche compared to a Shadow – three times as much typically. Cream Corniches can sell for more than the later Bentley Azure, despite being the older car. This means that you are looking at £40,000 minimum says leading experts Hanwells of West London. Proprietor Stephen Brown says the Corniche is much more than merely a shapelier Shadow and is a model in its own right that’s appreciating quite considerably – he currently has a 14,000 miles from new Series III up for sale at £132,000 which he expects to get.

Because relatively few were sold in the UK, “you can’t pick and choose” says Brown although he concedes that convertibles are the most wanted despite having more rust problems. Rolls-badged versions outsold Bentley tenfold and the rarity of the latter is already impacting on values. We can see pre-Corniche cars also enjoying a rise interest thanks to rarity albeit not to Corniche levels.

Lest you consider these too high a price to pay, Stephen Brown adds that top notch Shadows have also soared in value of late, witness the 6520 miles from new, last-of-theline V reg he is selling from more than £75,000 and a 42,000 miler W-reg for £36K.

As the Corniche shares so much with the more prolific Silver Shadow and Spirits, mechanical problems are relatively easy to rectify. Not so with body and interior parts as they were specific to the Corniche. Wings and doors are a particular problem, as is trim, which is difficult to locate. But the good news is that there’s an army of independents like Hanwells show can keep general maintenance down to relatively affordable Jag-like budgets.

Improvements

Few people will want to meddle much or need to if we’re honest. Indeed, so long as the basics are right using quality yet keenly priced parts (Intro-Car of London being a leading supplier) and a knowledgeable specialist to get all the settings spot on, the improvements must rank as the best ‘mods’ of all. However, sensible upgrades to make a good car even better don’t go amiss, especially to the hard worked suspension.

Even those who like to cruise rather than cane will fi nd the handling a bit too soggy once they’ve stepped out of their daily driver and can be usefully stiffened up but without spoiling that magic carpet-like ride.

You can’t fi t 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 at £235, teamed with better shock absorbers. The long established Harvey Bailey handling conversion works a treat, too and we hear that simply upping the tyre pressures by six pounds helps a lot on standard cars – so try that first along with fitting quality tyres along with a thorough geometry sort out by a specialist.

The brakes (all disc with vented fronts after 1972) were some of the best in their time and poor braking may simply be because common working class Ford Escort Mk2 pads may have been fitted, either by mistake or to save money!

Incidentally, even the Mulsanne Turbo employed the same basic braking system so you can uprate accordingly. Likewise, as Rolls did it, you too can fi t a turbo engine to make your own Corniche S although it’s not as straightforward as it sounds; tweaking of the cylinder head and carbs or a chip and repmap on fuel injected engines are less expensive exercises that work well – if you can find someone to do it.

When is a corniche not a corniche?

When it’s a two-door Silver Shadow! Rolls-Royce was no stranger in producing bespoke beauties over the years as they had separate chassis. It was harder for the monocoque Shadow so before making this stylish sportier Silver Shadow, the company commissioned subsidiaries Mulliner Park Ward and James Young to make early batches of two-door Shadows a few years before its 1965 launch, first as a Coupé followed by a convertible. How can you tell the difference? To the keen eye, the Young design is straight edged lacking the waistline lip plus the MPW style (which R-R gave the nod to) relies on a less steeply raked rear screen. Fifty were made, 15 being Bentleys so rarity is always on their side.

The no cost option

Classic Motoring contributor Stuart Bladon says living the high life in a Corniche also makes financial sense as his ten year account proves

Contributor Stuart Bladon has owned a late model Corniche for almost ten years and reckons it’s been a no cost classic with any high running expenses incurred (and there’s been a few) offset by rising values. Purchased from Beaulieu Garage, complete with bulging files of service history, “The first shock came when I took it to the local Shell garage to fill the tank, and the pump cut out automatically on reaching £99.99, and still had not completely filled the tank! The first question always asked is: “What does it do to the gallon?” I always reply: “16 – and when it does that we have a small celebration!”.

A bit disappointing is the oil consumption, adds Stuart running at about 300 miles per pint, with much of it left on his garage floor. “They say it’s Rolls’s rust-proofing system!” Bladon jokes.

When Stuart bought the Corniche its recorded mileage was only 23,025, which seemed incredibly low for 29 years’ service, but the documents confirmed it. However, Bladon’s first nasty shock was when the dashboard brake pressure warning lights started taking a long time to go out in the morning, and it was evident that the hydraulic pressure reservoirs were past their best. Replacements cost £699, and the total bill for fitting and some other work amounted to £1275.

In the following year, June 2013, while on a rally in France, there was suddenly an alarming noise from the steering on full lock and it transpired that the reservoir had become nearly empty. Total cost of this with an overhauled steering rack was £335. Ignition woes and punctures have further blotted the reliability record but thanks to the Corniche’s increasing value (purchase cost £42,500, now insured valued at over £54,000) the claim that it has cost ‘nothing’ to run is vindicated enough.

“Nine years have passed quickly since that memorable evening when sales manager Rory, from Beaulieu Garage, brought the Corniche to my home and parked it on the drive. “However, I would not have bought the Corniche if it had been one of the two-door fixedhead models; it was the sight of the car standing on the forecourt of Beaulieu Garage with the hood folded away and tonneau in position that made me stop, turn round and drive back to have a closer look and finish up buying it, recalls Stuart.

“It immediately brought a feeling of tremendous responsibility, but never since have I regretted the decision. In the years since 2009 we have enjoyed some fabulous journeys and if things have sometimes gone wrong, you might well argue what do you expect after nearly 40 years? Most ordinary cars would long since have gone to the crushers… Of course, one doesn’t really own a Rolls-Royce; you are just the caretaker until the time comes when you are parted from it,” says Stuart who quickly adds that he hopes to continue to do so for some time yet!

Top buying tips

1. A solid history is vital and with more than any glitz and glam that’s been added. A thorough service and set up by a good specialist transforms most cars. There’s a good spread of specialists such as The Beaconsfield Workshop (www. thebeaconsfi eldworkshop.co.uk) and suppliers who deal in pattern and used parts (such as Intro Car, based in London).

2. Tyres are a giveaway – cheap or well worn rubber suggests corner cutting has also been employed elsewhere.

3. Heater matrix is prone to leaks – replacing the system means taking out the dash and coolant may have leaked on the climate control circuit board…

4. The Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club is a godsend; it welcomes all owners plus runs repair and maintenance seminars along with tool hire so it’s well worth joining even before you buy a car.

What To Look For

Silent running

Can be surprisingly clattery until warm; a knocking when cold suggests bad cylinder liners, squeezing the pistons. Repairable even by home mechanics. Exhausts manifolds can be a problem and they vary in price from £200 to more than £500 depending upon model and what side requires attention.

Body beautiful

It may be a Rolls but they rot like any common classic and Corniches can corrode worse than a Shadow! The usual suspects are sills, wheelarches and valances. Look at the spring pans for the trailing arms at the rear. Repair kits are available for this problem however. A main worry is the likelihood of the pans rotting away, allowing the springs to fall out. Replacement panels are available even from the factory but cost; sills are cheap at under £200 but a front wing can cost more than £3600 and all that chrome don’t come cheap either! In other words, buying a budget Corniche to do up rarely works out that way…

Hydraulic help

This is the most important part of the car and a stipulated overhaul is a must as it controls the brakes, suspension and steering – bank on up to £3000 for a proper job. Start engine; both warning lights should illuminate but go out within half a minute. Once up to temp, cut engine and pump the brake pedal – if ok you should achieve 40 ‘pumps’ until the lights come on again.

Three Of A Kind

Bentley continental
Bentley continental
Not to be confused with the Corniche, with their unique blend of old-fashioned Bentley values twinned with modern craftsmanship and design they look classy, perform well and are good investments for the future. All based upon the Mulsanne Turbo platform, RT is short wheelbase supercar, SC a clever Sedanca Coupé with a novel twin-panel glass sunroof which morphed into full convertible form and renamed Azure.
Jaguar XJC
Jaguar XJC
Special vinyl-roofed two-door XJ that’s a better all rounder than an XJ-S as well as being more stylish, rarer and roomier. Like the saloon and XJ-S counterpart reliability was suspect with many components plagued with faults which kept interest and value low for years. While not as prestigious and as well put together as the Rolls, the XJC is far sportier to drive (especially V12) plus has better ride and refinement qualities.
Jensen interceptor
Jensen interceptor
Loved by celebs, Jensen’s Interceptor goes like an Aston, plus is as prestigious as a Rolls. For years they languished in the bargain basement, but that’s history with values matching the Rolls, more so rare cabrios and four-wheel drive FF coupés. A straightforward design utilising old school Chrysler V8s there’s strong spherical support but repairs and restorations are very costly.

Verdict

That the Corniche stayed in production for almost a quarter of a century, easily out living the Shadow, Camargue and almost the Silver Spirit in the process speaks volumes about this car’s everlasting qualities. Surviving well into the 90’s it can be regarded as a modern classic as well that is little harder or dearer than the saloon it is based upon to own. Buy one while they remain relatively affordable and provide the ultimate in prestigious classic motoring but also better than money in the bank at the same time.



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